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The Utøya memorial is being discussed again in Norwegian media these days, as last week several art critics voiced their doubts about having Jonas Dahlberg’s winning proposal from 2014 built (or excavated in this instance). The local community who will live next to this memorial are against it and are threatening to go to court to stop it. It appears they were never consulted in the process in the first place, so much for public consultation. Yet the Norwegian Government is set on the go ahead for the project for 2017, apparently the majority want it. And democracy wins.

Meanwhile these discussions are taking place, which offer interesting opportunities to debate values around human commemoration and how this can be physically manifested, no one seems to talk about the environmental impact such an intervention will have. I wrote in my blog-post: In memory of 22 July at Utøya that the creation of this void will have repercussions on the ecology of this natural site. In fact if this goes ahead, it is ‘ecocide’. Just when the debate on the radio was taking place last week, I was serendipitously reading in E. O. Wilson’s The future of Life (2002), and on page 58 he writes:

“To reduce the area of a habitat is to lower the number of species that can live sustainably within it. More precisely, as the area shrinks, the sustainable number of species falls by the sixth to the third root of the area. At the forth root, the reduction of the habitat to one tenth of its original area eventually causes the fauna and flora to decline by about one-half.”

What this means is that much of the life that takes place on the end of the headland will suffer from the slicing that is projected.

Whilst this art piece still holds up as a powerful visual statement, I have doubts to its value as a memorial. Indeed it will be a monument to remind us of human endeavour, at the same time as it will become yet another human experiment where nature pays the price of the outcome, as the economists like to call it – an externality. Ironically the unintended consequences will result in habitat loss and loss of biodiversity. For a memorial that is about loss, and that will cause loss of life in other than human forms, the taste is bitter. Again I ask: “Is it fitting that nature should be wounded for the wounds we humans cause each other?”

My blog-post ended with: I cannot find peace or closure at staring at this void. But perhaps starring at the horizon beyond will make sense at some point? I have come to the point where I can say this is morally not right. As brilliant as the art work is conceptually, as Laurence Weiner says about art: “it provides a means to question your meaning and the consequences of your choices.” It is yet another demonstration of anthropocentric endeavour – mind over matter. I believe in taking the precautionary principle when it comes to intervening in nature. However deep our fear, our sense of loss, and need for remembrance – it does not sanction more suffering of life, not even non-human life.

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details of the artwork.

details of the artwork.

Imagine an embroidery c. 12.5 m long and 1.5 m wide. The British artist Cornelia Parker has done just that. Commissioned to celebrate the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta in 2015, she has created a major new artwork “Magna Carta (an Embroidery)” exhibited at the British Library (May – July 2015 ). The piece replicates in stitch the entire Wikipedia article on the Great Charter as it appeared on the document’s 799th anniversary in 2014 and has been embroidered by over 200 individual contributors. The bulk of the text was stitched by prisoners, supervised by Fine Cell Work (a social enterprise that trains prisoners in paid, skilled, creative needlework undertaken in the long hours spent in their cells to foster hope, discipline and self-esteem.) The more complicated imagery was stitched by members of the Embroiderers Guild amongst other organisations for embroidery. Whilst some specific words were embroidered by judges, barristers, diplomats, artists, musicians, civil rights, political and human rights activists etc. all people who amplify different aspects of the document and its legacy. Some of the names starting with J are: Jarvis Cocker, Jeremy Deller, Jon Snow and Julian Assange who each have stitched a word or two. The artist says:

“Echoing the communal activity that resulted in the Bayeux Tapestry, but on this occasion placing more emphasis on the word rather than the image, I wanted to create an artwork that is contemporary interpretation of Magna Carta.”

