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ISSUE 119 VOL 2 PUBLISHED 9/23/2005

'Fjord Born' smorgasbord

By Joe Christopherson
Contributing Writers

Friday, September 23, 2005

The first art exhibition of the year, “Fjord Born,” opened Thursday, Sept. 15 in St. Olaf’s Flaten Art Museum. The work comes from a group of artists who live on the Hardanger Fjord in Norway and recently have formed the organization Harding Puls. They hope to connect different artists who live along the remote eastern shores of Hardanger to establish a new identity or add to the traditional identity of the region.

The goal is to impress upon the rest of the world that the fjord is not just a beautiful place but fertile ground for cultural innovation as well.

The members of Harding Puls appear to be genuinely invested in offering an alternative to the tourist brochure depiction of the region by bringing their culture to the very places where tourists are most likely to come from. However, despite the sincerity of the artists’ cultural mission, the exhibition lacks a clear artistic vision of what the new art of Hardanger should express.

The exhibition includes works from 20 painters, sculptors, photographers, weavers and ceramists. The combination of fine craft and fine art and the diversity of talent demonstrates the spectrum of different artists working along the shores of Hardanger.

Yet the sheer number of artists and the hodgepodge approach of their selection makes the show somewhat disappointing. At times, the viewer is left wondering why certain things have been included while other artists’ works have been severely abbreviated because of the number of works and the limited amount of space.

Yet some works clearly show their artistic merit. Anna Stina Naess’ small feet built from porcelain and paper clay are delicate objects, giving the material a lightness that is often absent in ceramic pieces. The smoky finish adds to the rustic feeling of the small hand-constructed pieces.

Svein Na’s large woolen tapestries have a simplicity that is magnified by their enormity. The effect is stunning, especially in a show that often seems cluttered.

The traditional craft forms still seem to dominate the better part of the pieces in the exhibition, particularly rosemaling and the muted tones often associated with the traditional Norwegian wood decoration and weaving.

Aud Baekkelund’s installation piece is one of the few to challenge these traditions. His work makes the show more interesting and new for someone who is familiar with traditional Norwegian craft.

Baekkelund’s piece consists of wire-wrapped branches held in place so that they take on nearly human stances. They seem to move across the floor. Over the scene hangs a woven moon-like disc.

As a whole, the show offers a smorgasbord of artistic views that often contradict each other. Unfortunately, no real collective feeling or image of the Hardanger Fjord can be gathered from all the works displayed, despite the artists’ connection to their home.

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