Installing Scanart 2011

Yesterday, and late into the evening, I helped the Scanart committee with the installation of this years Scanart show at 1000 Pound Bend Gallery in Melbourne, CBD. The show officially opened its doors this morning with the launch night set for this coming Friday.

Measuring, straightening, curating... Ingvill Oddsen and myself hard at work. (Photo: Steinar Ellingsen)

The talented Norwegian illustrator Hilde Thomsen gets a baby-belly bump. Hilde Thomsen's work can be found at http://hildebjorgseventyr.blogspot.com/. It's well worth a look. (Photo: Steinar Ellingsen)

My precious baby, A Tail of Transformation (2011), framed and hung. I'm very happy with the framing done by Fitzroy Stretches. It looks absolutely stunning. (Photo: Steinar Ellingsen)

If you’re in or around Melbourne while the show is on, drop on in!

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Working…

just another morning in front of the computer

 

Afternoons are usually spent with these guys. (Both still works in progress.) Learning by doing, as they say.

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The importance of the unseen- on making things

Creating an artwork involves many processes, most of which remain unseen to the outside world of spectators and audiences. The translation of thoughts and ideas into something concrete and viewable (in one manner or other) is long, hard and necessary for any artist. The unseen is a large part of the artwork, a fundamental building block, and perhaps worthy of more consideration than it is given by others than the artists themselves. Yet how can this unseen be made tangible to others? Does it factor in the viewing of, or participation in, an artwork by a spectator?

Similar to artists like Sandy Skoglund who work in much the same manner, for me the many cultural experiences I go trough in my way to a new work are fundamental to the final outcome. The differences between where I have been and where I am, the similarities, are all organic, they keep changing as I discover new approaches, materials, new vantage points, skills and maturing thought patterns, or as I discover new things about my cultural background or present cultural setting.

It is one of those unseen romances that never fade, never stops being fascinating, challenging or sometimes even heartbreaking. Within all this, which at the best of times can seem confusing and chaotic, comes the making. Making the unseen visible, attempting to translate all these seemingly abstract ideas about home, identity, myths and so on. I often meet people who struggle to understand why I make my own props, why I bother to spend endless hours teaching myself to build the things that fit into the images I already have in my head, when they aren’t perfect, and could even sometimes be referred to (and have been referred to) as ugly.  It would be a whole other kind of work if I just went out and bought ready-mades. Although I sometimes fail, I like that my sculptures strive towards the same ideal as I do. They strive to find their trans-identity, between the contradictions in material and representation, their past, present and future. And what most people fail to realize is that they are never intended to be perfect or too realistic. Their making, the whole process serves its purpose perfectly already.

So many new discoveries come with the experience of making. There’s this strange bonding between thoughts and material, an almost meditative state, that I’d like to think somehow translates, if only in small fragments, into the finished artwork. And the artwork is rarely just the sculpture itself. The artwork is its context, the image built around it, the installation, the continuation of narrative it provides as a three dimensional object.

My first decapitated troll's head in the making. He's only minor steps away from being finished, and has a half done brother on the way. There will be (at least) 3 heads in total to coincide with the number of heads Norwegian trolls usually have (These range mostly from 1 to 9, 3 being the most common). These will feature in an image to be shot sometime in the (near) future based around the fairytale, and Kittelsen painting, Soria Moria. For those with little knowledge on Norwegian fairytales; trolls often capture fair princesses and are very often decapitated to be defeated. (Images taken with mobile phone.)

I research everything i make. If it’s a troll’s head, I read about trolls, look at drawings and paintings, read fairytales, watch movies. I search my memories, my culture, for clues as to how I can portray something personal through them.  Then I go through a steep learning curve as I start to build. Firstly trying to work out how to get a basic shape, an armature, and from there, the finer layers of detail. I’m not a sculptor, as with my light painting, I am self-taught hence I do not strive for this idea of “learned perfection”. My aim is to make the troll, or whatever it may be, embody bits of those unseen processes and experiences. The making facilitates my thinking.  In ways I imagine I imprint parts of myself onto what I am making. (Which when you think about it is impossible not to do in some way when you make things by hand with paper clay.) And in the end this imperfect, homemade object appears, and no matter what it looks like it has already served an elemental purpose. In the many hours it takes me to build it, my skills improve, and perhaps most importantly, my thoughts mature as I have allowed myself to spend much time in silent conversation with my own ideas.