Magna Carta means ‘The Great Charter’ and is one of the most famous documents in the world, and it remains a cornerstone of the British constitution. Issued by King John of England, it established for the first time the principle that everybody, including the king, was subject to the law. Today, almost all the clauses have been cancelled, except for three clauses of which one gave all free men the right to justice and a fair trial. One we must never loose…

The connection made between Wikipedia, the Internet and the Magna Carta is interesting, and the contemporary interpretation of the artist deals with issues of collaboration, justice, fairness and equality.  The ethos of the internet, invented by Tim Berners-Lee is that everyone should have the freedom to connect, to innovate, to program, without asking permission. But is this still the case? And where are we heading? Contemporary concerns over privacy breaches, mishandling of data and issues of security from cyber terrorism are all threatening this freedom. Also, some wealthy corporations are now able to stifle competition and gain more power over access to our data and soon make us pay.

Just as the Magna Carta charted the principle that everybody was subject to the law, so must we act to keep the Internet open. Keeping the web democratised and egalitarian is by safeguarding net neutrality, which means a web that is open, decentralised and universally accessible. The battle over net-neutrality is already being lost in the courts of law in the USA. Yet in the EU there is still hope. Cornelia Parker’s piece is both tangible and conceptual as it oscillates between the digital and the analogue, between past and future – where the notion of the Magna Carta is captured in a moment in time, stitched together by hand. Here is a film about the artwork.

“A forest in Norway is growing. In 100 years it will become an anthology of books.” (Katie Paterson)

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The other day, together with a couple of friends, we set out on a mission to find the place where saplings have been planted to supply paper for a special anthology of books from the Future Library that will be printed in one hundred years time. In the woods north of Oslo we followed the instructions on the map provided alongside the documentation about the first book Scribbler Moon written by Margaret Atwood.

This artwork conceived by Katie Paterson captured my imagination when I heard about it a year or so ago. The Future Library (2014 -2114)  is a conceptual piece that deals with time. At the present, only parts of the work can be experienced such as the growing forest and soon the ‘silent room’ – a specially designed space by the artist for the new Deichmanske Public Library (ready in 2018) in Oslo. Here each of the annually commissioned manuscripts by writers will be held but cannot be read for the coming century, only their titles indicate their contents. What I like about this artwork is that it grapples with the notion of ‘deep time’ where we have to extend our imagination into a larger, temporal context – a hundred years away –and as such forge a connection with a future reader of the texts. As an ancestor I am curious and excited by how the readers of the anthology will receive it? And if?…

The future is uncertain… and we didn’t find the exact spot in the forest despite following the indications. However we saw a clearing where we imagined the saplings growing and decided that perhaps next year we will endeavour to set out on a pilgrimage to see the trees of the future library again.

Watch a film about it here.

We are all in this alone, Pavilion of the Republic of Macedonia, 56th Venice Biennale

Hristina Ivanoska and Yane Calovski – We are all in this alone (2015), Pavilion of the Republic of Macedonia, 56th Venice Biennale

Every now and then, an art piece can provide a sort of chapel where solace can be found and contemplation is possible – where layers unfold, and rich and unlikely connections can be made giving the viewer some sustenance both intellectually as well as for the soul.

The Macedonian contribution to the Venice Biennale this year by the artists Hristina Ivanoska and Yane Calovski and curated by Basak Senova offers such a space. There is no shouting for attention, but an intimate space that offers some respite. On the walls are recreated gold monochrome plaster shapes from the frescos of the church St Gjorgi in Macedonia built in the 12th century. In-between the spaces of the stencilled frescos are word pieces and drawings by the artists.

Perhaps a bit obscure at first, even incongruous, yet taking the time to cobble together the pieces with their fragmentary narratives becomes part of a creative endeavour. From the piecing together emerges some sort of poetry that resonates with the title: ‘We are all in this alone’. Collectively we are all part of these fragmentary narratives and yet we can only ever perceive our own reading. I am speaking from my own existentialist perspective here of course. Yet hopefully our readings can again recreate new collective narratives on the faith of making art time and time again – throughout the years.

