Transfers, a quasi-scientific journey
Forflytninger, en kvasivitenskapelig reise, Henie Onstad kunstsenter, 2004
Transfers, a quasi-scientific journey, Henie Onstad Art Center ,2004
Transfers, a quasi-scientific journey
Henie Onstad Art Center
3. June – 5. September 2004
Text: Benedicte Sunde
Vigdis Fjellheim has since 1998 been building up her «quasi-scientific collection» of «discoverees». The collection consists of people caught off hand by the artist’s camera lens. The persons are classified by the dates of «discovery», number in sequence, then further logged by among other details, location of finding and description of the individual. That way she builds up a collection that at the moment of writing comprises 2748 photos. 2748 instant moments of people in motion. The photos are the departing points for the 200 paintings displayed in the exhibition, and in total, the series consists of 364 paintings. The paintings are to be included in the decoration of the newly renovated rooms at the Olavsgaard Hotel. Fjellheim`s ”travelling” figures are to give an extra nuance to the visitors’ own journeys. The guests partake in a meta-narrative to which they are unaware. This way, by being embodied into this conceptual project they become a crucial part.
Fjellheim acts as an observer in control of the situation, at least in the moment she selects a person to photograph. In a moment’s unawareness, Fjellheim employs her extended eye – the camera – to seize the individual. The photographed becomes an object, a conceptual idea. Thus Fjellheim’s photographic works enters a long tradition concerning theories of the photo as a medium; Michel Foucault, Laura Mulvey, Susan Sontag, all have pointed out the controlling mechanism that comes with the photograph. Fjellheim’s conceptual project can also be read in this light. After first having taken the individual object into her possession, she distances herself further from it through the elaborate process of relocation, reinsertion and, the last of the conceptual ideas – the process of putting it into paint.
She collects people, she photographs people in different places and surroundings. The characters move in various directions; we can see them walking towards us, from behind and sideways. Her figures are removed from their original context in that she cuts out the silhouettes and inserts them into a new context through the physical relocation. They are taken on journeys where they are set in contrast to nature, the city and other environments before they are photographed anew. A crucial part of the process is the collection of cut-out figures. Fjellheim also exhibits every silhouette with the text that describes place of finding, date and other characteristics. Her figures possess a central position in the communication of the process prior to the paintings, and therefore need to be seen as a crucial part of the entire artwork. They support the conceptual background – the idea of relocation.
The Quasi-Scientific Collection
By the understanding of quasi-scientific approach, it is important to separate between Vigdis Fjellheim’s various «discovered» persons and what their active roles were in the instant they were photographed. Some are on holiday as they are being photographed. They are tourists that have already travelled from one place to another. By taking their photo, she changes their status from individuals on the move to objects in her collection. She brings them further, as pieces of data, on a journey they are not aware of being on. The other ”discoverees”are permanent residents, yet they too partake in journeys that are under Fjellheim’s control. This stage of the process she calls the ”relocation”. Her technique is not to be confused with that of a botanist. The botanist travels out to gather exotic plants for the scientific collections in his or her home country. Fjellheim does the opposite, she takes her ”plants” out into the world and plants them into new geographical settings, often in the context of plants. This way her quasi-scientific method becomes obvious. It is not an actual science, Fjellheim emphasizes that this is a quasi-science, a system and a method of her own fabric. Her classification methods are formed from a system she alone developed; persons are numbered, dated and described. She describes the various places where they are found and reinstated. What marks the difference in Fjellheim’s system of registration and that of alienation, is when she describes the meeting with the various persons. She imagines the various characters’ emphatic state of mind when she describes the setting, rather than the objective distance expected from a scientific perspective under the process of registration. Fjellheim describes her own shame in being exposed by an object. She reacts with embarrassment; her intentions are revealed, and she has infringed the individual’s right of control over the private sphere in public space. Fjellheim doesn’t ask the affected person for permission. If she did, the mystic aura around the discovered, as well as the conceptual angling would both lose their effect. It is precisely the absence of being conscious that fascinates, as opposed to the arranged posing of the individual who is well aware of being photographed. Fjellheim prefers that the «chosen» fail to register her paparazzi intent, and records immediately into her files if she is caught during the attempt.
Excerpt from Fjellheim’s Quasi-Scientific Collection
Elderly Asian woman wearing dress and cane, found in the outskirts of Chinatown, San Francisco, in March 2002. She was one of the objects that became aware of being photographed, and she wore a somewhat threatening face. She was depicted against the sun and thus became rather dark. She is reinstated into the ornamental shrubs in front of the statue of Olav, in the roundabout across the entrance of the hotel. The monumental figure and stern expression of the statue makes her appearance somewhat less importunate.
It might be interpreted as if Fjellheim did not wish for this eye contact with her chosen objects to take place, they become insistent and present. By relocating her objects, this effect is reduced by the new surroundings, in which she again takes a photo of the figure. It is the unguarded moment in man she is after, those that, lost in their own thoughts, are just strolling from or to somewhere. These individuals, Fjellheim prefers to”discover”.
