Review

Self-portrait

It first appears to be scrap that has been placed in an exacting order according to a set of rules determined by each object’s form and function. One may perhaps assume that it has something to do with beauty since this is supposed to be an artwork – ugly things arranged in a particular manner to make them seem beautiful. However, the work’s title and configuration unequivocally informs that this is both art and a museum, an Island Museum.

When the region’s oldest museum, Nordland Museum in Bodø, was founded in 1888, the contemporaneous objects exhibited were the latest in fishing tools and fish products. The museum produced exhibitions that toured fishing villages in order to acquaint fishermen with the tools, catch and breeding methods of the future. It was a tool for the modernization process within the fishing industry.

The Island Museum’s collection, on the other hand, consists of objects that have been discarded and abandoned in nature and which were collected within a certain time period in 1992. The collection is the result of the artist’s archeological finds in the landscape of Andenes. The finds have been registered, categorized and placed on display in a room that is accessible to the public.

The objects in both the Nordland Museum and the Island Museum deal with relations between people and things. They reflect purpose and use, life and death. Both collections may be read as a cultural imprint of their respective times and places of origin. The difference between the collections is apparent in their ascribed value: The objects that are tidily categorized in Island Museum are rejected superfluous items, random finds on the beach – things that someone chose to not preserve. The artwork prompts reflection on the nature of a museum: Which values and perspectives are reflected through the objects that are gathered in museum warehouses and collections throughout the world? Why do museums collect these things and not others? What about all of the things that are excluded, such as the objects in Island Museum found in the sand or the marshes? These things refer to something beyond themselves as well, making one question what is comme il faut within the museum entity. Which ideas and power structures lie behind ongoing acquisitions strategies? Who is constructing the images of past contemporaneous times and thus humankind’s sense of self-understanding?

Island Museum questions the museum entity as phenomenon as well its strategies in acquisitions. Explorers and Dukes of the Renaissance were the first to take pleasure in building curiosity cabinets and then museums for their effects; the museum model dates back to the fifteenth century. Collecting objects in endless quantities with the notion that future generations will benefit from the physical remains of the past is not required for survival. Yet we have never gathered, categorized and preserved objects more than we do today. One is tempted to say that the entire notion of collecting and preserving is rooted in material excess, and it is in fact this that is on display at Island Museum. The shelves of the work/museum are full of what we throw away, what we no longer desire, that which is left over. The remains are being preserved for the future. Why should the future be saddled with this kind of accumulated past? We are painting our own self-portrait by means of an excess of objects. Considering the comprehensive collecting and preserving of things from our culture, with a time perspective that stretches to eternity, Island Museum encourages us to question the construction of such a self-exalted self-portrait.

Aaslaug Vaa
 

Which sculpture? Oh yes – that one! I haven’t looked at it so closely. But if it can be called art then everyone can make art. I think it was done rather simply.. the man hasn’t made anything himself.
Jørn Olsen answers questions about what he thinks of the new sculpture. Vesterålen 05.12.92.

My eyes do not see it as art; it is not a sculpture – that is for sure. But it is exciting and perhaps necessary.
Reaction from one in the audience under the unveiling. Vesterålen 24.11.92.

The word “unveiled” does not fit in this context; no one would have attempted to hang clothing over the garage at the Polar Circle Museum.
Andøyposten 24.11.92

At first sight the exhibition seems quite meaningless. But then there is that certain “something” that suddenly is just there.
Journalist Rigmor Kristiansen, Andøyposten 23.08.94

We from the boatyard could make better art, asserts Arne Pettersen from Skarstein.

I am ashamed, says an anonymous woman from Andøy.

I had heard that some people liked it, but they had been at the wrong place. They had been in Morten Karlsen’s garage, says Benthe Prytz.

This will be interesting for posterity, says Asbjørn Iversen.

The objects bring back good memories, says Ragnhild Vik.

The German artists shakes up the conventional perceptions, says Dagbladet’s art critic Harald Flor.

The exhibition mirrors the world of men, says Andøypostens Rigmor Kristiansen.