The aura of the unknown artist from the 12th century lingers. As Rebecca Solnit says in her essay Woolf’s Darkness: “The effects of your actions may unfold in ways you cannot foresee or even imagine. They may unfold long after your death. That is when the words of so many writers (and artists) often resonate the most.” And so the voices of Paul Thek, Simone Weil and Lucy Irigaray intertwine in a dialogue that Hristina and Yane so carefully facilitate. A book – an anthology of writings on faith from various contributors, accompanies the piece to prolong the readings beyond the physical space and offer oscillating notions of faith: past, present and future.

Every now and then, I need my faith in art to be restored, a faith that expands to humanity where the making of art offers pockets of ‘awe’ of our existence and the traces we leave.

'Il capo' (2010) by Yuri Ancarani

‘Il capo’ (2010) by Yuri Ancarani

An artist friend tipped me of a film ‘Il capo’ (the chief) as he said it made him think of Senseness. This documentary (2010) by Yuri Ancarani is set in a marble quarry in the Carrara region of the Apuan Alps, in Northwest Italy –a place most of us would never think to visit. Yet here we get to see inside the quarry and it looks like a frozen landscape, where big chards of white rock resemble ice breaking away from the berg. Now what makes this Senseness? It is the attention to the human and tactile presence in this otherwise harsh industrial environment. We see a man – il capo – orchestrate the movements of the diggers by directing them with small and very precise hand movements. From seeing this clip we can see that the extraction process of marble is quite a delicate operation. The language of gestures and signs seems so simple yet is so sophisticated like a dance that is finely tuning into the surroundings. With this, the filmmaker captures a choreography of the sensual in a rock hard context. And, provides us with an alternative vision, a human vision, of mining that otherwise is tremendously alienating. As my friend mentioned, in the midst of the heavy-duty machinery the film is a warming tribute to the craftsmanship and care of the miners, and where small movements make a difference.

crafting-narrativeI finally managed to see this exhibition who’s title ‘ crafting narrative’ had intrigued me for a while, and I was rewarded with a curious, eclectic and somewhat disconcerting experience.

The curator Onkar Kular has put together a beguiling show of stories narrated through artefacts. In my project ‘souvenirs’ (1999– 2006) a collection of over 100 mementos which formed an enquiry into the relationship between objects and memories, I was curious how certain objects become visual and tangible reminders of relationships, achievements, events which form our personal stories (biographies). However, this selection of artefacts are not about the personal attachments. They are artefacts (in the sense of its origin: early 19th cent.: from Latin arte ‘by or using art’ + factum ‘something made’ (neuter past participle of facere ‘make’ ) used as artifices (clever or cunning devices or expedients) – not so much used to deceive but to lure us into real or fictional stories.

The selection offers a different take on the blurry boundaries of design/ craft/ art as they aren’t speculative design per se, where “design is a means of speculating about how things could be—to imagine possible futures”(Dunne & Raby, 2013); nor are they typically critical design made to challenge assumptions (although some of them might); but a selection of artefacts that offer curious stories. The curator says that the show “is an exploration in how function and narrative are manipulated in relation to each other (…), and how designers and makers approach this to craft the telling of a story.”

Several of the works seem to have hacked into the craftsmanship of certain traditional production modes, and subvert the processes from Japanese Urushi laquer (Åbäke), Welsh woven cloth (Hefin jones), branded embroidery patterns (Zhenhan Hao) to tell new and unexpected stories – about ‘a fallen angel’ (Åbäke), a ‘welsh space campaign’ (Hefin jones), or ‘new British fashion made in China’ (Zhenhan Hao). What is intriguing in these artefacts, and many of the others, are of course how the tactile qualities ignite the imagination through the possible and the impossible. and perhaps this is what is disconcerting, in a good way.

TUTTAVIA (2014) short film 3 min. 50 sec. by Metz & Racine and Mototake Makishima

TUTTAVIA (2014) short film 3 min. 50 sec. by Metz & Racine and Mototake Makishima

I was recently invited to the screening of a new ‘still-life’ short film made by Metz & Racine  & Mototake Makishima called TUTTAVIA. Inspired by the painter Felice Casorati’s painting “Eggs on a Book’ from 1949, the film offered a curious and visual treat that had a haptic effect on me.

