July 10, 2013 2 Lessons
Now that it’s summer and days are (literally) longer I’ve been thinking a lot about my time in Oslo so far. I’ve been here almost two years now and I’m beginning to accumulate a mental inventory of friends, experiences, and things I’ve learned. Oddly enough, I think my top two life lessons (both re: how to look at art) here in Norway were graciously given to be my an American and a Sudanese..
The first came as a friendly piece of advice from my old professor and artist Aeron Bergman. He’s unfortunately left Oslo to take up a teaching job in Seattle, but not without making an impact on me and also so many others here. Over one of our first conversations about the school, living in Norway, my despair over the absence of any “real” or harsh critique, etc, he paused and said: “You know, it’s a very dangerous thing to say something is not art.”
Though it seems like such an obvious thing to me now, at the time his comment gave me pause.
He continued (paraphrased): “By saying something is not art, you are not only granting yourself absolute power to arbitrate what is art or not, but you are narrowing the possibility for anything new to happen.”
So true. Remember this! Critique is a necessary and important tool, but it is even more important to remember to get off the high horse and take the high road when critiquing others. It is possible to be honest without being intentionally hurtful or close-minded. It is possible to possess an incredible amount of knowledge and still have things to learn. And while it may seem safe to stick to the definition of modern art as propagated by the art world and institutions, while commonly accepted, this definition is still inherently narrow and limiting. In order to take art further than it already is, we must be prepared for anything, especially that which we do not know or recognize (yet) as art.
The second big growing experience I had was going on a study trip to Sudan and Egypt with the Art Academy, organized by Fadlabi. For so many reasons I cannot number, this trip changed me and the way I saw the world. Now, one year later, I find in this interview between Fadlabi and the Senegalese artist Issa Samb snippets of familiar conversations that come up during our trip. Also a beautiful way of defining who an artist is: Fadlabi asks Issa Samb how he can become a good artist. To which, Samb simply replies:
“You don’t need to be good. You need to create art. It doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad. An artist produces art.”
Photo above: an email my friend Åsmund (also on the trip) sent me after coming home + desert rocks (2012)
April 2, 2013 Websites
I’ve been thinking about websites a lot lately. All sorts of websites—my own, my friends’, other artists, total strangers, etc.
A lot of websites I’ve looked up lately are totally empty. Just a name, an email. Maybe one image and a name, an email, a CV. Maybe just a CV. Some websites are totally full, overflowing with information. Made with IndexExhibit, maybe. Some websites are full of found images that do not have a clear connection to the work or even perhaps the person behind the webpage. It’s confusing. My website used to be one of the middle ones, overflowing. There’s still a lot here, but less than there used to be. All this information makes me feel very vulnerable sometimes.
Maybe I feel vulnerable because it seems a lot of these people who no longer have websites have somehow moved beyond the medium; they no longer need websites to help them obtain gallery shows or have their images printed onto pieces of clothing. Their online fame has translated into a real world commodity. Or perhaps their names are just so uncommon that it is easy just to Google them and see a selection of their work? I don’t know.
Either way, I’m still here. Online.
November 9, 2012 FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION
My first impression of the place was that we had left the city entirely. As if somehow by walking the distance of a few blocks through some odd back alleys, we were taken at least as far away as a suburb nestled half an hour away from the city via commuter train. We definitely weren’t in Oslo anymore, or at least the same city I had come to know over the last year. Vivi tried to explain the place to me using terminology I could relate to: a “bridge and tunnel” bar. In New York “bridge and tunnel” is a general term that refers to all of the people who come into the city every weekend from Long Island, New Jersey, and beyond. Literally they come in cars and trains through bridges and tunnels, so there you go.
“See that guy over there?”, she said, nodding her head in the general direction of the door. “Yea, the normal looking guy in the corner?” “Yes, him. I used to see him everyday on the bus when I was younger and lived out in the suburbs. I used to wonder what he did on the weekends and actually… I think he comes here a lot.”
