Saturday, 5 April 2014

A memory

Warm stone walls
surround a sheltered back yard
a little girl
a tricycle
bees buzzing
from flower to flower
the little girl
tries to be quiet
don't disturb the neighbours!
they don't like
children playing 

the glossy black cat
darts past
she follows it
through the kitchen where mum is cooking
shush, your sister's asleep!
the cat dashes past
the little girl
strokes warm soft fur
leave the cat
the cat slips into the nursery
the little girl

maybe the same day
a strange bed
many beds
orderly rows
many windows
the nurse tells her she's been lucky
the little boy
with all the bandages
the boy in the cab of a lorry
an old lorry
with worn-out brakes
the boy was hurt

the house with the warm, sheltered back yard
at the foot of a steep hill
is no longer

playing with her cat
a little girl 
under rubble
stone walls
warm sun
a tricycle
a soft warm cat

She was lucky
many more moments
a whole life
the noise of children playing
fragile lives
warm sheltering stone walls

some day
the memories
the moments
will end

for now there are

a whole life


This incident occurred early in my life, and was probably my first conscious encounter with life's fragility and transience. The memories are fragments; partial images; smells and colours and sounds. I was a small child when it happened, in 1970, but in my mind the images are still fresh... The little row of houses was demolished when a lorry lost its brakes; thankfully, there were no fatalities, though the driver's son was seriously injured. I remember the surprise when our cat and even the neighbour's budgie escaped unharmed.

An art installation: AltErEtt... AltErEgo

AltErEtt or AltErEgo, February-March 2014, 
an installation, in Evangerista kunst -og kulturhus.
The name of the artist: Mona Nordaas:

Evanger, a tiny village in Norway, is home to Norwegian artist Mona Nordaas, who makes colourful installations from materials and objects that have been thrown out as garbage. Putting together things that are damaged, ugly, or no longer modern or useful, she creates art which is both pleasing and intriguing, beautiful and thought-provoking.

This text is a rewrite of two essays which I wrote about Mona’s work in 2014, as submissions for the Coursera course "Live!: A History of Art for Artists, Animators and Gamers".

Foto: Mona Nordaas
Mona’s combined café and art gallery, Evangerista kunst -og kulturhus, is pleasant, with a warm, quiet atmosphere. If music is playing, it is relaxing, rhythmic, and soft enough to allow conversation and reflection. The room is furnished with tables and chairs in different colours and materials, an old piano, a large, old-fashioned cafe counter, and a bright red sofa which divides the space. Entering the bathroom, you find yourself in yet another world, painted in glowing shades of blue, green and turquoise, and inhabited by numerous unwanted toy dinosaurs of every shape, size and colour. 

At the far end of the café, flimsy curtains on either side of a small stage are pulled open, to reveal AltErEtt, or AltErEgo, the installation on which Mona is currently working. In Norwegian, the names AltErEtt and AltErEgo play on the words of which they are made up, forming a deliberate quadruple meaning: Alter-et means the altar, while alt-er-ett means all is oneAlter ego can also be read as alt-er-ego – all is ego

The installation stands tall on the small stage, functioning simultaneously as an altar and a representation of a person, bearing within itself countless large and small elements: a Buddha; embellishments and ornaments; a tray holding tiny cups; a harlequin; a marionette; orderly and complex collections of objects, mirrors, lights... 

Every surface holds small objects that could fall at the slightest push, just as we present an attractive, but fragile, outer layer, protecting our inner vulnerability. The Buddha sits at the back, centred within a flimsy body with limbs on either side. Near the front, the tray and the tiny cups signal a readiness to serve and share. In front of the Buddha, the harlequin looks out, ready for mischief. A marionette leaps from the top – strings pulled from within or from without? 

Foto: Mona Nordaas
To me, the presence of both contemplative and mischievous figures, the collections of objects in warm colours on one side and cold colours on the other side, and the partly covered mirrors at the back, reminiscent of yin-yang symbols, simultaneously symbolize balance and complexity. 

Bathing in the gentle hustle and bustle of the café, I reflect... Do we view all existence as one? Do we see all as part of our-selves? Are these views mutually exclusive? If all is one, why are we so wasteful? Ultimately, do we choose who and what we are? It is interesting to consider this work as an allegory of contemporary times, as it has so many layers, possible interpretations, and points of entry.

