By Heather Jones, Feb 12., 2018
Margrethe Aanestad is a Stavanger-based artist and co-director of the artist-run project space Prosjektrom Normanns. Below, Aanestad answers our questions about balancing artistic production with managing a gallery, her relationship with abstraction and art history, and the underlying themes behind her artwork and creative process.
Heather Jones: You’re very well known for your involvement in running the independent project space Prosjektrom Normanns, but also have your own individual artistic practice. How do you balance running a space and making your own work, as well as carving out an artistic identity separate from the gallery space?
Margrethe Aanestad: This is a complex thing I think everyone who´s an artist and also active in running a space or similar initiatives is facing. Speaking for myself, it is impossible to separate the two, because curating and artistic dialogue are both a part of my practice. I have been initiating, curating and producing work since 2001. Through working with Prosjektrom Normanns, I am continuously in touch with my network that springs from both of my own artistic work and my work directing the space and the activities connected to both. The roles are mixed, tied, dependent and build on each other, both for my self and how my network recognizes me. But I am first and foremost an artist, and my own art making is a life-long project. My practice and career is not dependent or part of Prosjektrom Normanns as such. So it is kind of two parallels that intertwine as long as I do both, if that’s a way to describe it. But, to separate and carve out time for my own research and production is challenging while doing both, and some periods it works better than others. Elin Melberg and I are working with PN every day including weekends, and there is always something that is urgent. To set aside space and time for my own thought process and production can be very challenging, but we are conscious about it, and it comes in waves. We just work a lot!
HJ: In earlier conversations we’ve discussed the loneliness that is common to many artists. Can you discuss this loneliness – is it specific to working here in Stavanger, and why do you persist in making your artwork?
MA: The loneliness I think comes with the role – or calling – in life as an artist. When insisting you have something to contribute that matters, that has to do with very personal artistic creation and reflection, I think the loneliness counts for wherever you choose to work, and is not special for Stavanger. To be persistent, able to disconnect from what is going on around that is disturbing, and to follow your heart, is lonely. As an artist you also get a lot of comments, suggestions and advice of all kinds, so you have to stay strong in what you really want and think for yourself. That is a lonely job. It is also in general lonely to be your own boss, employer, manager, schedule organiser, grant writer, producer, advisor and communicator. And it is at the same time very, very satisfying.
I persist in making work because there is no other option. It is a part of who I am, how I think and live. Not making art makes me feel incomplete.
HJ: You often refer to non-figurative abstraction as a language and a way of understanding for you. How did you arrive at this visual language?
MA: I have never decided actively to work in abstraction. It is natural for me. This is what comes out in the making. Since I was little, I have always been drawn towards the so-called non-representative, abstract language in the arts. It contains a lot, it speaks to me – the ambiguous, subtle and strong, the vague and the overwhelming – the contradictions, all simultaneously – as small representatives or bearers of what is universal, yet personal, in existence, impossible to grasp completely. I like to disappear into it. And I am very fascinated by qualities and nuances in and between different materials and techniques. This is reflected in my use of materials and expressions, I go between opposites, and am drawn to contrasts. The term abstraction though, its not an easy one. I don´t make abstractions or simplifications of something that is not. I like to see it as pure, real reflections, containers or expressions of human experience and nature, which is already in many ways impossible to know completely. I try to grasp parts, moments.
HJ: When we met earlier, you mentioned feeling very connected to a “family tree of artists.” From what art historical sources or figures to you draw inspiration?
MA: What I mean with this expression is that when you grow up and find out about art and realize that there are humans throughout history that have created work you feel related and connected to, like a common understanding, that is crossing the notion of time, it is more a familiar notion of relationship. From history I am very much an admirer of Early Italian Renaissance, Byzantine paintings and mosaics, even parts of Romanticism, Symbolism, Japanese painting….and some American Abstract Expressionists such as Mark Rothko and Clyfford Still. I love James Turell, Olafur Eliasson…..The Norwegian weaver Frida Hansen, painters Lars Hertervig and Olaf Lange (all three born in Stavanger) are of huge inspiration, and sculptors like Barbara Hepworth. For me there is a line between all of these, that has to do with room and space and trespassing into something else.