Fjellheim’s ”Objet trouves” (found objects) are persons on holiday, tourists in urban settings as well as persons moving around in familiar surroundings. There are photos of 235 people from Bergen, and 230 from New York, and these pay visits to iconized locations, such as for instance Santiago de Compostela, and other classical urban tourist sites. Here, they gather in masses and in groups to take part in the discovery of important places – a part of the trans-modern educational journey. An educational journey might best be described as a form of self upbringing, in which a person’s choice of destination comes out of an educational desire. The idea of educational journeys arose in the 17th century, in which a long line of authors published their sketches made on their various travels. Such journeys were exclusively the privileges of the well off. In the 18th and 19th century, the educational journey had become all but obligatory. The writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe did his part to this development, by publishing his travelling portrayal Italian Journey in 1829. In addition to the regular descriptions of cultural heritage, Goethe did register, being the person of enlightenment that he was, various rare species of plants and natural phenomena on his trip to Italy. Vigdis Fjellheim’s ”discoveries” are treated as rare plants and accordingly described.
Today’s educational travels, or «memories of voyage», are mainly concentrated around the main cultural cities and their attractions. It is tempting to address this as the Tourists’ Canon, motioned by historical bonds and the innumerable travels guides that exist today. In a setting such as this, as a tourist, one is dependent on the group. We gather around the focal point, a travelling guide, or the dominant person in a group – some even goes as far as calling them travel fascists. The Travel fascists teach, lecture and control these small and energetic groups moving around under the characteristic umbrellas and silk scarves of their guides. You will find them in Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, at the Colosseum in Rome, the Parthenon in Athens and in Frognerparken in Oslo. The groups juggle their cameras, listen, eat and in rare cases – are bored. It is precisely in these situations that Fjellheim enters – the moments of unguardedness. Fjellheim enforces her powers upon these individuals. Vigdis Fjellheim’s «memories of voyage» is a restructuring of these people, they are deconstructed and rearranged in a new context. The paintings can be seen as the result of Fjellheim and her conceptual «memories of voyage».
Funnet, utvalgt og utplassert
182 reisende – 182 forflytninger
I forbindelse med oppussingen og utbyggingen av Olavsgaard hotell på Skjetten ble jeg spurt om å gjøre en omfattende utsmykking for hotellet i 2002. I 2007 ble utsmykkingen ferdigstilt. Arbeidet består av 364 malerier på 60 x 40 cm, som henger parvis på de 182 rommene. Det siste bildet henger sentralt plassert på hotellet, i auditoriet, og måler 360 x 240 cm. Til sammen vil alle bildene utgjøre en helhetlig komposisjon, både konseptuelt og form-messig. Dokumentasjonen vil kunne betraktes som en tilgjengelig oversiktsplan både på rommene og i resepsjonen.
Utgangspunktet for konseptet startet allerede i 1998, da jeg startet innsamlingen. Samlingen består for øyeblikket av 2748 utklipte figurer fra mine snapshots av mennesker i bevegelse. Her finnes 1009 Bergensere, 755 Berlinere, 375 New Yorkere, 234 Osloborgere, 127 turister fra Praha, 102 grupper fra Santiago de Compostela, 93 San Fransiscanere og 53 Parisere. De er klassifisert etter når og hvor de ble funnet, samt etter størrelse og bevegelsesretning.
Temaet er ideen om forflytning. Figurene som er på større eller mindre reiser er innhentet når jeg selv er på reise. Eksemplarene jeg finner tas deretter med på en ny reise som utskåret figur. Eksempelvis kan en gutt som ble funnet slentrende over Torgallmenningen i Bergen våren 1999, bli gjeninnsatt i en orkidé i botanisk hage i Berlin vinteren 2004. Reisen foregår ved at den opprinnelige konteksten blir fjernet og erstattet med nye omgivelser og tidspunkt. Gutten reiser fra en sammenheng til en annen og fra et frosset øyeblikk til et nytt frosset øyeblikk. Det kan leses som en slags tidreise, i tillegg til å være en reise inn i en ny størrelsesdimensjon, en miniatyrverden.
De 182 figurene jeg har samlet, valgt ut, utplassert og tatt nye fotografier av, er utgangspunktet for maleriene. Maleriene har en positiv og en negativ del, og utgjør til sammen et par. Maleriet med den faktiske figuren er fratatt sin kontekst men ”festet“ til grunnen med maling. Renningene kan oppfattes som en forankring av figuren eller som marionettetråder. Det andre maleriet i paret er silhuetten, eller tomrommet av den samme figuren som er utplassert i nye omgivelser. At paret har en positiv og en negativ del, leder tanken til fotografiet der nettopp disse begrepene ofte er i bruk. Min tilnærmelse til maleriet er alltid via fotografiet, og handler om situasjoner og ritualer rundt fotograferingen.