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Pigs, Pancakes and Passion Plays- The one that went away

So, most Norwegians are familiar with the fairytale about the pancake who ran away from a hungry family, and after rolling past a few animals that wanted to eat him got eaten by a pig that offered to help the pancake cross a creek. (Why the pancake would be so stupid after dodging so many bullets is beyond me, but then again fairytale logic does not necessarily follow any common logic at all.  (Does it?) Others might be familiar with a similar story about a Gingerbread man?

Anyway, if you’re unfamiliar with this story you can find it (and read it, in Norwegian) here: http://runeberg.org/folkeven/005.html

For some time I’ve had the idea of making an image based on this fairytale. But being me, and being forever in love with things strange and somewhat gory, it was never intended to be a straight up illustration of the story. Things I do rarely are “straight up”.  Contradiction, the mixture of horror and humour, and “all things strange” are strong features in most, if not all, of my work. This one being no different.

The essence of modern urban reality […] is its “incompatibility”, its blunt juxtaposition of conflicting cultural traditions. One obvious purpose of a hybrid art […] is to provide the symbolic strategies necessary for coping with such a world, to create the languages of paradox or contradiction that might enable us to be “borne across” from our old inadequate or outmoded identities into new ones. [1]

So… I’d had this pig’s head in my freezer for longer than I cared to remember.  I’d bought some sausages to act like intestines (let’s face it, that’s partly what they are anyway, and that’s what makes using them hilarious), some trotters and some pig bones.  I spent the day before and the day of the shoot frying up more pancakes than I care to remember, as well as quite a few waffles. Norwegian style waffles, not Belgian. These were easier to stack and were used to make the mouth of my evil pancake stack. I’d made two different kinds of fake blood. One thick and cloggy (thanks to crunchy peanut butter and whole heap of other grossly combined things) and one kind that was thin enough to make splatter and to be poured into a spray bottle. I had bought gumboots as I intended to shoot in a small creek and I’d scouted the location. I guess you can say I was well prepared. Or so I thought.

On the night of the shoot an extra pair of assisting hands cancelled. But as I said, I was somewhat well prepared. I’d packed most of my things in a suitcase with wheels and the rest was carried by hand, by myself and my loving partner who kindly came with me despite not feeling well at all.  (I guess it goes with the story that I was also 5,5 months pregnant at the time and already rather large.)

Anyways, well down at the creek, the first thing to fail was my set up light. As I’m used to working in the dark, this was no big deal. I carried my carcass bits across the creek and started setting up the revenge of the pancake. After getting it all done and splattered with blood, I was ready to finalize my framing and shoot it. As I went back across the creek to get the camera we noticed some splashing sounds around where we were. A small search with the torchlight later and what to we see? Water rats the size of Chihuahuas. And they’re real keen to get at my set up. (Can you blame them? Seriously? And how did this not occur to me that might happen? This was Norwegian small town naivety at it’s best.)  At this point I started to get somewhat stressed.  I decided the camera needed to be set up in the middle of the creek, which just added to the stress. I made compromises on my framing to just get it done, locked my focus and started lighting as fast as I could. I hardly stopped to even look at what I was doing as I was more concerned with shining my light on the rats between shots as they kept coming closer to me, the camera and the set up. (Keep in mind I’m standing in the water with them at this time.)  I was freaked out and approaching exhausted. My intention was to light various things in the background of the pig and pancakes, but I was too afraid to leave the camera.  Some frantic shots later and I decided to wrap it up.

The test shot (notice how I never got to the background…amongst other things):

Revenge of the Pancake -Test shoot

As I started to pack up the camera I noticed it had come a bit loose somehow on the tripod plate, but thought no more of it.  Fast forward through frenzied packing (I did leave some sausages for the rats) and we were on our way home.  “Oh well, it didn’t turn out the way I intended at all, but at least the set up looked good.”

Well home I picked up the camera and looked at a few shots. And they were all out of focus. I somehow must have bumped the camera after locking down the focus
in my frenzy . I usually check these things several times as I go, but this time most of my routine went out the window. And I was left with nothing except knowing what needed to be done differently and a few test shots of the set up. Disappointment and frustration does not cover how I felt as I collapsed exhausted that night.  I knew doing shoots pregnant would be hard, but I had no idea of how hard or that these horrible creatures would come out to eat my set up. (After all, I managed to do Hanging Rock pregnant, and that probably made me tad bit cocky.) In hindsight, it’s feels obvious, and thankfully, funny. But I still don’t have my pancake image.

Before re-shooting it (which I won’t do in a creek when a puddle will do just fine) I’m thinking of making some teeth for the pancakes. Hopefully, the pancakes will have their revenge before Christmas. And hopefully the rats had full bellies when they went to sleep. And hopefully the little boy in my belly will some day appreciate the stories of what his mother tried to do while carrying him.


