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Meeting Nordic Contemporary Art at Vestfossen Kunstlaboratorium in Norway

Comments (0) Contemporary art, English, Exhibition, Vestfossen Kunstlaboratorium

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Morten Viskum and Göran Christenson at the opening of this year’s exhibition

This year’s main exhibition at Vestfossen Kunstlaboratorium is called: IF YOU DON’T LIKE ART, GOODBYE, FUCK OFF, GO HOME….. The title is a rewriting of the Danish group SUPERFLEX’s work from 2008: «If you don’t like Danmark /good bye / fuck off  /Go home…». No need to go home though,  it’s a lot of interesting art works to meet, some of them will maybe bring you back in time, while others will put a smile on your face. You will also meet art that communicate in a more serious way, as said many times before; art is a form of communication.

First of all, here are some facts about this multifarious art. The curator for this exhibition is Göran Christenson. For 25 years (from 1987-2012) he was the director of Malmö Konstmuseum (Malmö Art Museum) and he is still a very important man when it comes to contemporary art. From 2013 – 2015 he has, on behalf of private individuals, created a collection of Nordic contemporary art. He himself could decide what to collect, and the criteria he chose were that the artist in one way or another  had an attachment to The Nordic. In addition he were looking for artists in the beginning of their career, not having received so much attention. This is in some ways comparable to what Charles Saatchi did in the 90s when he helped many artists that haven’t become famous yet to be just that. The artists we are talking about became known under the name of  Young British Artists (YBAs), but today many of them are among the most famous artists in the world. Among them we find name like Damien Hirst, Tracey Enim, and Marc Quinn, just to mention a few. Saatchi bought art from them which he exhibited in the very famous exhibition Sensation in The Royal Academy, back in 1997. The difference between Saatchi and Christenson is that when Saatchi bought art with his own money, Göran Christenson bought art on behalf of other people’s money. This tells how much they trusted him. The collection is named NORDIC CONTEMPORARY ART COLLECTION abbreviated to NoCo. In spite of Christenson’s searching for unknown artists, we also find well known artists in the collection, like Olafur Eliasson, Elmgreen & Dragset, Fredrik Værslev, Bjarne Melgaard , Sofia Hultén, just to mention a few. This, together with the collection being only a few years old, is what makes it so interesting. As the first place to show this collection, Göran Christenson has chosen Vestfossen Kunstlaboratorium, an hour with train from Oslo in Norway. He sees this place as the most important place for contemporary art in the Nordic, according to an interview in the Norwegian newspaper Drammens Tidende 12.04.17 .

THE ART

As mention before, at first sight the art works can seem diverse, and of course they are in many ways. What can be interesting though, is in what way this collection of art communicates with the viewer, and if there is something the works have in common in spite of the diversity at first sight.

Sirous Namazi

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Sirous Namazi: CHANDELIER 2014 Mixed media

An object that almost immediately catches our attention is the chandelier made by Sirous Namazi. Namazi was born in  Kerman in Iran. Eight years old, he experienced that his home was looted and destroyed. The family’s chandelier was among the things that was destroyed, and it is this chandelier he has tried to recreate in this work. Because of further disturbances, the family escaped to Sweden.

The artist is concerned with identity in his works, and thinking of the experience of having to leave his home in a difficult way as a little child, it is very understandable. Coming to Sweden from Iran must have been very difficult; a total new culture with very different norms and rules. At the same time, he brought with him the culture from the country where he was born. It is both beautiful and emotional that Sirous Namazi recreates some of the lost family items in his art.

As a viewer one cannot help contemplate this beautiful work of art for a long time. Even if this is Sirous Namazi’s memories , maybe the viewer remembers his og hers own memories from family gatherings where the table was nicely prepared for family dinner. At the same time you can get a good, but also a melancholy feeling thinking of the time that has passed. Myself, the melancholy feeling approached meeting this piece of art, as happy memories from family dinner in my grandmother’s house came back.

It is easy to place Sirious Namazi in the category «ready-mades» like the NoCo-catalog does. The most famous artist in this category is Marcel Duchamp and his pissoar called «fountain». He is also known for both stand for drying bottles and the wheel of a bicycle, but there is a big difference between the art of Duchamp and the art of Sirous Namazi;  while Marcel Duchamp took something ordinary from the daily life into the art sphere and  exalt it to art, Nazami creates his own art, and he brings beautiful memories into the art. Therefore the two artists will evoke completely different reactions from the viewers.

Pauliina Pietilä

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Paulina Pietilä: LOPPIS 2013 – oil on canvas

Moving on we meet Paulina Pietilä’s painting LOPPIS (objects you find on a Flea Marked) from 2013. It looks much as a photo at first sight, but it is a painting, painted with oil on canvas. The realism in Pauliina Pietilä’s painting can get us thinking of  Edward Hopper, but at the same time, it is also so different from Hopper that it becomes problematic in a way. You find the realism, but when Hopper’s paintings can make you feel calm in all its simplicity, using only a few elements, Pauliina Pietilä’s pictures are overloaded with elements, almost in a Baroque-like way.

The title LOPPIS make us automatically think of a Flea Marked. On such a marked we find things that other people have got rid of, for them they have no value anymore, but maybe for someone else they have.

The Russian artist Ilya Kabakov is known for using this theme in many of his installation. As a young boy, together with an adult, he once came to the apartment of an elderly man who had died. The apartment was loaded with things that many people would call garbage. Kabakov though started to wonder why this man took care of so many things that most people would call garbage, and then the thought of what one human see as garbage may have a value for another came to his mind.