As for contemporary artists, there are many. At the moment I am inspired by Nathlie Provosty, an American painter I have seen works by in New York several times. Ann Iren Buan, Anders Sletvold Moe, Ane Graff, and Elin Melberg are very gifted and amazing Norwegian artists, and I love the works by the two Miami-based artists Frances Trombly and Leyden-Rodriguez Casanova, and Sky Glabush (Canada) for instance. I could go on and on. I really love those artists’ work and also am so glad to be fortunate to collaborate with many of them through our work with Prosjektrom Normanns.
HJ: You also once said to me “Everything I do has to do with presence.” Can you elaborate on how this desire to create a sense of presence is manifested in your work?
MA: In my work I want to carry through a nerve, a personal presence that the viewer can experience. I try to make an opportunity to spend time and to experience something that makes connection with oneself. Calmness, silence, or chaos. Contemplation, if you will. Overall, my work is about eliciting a sensation that opens up for presence. Either my meditative time-consuming pastel-drawings or quick, almost careless, brush strokes, or placing and composing objects in a certain way so they make a place, have breath. Steadiness, calmness or chaos, improvisation, all require presence.
HJ: There is often a misunderstanding of how abstract art is created. Can you talk about your process for creating the works – both in your studio and in external spaces like your recent project on Sølyst?
MA: My process for creating is to start with the materials and formats, and an idea of where it will end as work and what energy I want to create. I have that inside me. I cannot plan something completely and then make it. I need the tension and to not know. I always spend the time to build up a certain energy, a focus. Both in the studio and outside. Then I just start and see how it goes, and I often work on several pieces simultaneously. Before I start I know more how I want my feeling to be, than how the finished piece should be. And sometimes I surprise myself and make something I feel strongly for, and had no idea it was coming.
For the project at Sølyst, I was there to explore the nature and atmosphere a couple of times before I decided what to do. What really struck me out there was the silence, the remoteness from everything, the sun, shifting light and the wind. The wind also as an unpredictable element. It is quite rough there along the seaside, so the wind can be very intense – and also very soft, gentle. I decided to put up six various textiles in the trees, over a larger area. They formed a whole composition, as freely hanging moving objects, involving the shifting light in the woods and varying intensities of the wind. The textiles became sculptural beholders and reflectors of the winds changing rhythm and force, and transparent qualities will let the light pass through. Resembling canvases, veils or flags, in all kinds of weather during the fall, they changed between slow, almost invisible movements to extremely intense, flying horizontally. I wanted to create an awareness of the elements, what you cannot necessarily see, to let the nature work and become a partner in the result. The textiles were there for a month, and transformed and changed over time because of the sun and weather, resulting in kind of records of a certain time at this specific place. At the moment the textiles are stored in my studio and I wonder how to take them further.
HJ: Returning once again to the idea of balance – much of your work is seductive and beautiful with soft tones and watercolor washes, but other works are hard-edged and dark. Can you talk about the role of beauty and subtlety in your work and how you attempt to balance that?
MA: Those qualities have different roles. My work alternates between fragile and quiet phrases, and more powerful and explosive, expressive ones, and sometimes in between. I am fascinated by the idea of the infinite and eternal versus volatile and disappearing moments; the vulnerability we have as human beings – and how life can remind us of the capricious temperament in nature and the universe, where chaos and vanishing exists parallel to calm, balance and silence. I like to let the lightness in my work almost seem like nothing, like sketches, a beginning or nearly disappearing, and like you say, kind of seductive, delicate, floral, but still there insisting. In the darker works it is intensity I am looking for, like layers one cannot pass, or the vastness of darkness, overwhelming, threatening. The unpredictable factor needs to be there for balance. Although, I have always thought that great art, in all genres and forms, reminds you that you are alone, that everything as we know it has a certain fragility. Existence can be so beautiful, but is brutal.