[1] Cook, R., The Art of Uncertainty: Cultural Displacement and the Devaluation of the World, Critique; Spring 2000; 41, 3; p. 229

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A Tail of Transformation II

I’ll be showing this image at this years ScanArt exhibition in Melbourne in September-October. ScanArt is a juried exhibition that showcases Scandinavian art and design. The official exhibition opening is Friday September 30th. More details to come soon.

I thought I’d share the progress statement that will follow the image:

A Tail of Transformation (2011)

This place. That place.  Dis-placed.

There’s no place like home.

A Tail of Transformation is part of a larger body of work in progress.  It explores notions of displacement and the creation of a trans-identity: both cultural dislocation and a displacement from reality.

The fairytale stands as a metaphorical crossroad of transformation or destruction.  This new work creates worlds perched between a personal Norwegian interior and a broader Australian exterior as it actively displaces mainly Norwegian myths and fairytales in an Australian landscape.

This process seeks to explore what remains, what survives, what is lost, what is created and what translates, if anything, when the cultural background, fantasies and realities of one individual caught between two cultures attempt to merge and reform an idea of home.

Dida Sundet, August 2011

In other news this image was awarded an Honorable Mention in this years International Photography Awards, Night Photography category.

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A Tail of Transformation *

A couple of months back now I organized to have a shoot at Hanging Rock in Victoria, Australia. Hanging Rock was made famous first through Joan Lindsay’s book Picnic at Hanging Rock , then later by Peter Weir’s film which was based on Lindsay’s novel. It is a place about an hour or so outside Melbourne of strange rock formations and partly attempted tamed wilderness. It’s quite an iconic place and definitely worth visiting.

The shot I was working on is based around ideas about the Norwegian Hulder.

The Hulder is a mythical, female creature, considered to be a part of the troll family, which lived in the Norwegian forests. She was beautiful, fair and cursed. Had it not been for her cow’s tail (in other Scandinavian countries this feature differs), and that she was hollow like a tree trunk from the back, she would look like any other strikingly beautiful Norse girl.  Huldra was a devious creature, often luring men into the forest to have sex with them. If they were fortunate enough to please her she might have let them live and even rewarded them, but if they failed, they would almost certainly be killed. The hulder would also, according to the stories, often steal human children, leaving behind her own hulder children in their place. The only way she could lift her curse was if she managed to keep her identity hidden and marry a man in a church. If this were to happen the hulder would loose her cow’s tail, but would always retain her true nature.

A Tail of Transformation (2011) 111.2 cm by 76.4 cm. All rights reserved © Dida Sundet

The shoot itself was tricky business, probably hands down the hardest (and most dangerous) shoot I’ve ever done. Because I had to organize times and pay a ranger to be present since the shoot was after hours, changing times and date was not an option. And when things are set in stone, I usually find that my worst-case scenario is more likely to happen. And so it did.  The night was foggy and it rained. If anyone has ever worked with light painting before, these are not the conditions you want to work in. Thankfully, having done this a few years now, I am getting good at preparing for the worst and finding ways to work around it. Some scissors, tape and thick garbage bags quickly made covers for camera, power and light equipment. The other major issue was the darkness itself. Being used to shooting closer to city lights and such, I had planned my shoot for a day where the moon would be the smallest possible. I have had shoots in one-night locations ruined by moonlight before and was weary of this happening again.  The option that in a place such as Hanging Rock, that far out from the city, it would get too dark to see where I was going never occurred to me until we got there.  Suddenly I was stuck having to navigate wet, sharp rocks in the dark, some of which you could easily slip off and fall to your death if you were not careful or knew where you were going.  This combined with the issue of mist and rain, which did its best to swallow any reflected light and constantly change the temperature of it, left me with the only option of breaking the image down into parts and shooting with the aim of reassembling it in post-production. This way of working presents its own problems, but careful preparation and planning made me able to visualize the image and how I was going to reassemble the various parts in post-production before shooting them and therefore made what could have been a mammoth task manageable.  A couple of months of research, careful location scouting and preparation absolutely paid off when push came to shove.

All factors and hard work considered it was a huge success in the end. I take my hat off to my models, who not only got naked in the cold, wet night for me, but did so without question or complaint, even when lights temporarily failed and centipedes crawled over their naked skin.

The image has now been test-printed in full size (about 1.1m wide by about 70cm high or so) and has been entered into the night photography category in the 2011 International Photography awards and also to the jury of this years Scanart exhibition in Melbourne.  Fingers crossed!

*pun intended

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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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