“The Root Cellar,” sited in a 15th-century Gothic former town hall called De Vleeshal and run by curator Lorenzo Benedetti, is the Norwegian artist’s first Dutch solo show. Architecturally, the space is far from a white cube, and it has been left largely unaltered and unadorned by Ekblad. You enter via the all-glass, built-in cubicle the artist has used to hang small drawings (of aliens, palm trees, girls, and still lifes) and collages (with paper, textiles, even a toilet seat)—none of them framed, all of them stuck to the glass rather haphazardly.
Once you’re inside, an installation consisting of a group of carnivalesque, grotesque giants pushing and pulling shopping carts vies for your attention. The figures and the contents of their baskets are partly composed of locally sourced leftover materials, many of which seem to have been scavenged near the sea: thick cords used by fishermen, mussel and oyster shells, a piece of a fishing net, rusted metal cables, and the like. The work achieves a balance between the festive (harlequin-patterned legs, for example, or glittery shells around the eyes) and the scary (plastic hands covered in red; grimacing faces; contorted bodies), while the cluttered, overstuffed carts seem to address both homelessness and 21st-century consumerism gone haywire.
The energy between the two bodies of work—the more timid drawings at the front and the exuberant, large-scale installation in the back—is so different that it is hard to connect them in one intelligible whole. The giants seem to be making their slow, zombielike progress toward the building’s exit. The drawings and collages scamper to flee this troupe— some hide in the little alcoves that wrap around the hall, keeping still, hoping to be left unseen. The show might be a little unhinged, but in the best way possible: It is very much alive. And its chaotic, enticing energy, more than anything else, stays with you when you leave.