Some thoughts on visualizing displacement and the status quo.

The feeling of being out of place, or displaced, is something that seems to stay relevant as a theme to artists and artists’ expressions in one way or another. Wether it be displacement around the idea of home and place, culture and identity, or displacement from reality, or sense thereof. When I started my Masters research I thought cultural displacement and the creation of a kind of trans-identity was largely going to be my only focus. The more I look at my current and previous work, and spend time reflecting upon it, the more I see that a displacement from reality is just as relevant in the way I visualize my thoughts and feelings through the construction of part fictional worlds. These are filled with storytelling, myths and fairytales, which are largely and mainly linked to my Norwegian cultural heritage and set against my current landscape of Australia.

My research is split in two halves, much like myself in my relation to my two home countries. (As I write this, a question arises; am I “allowed” to call Australia my home without being a permanent resident? After 6 years it feels like my home, whereas Norway feels like my cultural home and the home I relate to family. And after recent terror attacks, the saying Home is where the Heart is, proved that in many ways Norway is and always will be my home. Anyway, I digress.) On the one side I am looking at Norwegian myths, folklore and fairytales, particular Norwegian cultural customs and symbolism, and Norwegian artists like Theodor Kittelsen to see how I can best take these things and displace them within an Australian landscape and context. On the other side, there is my conceptual research that revolves around artists’ visualizations of displacement; who they are, how they’ve done it in the past and how they’re doing it now.

Then there is the research that covers how to make things, sculptures or props, which is a large part in itself. This part of my research also has to look at things that are typical Australian, particularly when it comes to landscape and how this differs to the Norwegian one, to better work out how to create cultural opposites and contradictions.

Lately I’ve been trying to map out ways in which other artists have visualized their feelings of displacement, both to get inspiration and to gather material for the thesis/exegesis I have to write at some point. So far I have mainly been looking at the work of Australian-born painter Imants Tillers, New Zealand’s photographer Greg Semu and American photographers Gregory Crewdson and Sandy Skoglund, the two latter for how their work explores displacement from reality.

Imants Tillers work has a particular interest in his large-scale canvas board exploration of themes related to migration, displacement and diaspora. and his concern with place and locality through fragmentation and appropriation. I am also particularly interested in the juxtaposition of images from different times and places that are removed from their cultural contexts, to challenge notions of identity based on locality.

Greg Semu works with in particular the colonial impact on indigenous cultures and religious Christian iconography’s mutation of tribal and so-called primitive icons in New Zealand.

I did also have a look at the late Aboriginal artist Michael Riley’s work, but somehow I found it very hard to connect with. I will no doubt come back to him at some point down the road. Another brief encounter has been with the use of language and symbols in the work of painter Jean Michel Basquiat who’s “career was built upon a constant displacement between Europe and The United States” and who’s “art embodies a diasporic identity that reflects his Haitian and Puerto Rican heritage.”

In other areas I am now trying to build trolls’ heads, and am working towards my next shoot which will deal with the Norwegian (or perhaps it would be more fitting to say Scandinavian) fairytale about the pancake and its encounter with a sly, hungry pig. (This story is also part of other cultures, but as far as I know the main character is a gingerbread man and not a pancake.)

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About Dida

Visual artist, light painter and mother.
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