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LOPPIS – section of the painting

So also with the so called «flea things» in Paulina Pietilä’s painting LOPPIS . Looking at the section of the painting, we can find many familiar things like lampshades, a beautiful tea pot, books, etc., and although this is a painting, it’s so realistic in the way it is painted that we, as the viewer, can almost feel being on a Flea Marked.  The lighting in the painting makes it a little bit nostalgic though, and maybe we will feel a little bit of stepping back in time here as well. The image as such, could also triggers many storytellers.

Tilda Lovell

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Tilda Lovell: Landscape and two objects 2014

Another interesting artist is Tilda Lovell. Meeting her work, we almost get the feeling of being in the midle of an Archaeologic excavation. Take a look at the upper picture in the collage made by myself. At the bottom right we find something resembles a form of fossil, while in the left picture we find a small barn that can remind us about Mariann Heske’s almost 400 years old famous barn. Since 1980 it has been moved around from Sunnmøre to the Pompidou center in Paris, to Henie Onstad art center and so on.

It is a wondrous piece of art Lovell let us meet here. In many ways it plays on the sliding transition between fiction and reality in today’s society. In 1981 the Frenchman Jean Baudrillard introduced the term simulacrum, which deals with that the boundaries between reality and fiction are wiped out and it is only the sign left to deal with. Maybe it makes it easier to relate to Tilda Lovell’s art, if we read it as a simulacrum.

Looking back at the barn, we can also say that she refers to Marianne Heske’s barn and thus also to art history. At the same time, maybe the artist also get the viewer to step back in time, because of the old barn.

Fredrik Værslev

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Fredrik Værslev: Section from one of the paintings exhibited at Festival exhibition in Bergen Kunsthall 2016

Also the artist Fredrik Værslev is pointing back to art history in his works. He was the Festival exhibitioner in Bergen in 2016, and in that connection he talked about how he treated his paintings the same way as Edward Munch, by letting them being left outside in all kind of weather. For those who experienced this exhibition, the paintings gave a clear impression of just that.

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Fredrik Værslev: UNTITLED (Asphalt painting) 2014

As far as the NoCo collection, we do not find any of Fredrik Værslev’s paintings from the Festival exhibition in Bergen here, but we find a large untitled canvas, that is just due, and looks like it has received the same treatment. A blank canvas is gladly the symbol of rebooting with new possibilities, so the viewer just have to start the imagination working. In addition, Værslev is represented here by a series called DRØBAK BLUE which is a mixture of  pictures, drawings, and planks. Both the pictures and the planks appear to be of an older date, so the viewer will get a feeling of nostalgia here as well. We also find other kind of works here, such as UNTITLED (ASPHALT PAINTING) from 2014  which is both sprayed and painted with oil painting.

Lena Johansson

SAM_1779    SAM_1812In many ways  we find an ambivalence in Lena Johansson’s paintings. They tell a story about a bygone era to be longing for. An example is the series SØNDAGSMORGON (Sunday morning) from 2015 where we among others find the painting of the two boys who seem to be in a paddock, while the image of the house falling apart brings us back to present and lost memories. We also find a painting of an old wallpaper that takes us back again in time.

Dit-Cilinn

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Section from SPINE from 2014

Dit-Cilinn is an exciting artist with many different expressions; from tall stick in SPINE, beautiful circular object in ALTAR AND TRIM I, to people without face in CRUST.

She has used mixed media in SPINE from 2014. It is a stick which is 139 cm high and 6 cm in diameter. As we can see, it is basically a fairly common stick, but as it has added elements, it becomes completely different from what it was meant to be. According to the title it can be about the trials you experience through life but given by the stick standing upright and the title, you will get through it.

IMG_0406The CRUST sculpture from 2011 is a bust of a person whose face is gone. This is, if possible, an even stronger expression than the previous one. Is this a person who has totally lost him og herself or what? It is easy to read the work as a comment to today’s youth who will be on top in every way; be it in education, appearance, training, social media , etc. etc. It’s easy to «loose yourself» in such a run, but the work can also be read as a comment to more grown up people that have forgotten who they really are in a busy time. Either way, this work will possibly make most people stop and think for a while.

SAM_1748In the end I will include a section from the work ALTAR AND TRIM I  from 2009 to show the diversity in this artist’s expressions. It’s a beautiful piece of art that can shine without many comments from the author. This work can almost give a sacred feeling, something like New Age.

Olafur Eliasson

SAM_1717In this collection, Olafur Eliasson is represented with his work INTERNATIONAL CAREER LAMP from 2007. IMG_0427It’s a fascinating piece of art that captures the viewer with its intensity. It is an eye looking at you, but at the same time it shines, so that you as a viewer can mirror yourself in it (see section). Thinking of the title, you very soon will get the feeling of «Big Brother», and considering all the digital tracks you are leaving behind, this work will make you think that anyway, you are observed.

Conclusion

In this article, only a few artists which are represented in this collection have been mentioned. Nor has it been intended to make an overview of NoCo’s collection, which can be found in their own catalog, where the various artists and their works are well presented. I also refer to this catalog for further information about the artists represented here in this article. Even better, visit Vestfossen Kunstlaboratorium (Art Laboratory) to experience the works in reality. As I repeat and repeat, all art is a form of communication, but what it communicates, and not least, how it is perceived depends of the culture filter of both the artist and the viewer.

As a conclusion we can say that all these works of art, in different ways, create a story, be it in the form of the art itself, or that it triggers the narrative of the viewers. There may be memories flowing on, as the author experienced several times approaching many of the works, or maybe you may want to create a whole new story? I do not know, but that this exhibition has a lot to offer is raised beyond doubt.

Sources: In addition to my own knowledge, I have, to some extent, supported me to NoCo’s own catalog.

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