Å treffe små og store på én gang
Av Kristina Ketola Bore, Periskop, 16.03.2017
Margrethe Aanestad og Elin Melbergs installasjon i Gosen barnehage i Stavanger bruker livet i barnehagen som utgangspunkt for hvordan barn og voksne møter kunsten.
Barn møter visuell kunst på flere plattformer og med forskjellig utgangspunkt, og sammen danner disse erfaringene et grunnlag for videre kunstforståelse. Mange barn forholder seg på daglig basis til offentlige kunstverk blant annet i barnehagen og på skole. Kunstverkene kan her fungere som en måte å oppmuntre til videre utforskning av feltet, og ikke minst, til andre tankemønster enn de som barna introduseres for på skolen.
Men hva har en barnehage i Stavanger å fortelle oss om hvordan kunstnere kan tilnærme seg offentlig kunst rettet mot barn?
Bruker kunsten som del av sine daglige aktiviteter
I Gosen barnehage i Stavanger har installasjonsverket Du og jeg og de andre vært på plass i snart et år. Med mosaikk som formspråk og med lyselementer som skal vekke sansene, er det et fokus på den umiddelbare opplevelsen av øyeblikket som preger verket.
Skapt av billedkunstnere Margrethe Aanestad og Elin Melberg på bestilling av Stavanger kommune, har arbeidet blitt installert i et fellesrom for barna og de voksne. Her har Du og jeg og de andre blitt en kjerne for aktiviteter i barnehagen – både fysisk, i det at rommet faktisk befinner seg midt i barnehagen, og fordi verket i seg selv inspirerer til lek, opplevelse og refleksjon.
I barnehagesettingen, som fra før av er preget av nettopp disse aktivitetene, er Du og jeg og de andre åpen nok til at både barn og voksne kan møte verket på hverdagens premisser, i forskjellige aktiviteter, på forskjellige tider på dagen og med forskjellig refleksjonsnivå. Her det ikke snakk om en omfattende installasjon der kunsten eksisterer som en enhet som barna skal «interagere med» i form av å springe gjennom eller klatre over, slik som kan være tilfellet når billedkunst går i møte med de yngste målgruppene. Verket i Gosen barnehage har rom for både individuelle tankerekker, for aktiviteter, og for å komme sammen og stille spørsmål om grunnleggende eksistensielle temaer. Hvilket forhold har vi til naturen? Hvordan kan man danne fellesskap? Hvilken rolle har individet i en gruppe?
På den måten har Melberg og Aanestad lagt til rette for at kunsten skal eksistere sammen med barna, og at barna og de voksne skal kunne la kunsten være del av sine daglige aktiviteter. Dette er nybrottsarbeid når det gjelder visuell kunst for barn.
Mosaikken som metafor for fellesskap
Rommet der Du og jeg og de andre er installert, er i utgangspunktet et typisk kommune-utformet og sobert rom, slik som på de fleste offentlige institusjoner, inkludert barnehager.
Men i stedet for å bryte inn og omforme rommet, har de de to kunstnerne tilpasset verket omgivelsene både i tone og form. Firkantede bilder av reflekterende speilmosaikk og farget mosaikk er spredt ut i rommet. En av de større veggene har fått et veggmaleri av overlappende farger, mens de mindre veggene er malt med fargeflater. Fra taket henger firkantede, gjennomsiktige pleksiglass i en slags løsrevet mosaikkinstallasjon.
Mosaikken forteller oss om flere deler som fungerer sammen – i en postmoderne ånd av eklektiske sammensetninger. Slik er det også en enkel metafor for barn som samles i en gruppe slik de gjør i barnehagen. Men et mer interessant aspekt er hvordan refleksjonen i speilmosaikken og pleksiglasset forteller om et samspill mellom det menneskeskapte og naturen. Bruk av lys som en forlengelse av sollys og natur, åpner verket for funderinger rundt forholdet mellom mennesket og natur, mellom oss selv og verden rundt oss.