In the simple act of reusing throw-away objects, the work has an intended meaning in the form of an overt political message about waste and materialism; an undisguised critique of the pervasive throw-away culture of overconsumerism in which we all take part. On other levels this work acts as an allegory of contemporary times in the way it reveals hidden meanings related to life, identity and human complexity; it can be seen down-up or up-down, and we can approach it from many different angles. 

Foto: Mona Nordaas
On a superficial level, like AltErEtt or AltErEgo, each one of us makes up a whole, appearing as a more or less coherent entity. Yet, in the deeper layers of our being, we are made up of distinct, yet indivisible, yet contradictory elements; we are simultaneously selfish and selfless, good and bad, constructive and destructive. Each of us embodies femininity and masculinity, optimism and pessimism, harmony and disharmony. AltErEtt or AltErEgo can be seen as a beautiful and expressive manifestation of the many facets of human nature; even elements that are unattractive, perhaps even ugly, contribute to the beauty of the finished work. 
In particular, though, AltErEtt or AltErEgo reminds us of our mortality. Like the discarded artefacts that make up the work - and like the work created from these artefacts - each one of us will one day cease to be an entity, and all that we once were will fall apart. If we are unable to stop waste and over-consumption, even the beautiful and vulnerable world which we now inhabit may one day be only a memory - to be remembered by whom? 

To return to the name AltErEtt or AltErEgo, the work functions as an altar - for the worship of what or whom? There is a Buddha hidden deep in the core of the structure, but also an angel, mirrors, a glass sphere - a crystal ball...?  Which aspects of self make up our ego? Do we all sometimes – or always – have one or more alter egos? Are our individual selves parts of a greater one? Is every being part of a one, part of a whole - which in turn is a sum of its elements? How do we reconcile all is one, all is ego, alter ego – with the worship of an other which is implied by the presence of an altar?

AltErEtt/AltErEgo is quite a large installation; the combination of a very small child and an extremely complex, flimsy and breakable construction is not to be recommended - thankfully, on this particular occasion disaster was avoided... :)

Monday, 6 May 2013

Good gifts for kids

Our kids have so many toys and things. They really don't lack anything. They certainly don't need a lot of new stuff - excess toys, paper, little bits and pieces, already clutter up their rooms. Sorting and tidying it all eats away at our time and energy...
So, what is on my wishlist for the kids?

- Time... there is never enough time for day-to-day shared fun and real tasks,
- Seeds and tools for the garden,
- Lego,
- Art supplies,
- Books and workbooks,
- Experiences... Little breaks from day-to-day routines:

  • baby lambs living outside in the open, even when it snows; 
  • waves breaking on the rocks every time a boat goes by, while sandwiches and hotdogs are toasting over a bonfire; 
  • sealions splashing at the aquarium.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Et minne

Den lille husrekken

Lune steinmurer omgir bakgården
den lille jenten
biene summer i blomstene
hun prøver
å være stille
ikke forstyrr naboene!
de liker ikke
støy fra lekende småbarn
den svarte blanke katten
stryker forbi
jenten etter
gjennom kjøkkenet der mor ordner
ikke bråk, lillesøster sover!
vær stille, igjen
katten løper

den lille jenten etter
stryker varm myk pels
ikke plag katten!
katten smyger seg inn på barnerommmet
jenten etter
så er det ikke mer

Litt senere
kanskje samme dag
en fremmed seng
mange senger
på rad
langs veggene
på motsatt side vinduer
mange vinduer
en pleier sier at hun har vært heldig
den lille gutten med bandasjene
var ikke like heldig
han satt
i bilen
huset med den lune bakgården
nederst i en bratt bakke
brått står det der
ikke mer

Hun løp etter katten
ble borte
under knuste steiner
av et hjem
den varme solen
den lille jenten
hun var heldig
fikk mange flere
et helt liv
støy fra lekende småbarn

Sauer i vinterlandskap
alt det flyktige
lune steinmurer
omgir det
en dag er det ikke mer

det er mange dager
å ta av
enn så lenge