Til hvert bildepar hører en tekst som dokumenterer funnsted og tidspunkt, samt tid og sted for utplasseringen. De består også av mine synsinger og assosiasjoner rundt personene eller situasjonene på bildet. Det er en sammenblanding av det faktiske og det som er satt i system, og en muntlig, spontan fabulering.
Alle bildene er kategorisert og tildels atskilt i fire hovedseksjoner. De figurene som beveger seg mot meg, de frontale, har hovedsaklig blålige omgivelser. De som beveger seg fra meg har rødlige bakgrunner. De med gultoner er de som beveger seg mot venstre, mens de med grønntoner i omgivelsene beveger seg mot høyre. Betraktes arbeidet som helhet vil det anta mønster som et sjakkbrett, med annenhver hvit og farget ”rute“, i fire forskjellige fargeseksjoner.
Hele hotellet og dets historie vil farges av prosjektet. Konseptet preger hele hotellet, dels skjult, fordi man ved å gjeste hotellet én gang bare får tilgang på ett billedpar. Dette er til gjengjeld et par unike bilder, som man får vite tilhører en større helhet. Til sammen gir de et blikk på det moderne mennesket på reise.
I juni 2004 viste jeg det da foreløpig ferdige materialet som separatutstilling på Henie Onstad kunstsenter. Utstillingen Forflytninger, en kvasivitenskapelig reise, viste 200 malerier samt tilhørende fotomateriale. Fotodokumentasjonen bidro til å forklare det prosessorienterte prosjektet. Dette var den eneste muligheten man fikk til å se et så stort antall bilder samlet på ett sted. Nå henger maleriparene på sine endelige destinasjoner; de ulike hotellrommene.
Oslo, november 2007
Found, Selected and Reinstated
182 Travellers -182 Relocations
In 2002, in connection with the renovation and the expansion of Olavsgaard Hotel in Skjetten, I was asked to make an extensive decoration for the hotel. The decoration of the hotel was completed in 2007. The artwork is comprised of 364 paintings measuring 60x40cm, in 182 pairs that decorate each of the hotels rooms. The last painting is located in a central position at the hotel – the auditorium – measuring 360 x 240 cm. Altogether the paintings form a conceptual and formal unity. The overview documentation can be read both in the rooms and in the reception.
The starting point for this concept was in 1998, when I started collecting figure cut-outs from my snapshots of people in motion. At the moment of writing, the collection comprises 2748 figures. Here, you will find 1009 citizens from Bergen, 755 from Berlin, 375 from New York, 234 from Oslo, 127 tourists from Prague, 102 groups from Santiago de Compostela, 93 from San Francisco and 53 from Paris. They are classified on the basis of time and location in where they were found, as well as their size and directions of movement.
The subject is the idea of relocation. The figures, on trips of larger or smaller proportions, I gathered myself during my own journeys. The specimens found, I then send on a new journey, as cut-out figures. As an example, a boy found strolling across Torgallmenningen in Bergen in the spring of 1999, can be reinstated into an orchid in the Botanical Garden in Berlin, in the winter of 2004. The journey takes form of an actual replacement of surroundings and time. The boy travels from one context to another, as well as from one frozen instant to another. It can all be read as a journey in time and further as a new dimension of size, into a miniature world.
The 182 figures I have gathered, chosen and reinstated to photograph anew, form the basis of my paintings. The paintings include a positive and a negative part, together forming a pair. The painting including the actual figure is de-contextualised, but still «fixed» to the surface of paint. The basic material can be perceived as that which is anchoring the figure, or functions as its puppet strings. The other painting in the pair is the silhouette, or the void of the same figure, reinstated into new surroundings. The positive and negative part of the painting leads the mind over to the photograph, in which such concepts often are used. My approach to the painting is always via the photograph, and it revolves around situations and rituals that concern photography.
In addition to each painting pair, there is a text to document the date and location of the finding, as well as the location and date it was reinstated. They include my subjective opinions and associations considering the persons or situations in the picture. It is a mixture of what is actual and reduced to a system, and what is an oral and spontaneous imagination.
All pictures are categorized and roughly divided into four main categories. Pictures with objects moving towards me, the frontal, are mainly placed in bluish surroundings. Those that move away from me have reddish backgrounds. The yellowish move towards the left, whereas the greenish move towards the right. Taken as a whole, a pattern of a game board will emerge, where every second «frame» alternates in white or coloured, as well as four various colour sections.
The entire hotel and its history will be coloured by the project, as the concept changes the character of the hotel, yet mostly in a discreet manner, because one is only accessing one picture pair for each visit to the hotel. Nevertheless, these pictures are told to be unique, and still part of a larger overall unity. Together they offer a look at the modern man travelling.
In June 2004 I displayed the then completed material as a separate exhibition at Henie Onstad Art Centre. The exhibition Relocation, a Quasi-Scientific Journey contained 200 paintings as well as accompanying photographic material. The photo documentation added to the explanation of the process-oriented project. It was the only opportunity to see this large amount of pictures gathered in one place. Today the painting pairs have reached their final destinations; the various hotel rooms.
Oslo, november 2007