Starting with a steady sweep shot over a range of mouldy and decaying vegetables & fruits amongst other mysterious objects, accompanied by a sound of ‘plight’ from recordings of 1940’s Italy; the brooding mood was accentuated by long ominous shadows similar to those in di Chirico’s haunted paintings from his metaphysical period early century – such as Turin Spring (1914). We then encounter a book with ‘eggs’ lying on it, and the still life comes alive. The glistening eggs start curiously to bounce and to dissolve into a powdery smoke – an unexpected effect. The scene becomes laden through the superposition of eggs – symbols of hope, potential, fertility, life and also fragility on a backdrop of wartime sounds. With each egg that evaporates into smoke, a sort of alchemical transformation takes place. The mood changes from starkness to lightness with another steady sweep shot over this time fresh fruits and vibrant objects. The brooding long shadows now reminisce more of a sunny late summer afternoon, somewhere in Italy, with a taste of negroni.

What is interesting is how the makers manage to bring life into a world of objects that in themselves are quite ordinary, by using the illusional powers of cinema; sounds, light and angles to excite our senses as well as our sense-making. The makers describe how “TUTTAVIA depicts the compelling history and emotion of war and its outcomes”. Indeed they capture a universal quality as the film plays with a multitude of polarities, which at a deeper level can remind us of the cyclical nature of history and events, of fragility but also resilience. This is where the title gains significance, as when translated from Italian ‘tuttavia’ means: still, nevertheless, yet, then again… etc. such a word functions as a pause, a bracket, a moment of suspense between one state to another. As such, we could let it provide us with a moment to reflect on where are we now in 2014 in terms of the cycle of events?

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I’m so excited to have the new book The World We Made by Jonathan Porritt. Imagine the world in 2050. That is just what the author of this book did. Based on 40 years of environmental activism and developing sustainability perspectives Porritt offers us a desirable scenario. The story is told through “Alex McKay, a teacher who looks back from 2050 to tell the story of how we got from where we are today (in a pretty bad way, environmentally) to a much better place in 2050” (Porritt, 2013).

The world we made is a story that discusses global issues alongside providing local solutions. It is not a sci-fi scenario as such, as the key events, predicted technology breakthroughs and lifestyle revolutions seem to follow quite credibly on from current facts, figures and trends in terms of e.g. energy, climate change, agriculture – food and water, politics and security, travel etc. I love the timeline starting from 2014 to 2049, with important events such as ‘the internet wars’ from 2021-2030. The story is made all the more riveting due to the personal narrative, in the style of a memoir, which engages on an emotional level. On the same time line some personal events are added such as in 2021 when Alex McKay is in his “third year of university” or 2023 – he got married!

What is especially clever too me, is that the book shows plenty of  images. By “photoshopping the future” readers are guided in an envisioning process in which they just might connect better with the issues at stake, and well, imagine an attainable future… The book is a gift for all of us who spend time and efforts in trying to convey the state of the world (from a sustainability perspective) – of what is predicted to come and how we just might be able to curb our fate by using our imagination alongside empathy.  Mark Twain (1835 – 1910) said: “Plan for the future because that’s where you are going to spend the rest of your life”. I’m taking stock from this book and imagining, after all “seeing is believing”. 

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On the 27. Feb 2014 a national jury (KORO) in Norway announced that the Swedish artist Jonas Dahlberg  has been selected to design Norway’s July 22 memorial sites. The image above caught my attention and my reaction was strong.

The image of a sharp incision into the peninsula, dividing it into two, like an eternal wound in the landscape haunted me for days. I was troubled, my thoughts provoked – unsettled. So explicit, such a powerful visual statement, at least at the initial level of reception. It is easy to see how this proposal hit the spot. About the proposal the artist says:

My concept for the Memorial Sørbråten proposes a wound or a cut within nature itself. It reproduces the physical experience of taking away, reflecting the abrupt and permanent loss of those who died. The cut will be a three-and-a-half-meters-wide excavation. It slices from the top of the headland at the Sørbråten site, to below the water line and extends to each side. This void in the landscape makes it impossible to reach the end of the headland.