Åpner for samtaler og individuell refleksjon
I barnehagesammenhengen blir dette gjerne utgangspunktet for samtaler med barna om nettopp disse ideene, samtaler som kan fungere på flere vanskelighetsnivåer. Noen kan ha nok med å bare oppleve farge- og materialsammensetningen, og hvordan rommet skiller seg fra andre rom i barnehagen. Andre kan fornemme samspillet mellom det konstruerte og natur-aspektet i verket.
Men Du og jeg og de andre fungerer også på individplan for både voksne og barn. Det abstrakte formuttrykket gir muligheter for å trekke linjer og finne sin egen mening. Som aktivitet er det tett knyttet til livet i barnehagen for øvrig – å finne på historier og fantasere frem mening utgjør en viktig del av leken for små barn. Å stimulere til det med samtidskunsten som bakgrunn, er en elegant måte å gjøre kunst til en naturlig del av hverdagen for de små. Denne tilnærmingen kan også inspirere de voksne. Når vi blir gitt anledning til å delta og danne vår egen mening om hva vi har opplevd, blir det også lettere ta vare på øyeblikket som møtet med kunstverket skaper.
Lar barna videreutvikle verket
På Gosen er kanskje det mest påfallende hvordan barnehagen selv har grepet inn i verket og fortsatt arbeidet. Speilmosaikken har inspirert barna – eller de voksne – til å henge opp en discokule midt i rommet. De har også satt opp en utklippet papir-UFO i en lignende blåfarge som veggen. En drømmefanger som muligens dobler som et edderkoppnett, henger fra en bjelke.
Det er tydelig at dette rommet er viktig for både barna og de voksne, og at kunstnerne har lykkes i å inspirere til forskjellige tankemønstre og sanselige erfaringer – fra utenomjordisk liv til hvordan skapninger i naturen lager sine hjem. Ikke minst virker det som om både barna og de voksne har et ønske om å være del av det som Aanestad og Melberg her har startet.
Rommet, som ligger omtrent midt i barnehagen, brukes til både mindre grupper og til fellessamlingen for de over 50 barna og ansatte i barnehagen. Torsdager er det stillestund, der lyset dempes, to små lyskastere rettes mot speilmosaikken og pleksiglasset i taket, og man skal ha et øyeblikk der man slapper av, reflekterer og forsøker seg på litt «mindfulness», som bestyreren i barnehagen forteller. På fredag er det derimot fredagsdisco og man kan med enkelhet se hvordan installasjonen også møter dette behovet.
Men Du og jeg og de andre står samtidig støtt som et selvstendig verk, der det å oppleve og tenke over de forskjellige aspektene som verket åpner for, er nok.
Et rom for å være sammen
Melberg og Aanestad driver sammen det kunstnerstyrte rommet Prosjektrom Normanns og LLC Elefant, et studiorom, i Stavanger. Det synes at de er vante samarbeidspartnere, for i Du og jeg og de andre er begge kunstneres stemmer tilstede, uten å overdøve hverandre.
I en installasjon fra 2016 på Sølvberget i Stavanger gikk Melberg dypere inn i mosaikken som materiale, der hun i verket Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me (2016) samlet 400 000 mosaikkfliser. Aanestad på sin side løser opp stramme linjer og geometriske former i det som virker å være en interesse for brytningen av det rasjonelle med det spontane, og slik hun selv skriver i sin kunstnerpresentasjon, friksjonen mellom naturen og mennesket. Begge kunstnere interesserer seg for det umiddelbare og ivaretagelsen av det som ikke kommer tilbake.
Derfor er det kanskje ikke så overraskende at opplevelse også er i fokus i Gosen barnehage. Du og jeg og de andre er et rom der man skal oppleve sammen, men der man også skal fundere og ta vare på øyeblikket man har hatt sammen.