“Cool.” I wasn’t sure how to respond. This place was strange but soon enough I became adjusted to my new surroundings. I didn’t know anyone there, of course, but then again most of the people I knew were from the art world and the crowd here was very, very different. In fact, I couldn’t imagine anyone I knew here aside from the people I was already with. Which was a shame, because the first thing I noticed was that everyone looked so happy.
It’s Saturday night and half past one. The bar is more narrow than wide and has very few distinguishing features. The most striking of which is that the bar is actually a storefront, so the entire right hand side when you walk in is a large plate glass window. From the outside the window provides passersby on the street with a clear, albeit backside view of a small karaoke stage with a DJ and sometimes a singer atop. One side of the stage runs into a wall and two other sides face small tables with patrons and a group of people dancing out of their seats. There is also a handy flatscreen facing the street displaying lyrics in real time as the singer inside belts them out over the sound system. We were sitting by the bar, as far away from the stage as possible, which actually wasn’t that far since the bar was pretty small.
A middle aged woman on the stage is singing a very sad Norwegian song I have never heard before, but everyone else in the room seems to know it. The video screen behind her shows images of the moon and romantic landscapes at dusk. Her voice isn’t beautiful by any stretch of the imagination, but she seems very into it. There is emotion in her voice and she means every word she sings; they are hers and she is both happy and sad at the same time. Meanwhile, Vivi is hungrily flipping through the song books: flip, flip, flip, “ooh”, flip, flip, flip. Right across the table from her is Espen, looking completely terrified. I’m somewhere in the middle, equal parts excitement and terror, because I know I will sing but I also want to get a feel for the atmosphere. And it feels good. The all around mood is very safe, very open, and very drunk. Half full beer glasses litter our table from people who left before we arrived.
The bar’s routine is both comforting and loud. After the woman is finished singing, a round of applause circulates among the patrons for a few seconds before the DJ starts to blast reggaeton. A minute after that, dancers have materialized and fill the space directly in front of the stage until it is time for another song. When that time comes, the DJ calls out a person’s first name, cues up his equipment, and the cycle is repeated. Some singers were very good, almost showing off. Others were more like the first woman, endearing almost to the point of embarrassment. Almost, but not entirely—like catching a glimpse of a friend naked for the first time—that warm mixture of curiosity and embarrassment that you have breached some boundary, usually unintentionally. The feeling that arises seeing another person stripped of all their defenses but not their power, the murky feelings of kinship and alienation intertwined, inseparable from one another.
The definitive highlight of the night was when an guy wearing a red baseball hat and holding a glass of beer took the stage. He yelled more than he sang into the microphone, but his rendition of the old folk song “2525” set to the unofficial cyber-punk video on the screen behind him gave everyone the chills. It was beautiful.
October 10, 2012 What I do and who I am, according to the Internet
I am younger than a girl who posted my images on her Flickr account. The value and rank of small websites change all the time. My old website, Paperheart, was around 8 years before a film came along with the same name. My website is slick. My work is quiet and musical at the same time. Painfully sentimental. Some are not a fan of my content but are intrigued nonetheless. My images produce immediate emotional reactions. Tender and curious. Introspective and a tad manic-depressive. My collages are scattered. Subtle. I’m tuned into something very specific. Odd, beautiful, silly, sad. Small pleasures. I turn the everyday into the diary of an artist. A common reaction: “I love this and I hate this, but why?”
The above text is a conglomeration of different written texts about me or my work lifted from 36 publicly accessed blogs and websites. The sources are here.
December 15, 2011 This week at art school
The magicians have their tricks
The cooks have their ingredients
Painters have paint
Artists, what do we have?
“It’s so nice and slick and looks so much like art..”
“Art is supposed to be visual, why is there so much talking and writing?”
“You just can’t do everything, then it is not art anymore”
“If you think about it, a lot of press releases are these strange texts between criticism and advertising”
“I understand it less now that I hear you talking about it”