Iron, sammon and technology

In Robert Smithson’s Land Art, landscape is joined with non-landscape in so-called «sites.» However, where Smithson worked with dead, empty and often abandoned places bearing traces of industrial activity, Artscape Nordland situates works in the beautiful and violent Nordland nature. Despite this more innocent or intimidating landscape, there is nonetheless a tension between Smithson and Antony Gormley’s respective universes.

Some meters out in the Ranfjord, below downtown Mo i Rana and visible from air, sea and land, stands Antony Gormley’s sculpture Havmannen (Man from the sea). The placement of the sculpture is spectacular while its form is simple: a male figure without arms or a face consisting of parts that have been carved out of black granite and joined in horizontal layers. The water reaches the thighs or hips, depending on the tide.  In its passive relationship to the continually shifting light and the rhythm of the tide’s ebb and flow, the granite figure touches on the relationship between the human soul and the forces of nature, challenging the notion that civilization is primarily about language and development.

When the waves wash over the smooth, dark surface, the black color becomes deeper. Havmannen materializes the dark – not fear’s dark, but an unknown and secretive dark. Havmannen is personal body as public body, body as place.

When one is near the work its size is overwhelming. It has a height of more than ten meters (in Norway, only Vigeland’s Monolith situated in Oslo’s Vigeland Park is higher). Despite its size, however, the sculpture appears both vulnerable and weak even when seen from a distance. Such would be the case whether it had been double or even ten times its size because the Nordland nature that frames the work is so stupendous that everything else is dwarfed in comparison.

In this sense, the sculpture may be linked with Romanticism’s landscape painting, where figures with their backs turned were rendered looking out onto a dramatic and impressive natural setting, allowing viewers to voyeuristically experience the magnificence of nature. Yet more than being a means of evoking deep reflections on humankind’s relationship to nature or a commentary on the sublime, Gormley’s work almost seems more a parody of the great landscape tradition – a figure with its back turned, in the form of a real and specific presence, does our looking for us.

Meanwhile, history and society carry on behind Havmannen’s back. Thirteen years ago, the Norwegian Parliament determined that Norwegian Ironworks – the very symbol of Norwegian industrialism – was to be shut down. The Rana community, where the Works was located, underwent a radical readjustment, and from the remains of the ironworks emerged a modern industrial fairy tale based on diverse enterprises such as scrap iron, salmon farming, information technology and tooling machines. Almost one hundred companies now occupy the previous ironworks’ premises. The decision by Antony Gormley to place his sculpture in the midst of industrialism’s scars and the scene of social development on the one side and nature’s wilderness on the other provides the work with a significance of its own. Gormley’s work comprises a liaison that involves themes of «front» and «back,» landscape and nature, society and history.

As alien entity, Havmannen marks a distance to both natural and social environments. The sculpture’s presence in itself situates an aesthetic gaze. Gormley’s work is part of sculpture’s expanded field but does not transgress sculpture’s borders. The work is inherently placeless and self-referential; it could be mounted anywhere. It is non-landscape in the landscape.  In all its alienation, Havmannen has nonetheless found a home.

Lotte Sandberg

Havmannen. It turned its tail on us and it’s back. There were lots of snowflakes in the air. There were a lot of boats by the quai. Havmannen had something funny on his head.

Havmannen was dirty. He was big. There was a bird called cormorant, but he flew away. He was black. It was fun. We drew Havmannen. It was great at the quayside. There were boats, but we didn’t see any fish.
Carina 7 YEARS OLD

Havmannen is big. He looks at the air.
Henrik 7 YEARS OLD

Boat dock
An irritated sailor, Mr Hessel
Found a boat house in Mo for his vessel
But if Havmannen had a dick
To suit such a stick
I could fasten my boat without having to wrestle

Havmannen had a cormorant on top of his head and then we went into the sewer and there we saw many cormorants and then Henrik and Silje and I walked on the shoreline below the stones and when we were going back we went to a museum and there we saw many animals.

There are more women than men who think that the merman is wonderful.
Rana Blad 02.04.96

No, it is time to trade in that poor dickless merman for a real MAN-of-the sea.
Rana Blad 30.03.96

But the sea creature blasted its way out of the granite in Lødingen, and like so many other unwanted children he eventually found his way into the hearts of most people.
Rana Blad 04.06.96

Since he is standing there one would assume that he has been accepted. He stood there – regardless of what people thought about him. ??? He has attained status as a symbol for poor economy.
Mayor Svein Bogen

I see it from my living room window and delight in the sight each and every day.
Mette Røbergeng, Rana Blad 08.05.95

He has weathered the first storm, the debate on him. Now he shall test his valor on the southwest.
Rana Blad 08.05.95

He fascinates us, this dark figure on the waterside, and he is an enrichment for Rana.
Rana Blad 11.05.95

Perhaps he is also a monument to a petrified municipal cultural policy.
“Fjordmann”, Rana Blad 19.05.95

Think, to use so much time and money on a butt and still lack protuberance...
A group of female health workers in the Ytteren district with a wholistic view of humanity,

Rana Blad 11.10.95

Does one think that an iron ladle can be a viable alternative to the proposal from the world-famous sculptor?
Ingeborg Andreassen, Rana Blad 31.12.93

We do have artists here in Rana as well. Have they been approached?
Per Pedersen, Rana Blad 18.01.93

So let’s be happy about the merman. Now is the time to let go of the cheap counter arguments. Beheading the merman will not give Rana’s elderly a better life.
Rana Blad, 23.09.94

I think that Mo i Rana had been better off with a public toilet. At least then we could avoid having to dash into cafes and gas stations in a moment of emergency.
Erling Hanssen, Rana Blad 18.01.93

– Why not call it “Hans on the Skerry”
– After all, the statue is standing on a skerry, and Hans is a well-known name.

A man from Gruben suggests a name for “The merman”, Rana Blad 04.11.94

Why not “the merman” in plastic?  
Headline in Rana Blad, 30.09.1993

He proudly holds watch over Ranafjorden.
Headline in Rana Blad, 08.05.1995

Thanks for The Merman.
Headline to editorial, Rana Blad, 11.05.1995

Norway’s most expensive butt at Mo.
Headline in Rana Blad, 10.10.1995

That’s some boy, eh – and without a spout too.
Rana Blad, 01.03.1996