Plass til både kunstnerne, individet og kollektivet
Du og jeg og de andre forteller om hvordan vi kan samles rundt et kunstverk og ha det som et utgangspunkt for å skape erfaringer sammen. Som et offentlig kunstverk i en barnehage fungerer det eksemplarisk på flere nivåer: For de yngste som har tilgang til den sanselige erfaringer, for de litt eldre barna som kan fundere over spørsmålene som følger i kjølvannet av installasjonen og for de voksne som kan skape egne tankegods sammen med barna.
I Gosen barnehage har barna blitt inspirert, men Aanestad og Melberg har også laget et verk som bør inspirere flere som jobber med kunst mot barn og unge. Her er det plass til kunstnerne, til individet og til kollektivet.
By Nicola Louise Markhus and Marte Danielsen Jølbo, for the exhibition ee/aa, 2014
As well as being shown together for the first time, the exhibition ee/aa marks Venezuelan artist Eugenio Espinoza’s and Norwegian artist Margrethe Aanestad’s introduction to the Danish art scene. Despite being unrelated in terms of background, culture and generations, the artists share a language of minimal, geometric abstraction and the close to, yet still, im-perfect. They are also linked in their approach – the way they form, collect and compose in an exchange between intent, intuition and chance. In creating serial works that appear close in time, by revisiting earlier work and recurring themes or by referring further back in time to traditions within art history, both artists seem to insist on exploring timeless forms through repetition and reinvention. By exhibiting Espinoza and Aanestad together, we wish to present their distinct preoccupations, but also bring out a sense of repetition and difference, that not only link the two, but resonate with a history of artistic obsessions and constant redefining of universal themes.
The black-and-white grid, with its associations to both modernist painting and architecture, is recurrent in Espinoza's work. But the rigid grid is often distorted in his representations on soft materials or split and bended surfaces. For this exhibition Espinoza has created a new floor work. A white painted square with a missing corner forms an L-shape on the floor, which is covered by black paper ribbons laid out in his familiar grid. The viewers are invited to literally walk over the piece, changing the loose ribbons’ placement by their movements. This way of experimenting with form in opposition to the strict minimalist vocabulary illustrates Espinoza’s playfulness and draws a clear line to artists such as Robert Morris and his work with chance. External factors specific to our site and the interaction by the viewers creates an element of unpredictability; a gust of wind from the door or a visitor’s movement can affect the works appearance dramatically. This shifts the focus from the form to the performative quality of indeterminacy and thus gives the subject status as co-producer of the work. People familiar with Espinoza’s body of work will immediately recognize the floor piece’s relation to some of his earlier works such as Impenetrable and Negativa Moderna. Whereas Impenetrable closed off the whole room, forcing the viewer to stand outside it and look in, Negativa Moderna created a gigantic grid on the floor pieced together by endless rolls of canvas. The re-visiting of earlier works through new production is also reflected in a selection of collages shown in the exhibition. Here, Espinoza juxtaposes representations of new and older works, re-enforcing them with new meaning and actuality.
Aanestad’s simple shapes are drawn and redrawn, but rather than repeating to achieve perfection, her attempt is to define the intangible. With squares and triangles she builds up meditative spaces and atmospheres. She wishes to capture a sense of spirituality that she finds in her main source of inspiration; the ways in which the immaterial and changeable light meets physical spaces, both in nature and in architecture. Her geometric forms are drawn by freehand and evoke alternative representations of space and perspective found in byzantine and early renaissance art. Thus, the spatiality in her works should be understood symbolically rather than logically; space is created through the placement of form on the surface, not by lights and shadows or understandings of depth. Staying true to the motif, Aanestad moves through different techniques in her practice, and in this exhibition shows new works using brush with watercolour and ink. In comparison to her works made with coloured pencil, the investigation here becomes more focused on a balance between control and the uncontrollable. The unpredictability and speed of the process subject the planes to more varied degrees of intensity and transparency, and give room for happy accidents. The feeling of something that is slightly off, never too harmonious, is also evident in the way the works are grouped and installed in the exhibition space. Her drawings are mounted directly on the wall and floor, together with collections of larger found objects and materials. The paper becomes an important and active spatial agent, quietly insisting on its own presence as the drawings transcend the two-dimensional format and become finely tuned sculptural and architectural objects in themselves.