I was bothered, not only because of the reminder of the horror and the tragic deaths of innocents with the loss they left in their wake. But somehow the discomfort went further and deeper. This  image represents to me yet another articulation of “man over nature” (like the trees encaged at la bibliotheque national in Paris). A Descartian response. Mind over matter. Again the human projection of their inconsolable grief is taken out on nature. And the jury are willing to make this statement a reality.

What is the role of the memorial? It is about not forgetting, it is about connecting with what happened, it is about paying respect to innocent lives taken. I was trying to get my head around it, trying to find logical reasons for why this was the best proposal. Yet my body was resisting this future action of cutting this permanent void. If there is no hope for reconciliation, if the void is eternal, then how do we heal?  Indeed atrocities leave deep wounds, and they are transferred over generations, perhaps even genetically – and certainly through social systems. Such is the wound that the killings have caused in the Norwegian psyche. However, a comment following the article I read in the Guardian said: “Is it fitting that nature should be wounded for the wounds we cause each other?”

In a discussion with a British friend he said: “as nature is so important to Norwegian identity this could be a projection of the pain felt; an act of ‘self -harm’ by the people.” Yes – true. I get it, but still my response to him was: “I can see your point – but still I feel it is wrong and I can’t explain it other than from a deep ecology perspective: that “protection of nature is felt and perceived as protection of our very selves” (Arne Næss)”.

To make this memorial, they will need to use explosives, and the effects of this and the void will have repercussions on the ecology of this natural site. From an ecological standpoint it is disturbing to create an eternal sore that will still be remembered in seven generations. Could we have imagined the opposite, a mound that grows over time with growth as proof of some  sort of healing? But no, this statement leaves no room for any future healing, no reconciliation possible… As a concept this proposal is indeed incredibly rich in affect, yet the thought of this actually being produced has left me with the following question: Do we need a memorial of the human ability to self-harm?

The jury have made their decision, my ‘jury’ is still out.  I cannot find peace or closure at staring at this void. But perhaps starring at the horizon beyond will make sense at some point?

SKY 1

Look up! What if you could own one square foot of sky?

One Square Foot of Sky follows foreign investment’s trademark of bringing things to the table by posing taxing questions with regards to the monetary, symbolic and copyright value of the sky above us. Like with previous projects such as Gold Exchange (1997-2010) and Breeding (1999 -2005), the work with ‘sky shares’ continues to question the value of art through exploring the art object itself.

foreign investment were invited to present their pioneering project One Square Foot of Sky as part of the exhibition “Collector Club” curated by Ying Kwok at the art space Oi! in Hong Kong from 24 January – 21 April 2014. The Hong Kong context was interesting to investigate as HK is now ranked number 2 in the 10 top cities for private property investment. It is also an emerging fine art market, so the collector club provided the opportunity to combine these notions.

Originally developed in London, 2012 for the exhibition Wild New Territories, foreign investment intends to explore the speculative aspects of ‘value’ and ‘valuation’ by ‘creating’ a market for ‘sky shares’. Yves Klein’s talked about “the indefinable, incalculable value of art.”  Indeed the intrinsic value of art (and of nature) is hard to define as it is multidimensional. And yet, just like the property market, the art market places value on art objects according to availability and desirability. Both are investable propositions.

This site-specific artwork has two interlocking components: a performance and an installation. For the performance the art lover (potential investor) was invited to look into the production process of the sky shares in a ‘peinture vivant’, where 8 artists painted a limited series of ‘sky shares’. Each share measures one square foot and contains relevant and unique information inserted on the front. The valuation of the shares were priced in accordance to: the property value  (based on the exchange value of the location estimated at current market prices); the labour value (the amount of labour necessary to the production of a marketable commodity at the time); and the use value (the utility of consuming the commodity in terms of its status as art). The shares are for sale via the collector’s club scheme. (For more info see catalogue text here).

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