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Culture news
Art in the Arctic
07.21.2006 16:35

arctic By Andrei Vorobei

Special to St. Petersburg Times

Can the harsh, unpolished North compete with the warm, sophisticated South?

Can the inhospitable climate and slim cultural pickings of the North attract the art-loving tourist?

“Artscape Nordland” — a huge, unprecedented cultural undertaking in north Norway — has seriously challenged these flippant biases. Instead of walking along crowded, stuffy urban streets, visitors follow a route marked by contemporary sculptures inserted into a bewitching and pristine landscape.

Nordland County is narrow and lengthy, indented by the rocky coastline of fjords, half of which is beyond the Arctic Circle. To the north, it is washed by the Atlantic Ocean and to the south, it shares a mountain border with Sweden.

This extremely isolated location was transformed from a barren cultural desert into a captivating artistic oasis from 1992 to 1998. An open-air collection of 33 sculptures from both young and celebrated artists from all over the world is spread around a sparsely populated area of 40,000 square meters. Because of the vast distances between the art works, it is not considered a traditional sculptural ghetto similar to those in city parks.

Behind the enormous investment in the project stood a democratic ideology of making contemporary art available in Norway’s provincial backwaters. This was questioned by the region’s residents who were initially against the sculptural decoration of the area, thinking something like “as if Nordland isn’t beautiful enough as it is.” But the project was also didactic, teaching tolerance of contemporary art, which might be an alien, artificial thing to a person who has been a sheep farmer or fisherman all his life.

“Artscape Nordland” radically breaks the quite arrogant practice of isolating art from its surroundings. Urban, vainglorious man packs his art in clean and secured boxes in museums or on the white walls of galleries.

But in Nordland, all the sculptures were made for wild, natural sites chosen by the artists themselves. Often using local materials (of which “Norwegian Rose” marble is, perhaps, most well-known and beautiful), the artists had in mind certain interactions with the majestic environment — fjords, mountains, tranquil lakes, boisterous rivers (famous for their maelstroms), and calm oceans.

The art is in a way a pretext for visitors to experience certain natural phenomena; grandiose performances like the Midnight Sun or the Northern Lights. According to residents, the area next to the ocean near Swiss Markus Raetz’s inventive work “Head” is one of the best places to see such sights.

However, the chosen natural spots are often conceptualized by the artists and these conceptions are culturally dependent, at least as far as project curator Maaretta Jaukkuri is concerned. The artist’s selection policy went according to an expanding geographic spiral: starting with Norwegian artists, then those from Nordic countries, then those from Northern Europe and up to those artists with an absolutely foreign geographical background such as the Spanish artist Cristina Iglesias, whose work is called “Laurel Leaves — Moskenes” and the Brazilian artist Waltercio Caldas, whose contribution is titled “Around.”

After they were installed, the sculptures were left in brutal natural habitats, open to the elements. The same forces which gave mountains or the fjord coastline its shape through winds, waves, erosion, rain and vegetation are exterted on a great number of the sculptures such as Jan Hafstrom’s “The Forgotten Town,” Martti Aiha’s “Seven Magic Points,” Anish Kapoor’s “The Eye in Stone,” Steinar Christensen’s “Stella Maris,” and Dorothy Cross’ “Shark-Cow-Bathtub.” The experience of these and many other exciting art works, besides their austere natural milieu, is seriously amplified by nature’s mastery of them.

A few of the works take this relationship into artistic consideration right from the beginning. Kari Caven’s sculpture “Today, Tomorrow, Forever” consists of three elements, each of which is made of material with different life cycles — firewood, wood and stone. As with anything organic, the work will not always be the same as it used to be.

There are some smart urban references in some of the sculptures.

The most private and intimate is made by Inghild Karlsen’s “After-images.” In the two-part sculpture, the glass shade of an ordinary street lamp takes the shape of a human face which becomes a source of light and assistance.

The most visible and absorbing is Antony Gormley’s granite “Havmannen” (“Man from the Sea”), stuck somewhere between a natural and urban environment.

“If we take a step further away and look at the sculpture in its setting, in the landscape formed by the town and its buildings, the fjord with its water and the fells with their intricate stone formations, we can experience the sculpture losing its materially heavy presence and being transformed into a black outline, almost a hole or a negative form sculpted in the air,” curator Jaukkuri said, beautifully and precisely capturing the sculpture in words.

The “Artscape Nordland” route is now one of the standard items on the north Norway tourist menu, along with scuba diving, fishing, rafting, whale watching and mountaineering. There is an illustrated travel guide in Norwegian, German and English, as well as a special road map that shows the way to the sculptures.

It is best to start the journey at the city of Bodo, a locality with tall, sunlit, wooden, colored houses and a population around 45,000. Established in 1816, it is now the administrative center of Nordland County. In the harbor area stands a work by one of the top names that contributed to the project, British sculptor Tony Cragg.

It takes visitors about two weeks to follow the whole route and see each sculpture.

www.skulpturlandskap.no, www.kunstinordland.no

News source: times.spb.ru
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