Shopping for ideas
By Geir Haraldseth, for the exhibition Utmark, 2012
The autonomous status of the artwork must be constantly contested and questioned, which is something that quickly becomes apparent when you consider where a work of art is shown. This is something artists Jørund Aase Falkenberg and Margrethe Aanestad’s explore in this exhibition setting by considering the space of the commercial gallery as a space for negotiating, not just the price and value of a work of art, but the symbolic value of a space. Their individual artistic practices are used as a means of investigating the space, constructing semi-spaces and utilizing the conventions of presentations of the particular gallery to test architecture, display and the conflicting language of the space.
Aanestad takes her visual cues from her works on paper, where simple gestures are repeated to fill a particular space, usually defined by the size of the paper. In this context the paper and the walls start to intertwine and create new spaces, not just for work, but to see the gallery space. The perception of the space is also something Falkenberg is testing by giving us an elevated view of the space, a look-out post, to consider the disparate elements on display, whether it is a work of art, a piece of gallery architecture or a remnant of a domestic interior.
The commercial gallery space is not just a space for commerce. The history of the sale and purchase of art is a complex one and has been accounted for not just in the field of art history, but also in sociology, economy and anthropology to name a few fields. The gallery and the dealer is an intermediary between the work of art (and the artist) and the buyer. The French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu wrote on this particular relationship in his book “Rules of Art,” where he describes the advent of this privileged space of art and the gallery and the unwritten rules that governs such a space. Bourdieu also writes on the anti-economic logic of the art-world, which entails a certain denial of monetary gain, both from the dealer and the artist, and what exactly a buyer of art actually buys. Selling art is not a straight-forward situation of supply and demand.
The field of contemporary art still abides by these rules and have adopted a precise language for the presentation and display of these goods. And goods they are. The white cube became an ideal setting in many ways for these goods, a significant change from the domestic interiors once favored by the galleries. This convention does not have a single origin, but developed during the 1920s in places like the Museum of Modern Art in New York and in Germany at the Hanover Landesmuseum.
Another important point of reference in relation to the display and the privileged good of art would be Adorno and Horkheimer’s “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception” They imply a certain hope, and indeed privilege, for the field of contemporary art, to be something other than a regular type of mass-produced good. Which it is. But the comparisons have to be drawn to the market of luxury goods. Art has always been a pursuit for the elites. If not for the aristocracy and God, then for the bourgeois.
Norway stands for a very different view of the art market that doesn’t really exist in the same way it does in other European countries. The money is not necessarily attached to a gallery, a dealer, or a buyer. It’s attached to the state. The state believes in the importance of art and artists and has chosen (after lobbying and political action from artists) to support artists in the form of stipends and grants. This is exceptional and does invite a different approach to art, and a severe suspicion of the art market.
The market and the gallery have been under close scrutiny for the past 50 years by artists themselves, most notably in what has been coined as Institutional Critique. Whether it is the measuring of the space of a museum or a gallery, revealing the architecture of a space that many would consider neutral, to reveal the financial ties of an institution or a gallery, removing a wall in the gallery to reveal the hidden offices of the business, or writing on the state of the art world, as Andrea Fraser did just a few months ago in the essay; L’1%, c’est moi.
What type of excavation work can an artist perform in a Norwegian gallery? Does it make sense to ask the same questions, or are there other types of enquiry to be had? Is the space of the commercial gallery contested in a similar fashion as in other countries?
These are some of the questions that are posed by Jørund Aase Falkenberg and Margrethe Aanestad who were invited by Kunstgalleriet in Stavanger to exhibit. Their interventions in the gallery stem from their own individual artistic practices, developed through conversations about the space, not just the physical space, but also the ideological space the gallery represents. Is it possible to gain new perspectives on the space and will this type of exhibition as intervention have an effect on the gallery, or is this type of activity a temporary critique, limited by the format of the exhibition itself?