On 18 May 1980, Robert Landsburg was killed while he stood photographing the volcanic eruption of Mount St Helens in the US state of Washington. The films that were found in his backpack document both a violent natural phenomenon – the ash clouds closing in, the sky getting ever darker – and the very moment of his death. The exhibition Sow in the Ash so that Nothing is Lost takes Landsburg’s fate as its starting point, and the works on display can be seen as both documentary responses to the event in question as well as free-standing artistic expressions. The Swedish author Magnus Dahlström writes his version of Landsburg’s final movements on the mountainside and attempts to do what those bereft by a catastrophe often do: he puts himself in someone else’s place, imagines what happened and invents a narrative to fill in the blank emptiness.
In the video work Mannen, Johan Øvergård reflects on the ways in which humans observe, interpret and romanticise nature, and on how a concept such as “slow TV” has been a ratings success even while featuring an aesthetics more readily associated with surveillance technology. In Mannen, Øvergård takes NRK’s live stream of the unstable Norwegian mountain Mannen – whose imminent collapse has recently been predicted by geologists on several occasions, though this has yet to happen – and incorporates it into the field of art. The work effectively shows how the action-packed narrative of the imminent landslide is frustrated time and again by the mute, intractable mountain itself, as well as how popular culture’s cultivation of catastrophes and apocalypses, as well as the fetishism of always being there when it happens, has acquired a new “format”. This may also be inferred from Dahlström’s text, where it is precisely the anticipation and idea of the volcanic eruption that causes the photographer to remain where he is, even when the actual eruption suddenly takes place. Øvergård’s video work reflects on modern technology’s inherent capacity to let us observe, discover and describe nature without putting our lives in danger, even as it shows how viewers who are coming closer – it’s all a click away, no matter where you are in the world – may experience that new barriers have been erected between themselves and nature.
Ann Iren Buan began her artistic training by focusing on drawing, but she has long been interested in the more sculptural properties of paper and its transformative potential from vulnerable to vigorous, from miniature to monumental. She herself views both the space and the sculptures as bodies, thus reminding us that it is always the body itself that is the sensory surface through which people receive reality. Buan’s sculptures are not merely objects, they also intervene in the space and thereby affect the viewer’s experience of both the work and the space. But similar to how Øvergård’s Mannen is a non-static sculpture, so to speak, also the papers used in Ann Iren Buan’s sculptures are continuously undergoing small, inconspicuous metamorphoses, in accordance with the laws of matter that paper is subject to.
By way of small publications released by his own independent press, England Forlag, Jørn H. Sværen has developed a distinct, bare-bones style of poetry, with one book even consisting of a mere three sentences. His poetry demands a slow, deliberate form of reading, one that forces viewers to focus ever more intently on the details (verses, amounts of words, spaces). The poems may also be associated with epitaphs, something that may evoke a pre-modern writing situation, where the cumbersomeness of the act of writing itself – whether a runic inscription or a text chiselled in by a stone mason – narrowed the scope of what could be expressed. In many ways, the archaic in Sværen’s poetry creates an historical resonance.
In Sværen’s collection Vi er tiggere, one of whose poems has provided the title for the present exhibition, the sentence Lakunenes lys (“The light of the lacunae”) stands alone on a page. Referring to a gap or a missing word in a text, a lacuna represents something lost and irreplaceable. Such lacunae or gaps are something the works featured in the exhibition circle around in various ways: what we don’t see, and how we portray this; what we don’t know, and what we tell.
The touring exhibition will be shown at Galleri 69 in Oslo, Harpefoss Hotell and finally LevArt in Levanger. The tour will be documented and presented in a book to launched 19 March at LevArt. The project wishes thereby to accentuate the close connection between art and text, between exhibition and book.