A portrait of a portal
The sculpture Heaven on Earth is situated where the land comes to a head in Skarstad in Ballangen. The choice of site is ingenious, near the continual encounter between undulating sea and the crag that protrudes into it – hard masculine encounter with the softly feminine in this eternal being and becoming! The rhythm of the waves’ movement resembles the act of embrace in nature’s incessant erotic play.
Thoughts wander to the philosophers of ancient Greece (Thales and Heracleitus) and their concept of the four elements – water, earth, air and fire – as the basis for all existence. This is incorporated into the sculpture and its placement.
The symbolism shifts from nature’s teasing, erotic play to the human embrace. The two spheres and line that meet in the center of the portal opening may be interpreted as a metaphor for sexual organs in the act of lovemaking, tracing the erotic act from the source itself to the crucial instant of creation. An unbroken process dancing from eternity to eternity! Is the portal a triumphal arch to honor this process of procreation, birth and rebirth?
The element of time is incorporated into the work through the large circle etched into the rock, which may be linked to the zodiac and its twelve star signs, with the two globes depicting earth’s orbit around the sun. The reproductive act endures despite human vanity and the passage of time.
The zodiac also involves a religious aspect as it symbolizes not only time but also Jesus’ twelve apostles (among others, the lion as a symbol for St. John). The portal or gate is a central religious symbol as well. The gate is a symbol of the Virgin Mary as a guardian of the soul, and Augustin maintained that the Virgin Mary herself is the “gate to heaven and paradise.” Turning to the Gospel according to John, we find the words of Jesus, “I am the door. He who passes through me shall be saved...” The portal is the threshold, border and entrance to a space beyond; yes, to the secretive power itself at reign. Whether an entrance to hell, heaven’s gate or a door to the mind is left to the viewer’s creative fantasy. Perhaps the rectangular form of the portal symbolizes all laws, norms and traditions, habits and customs that restrict humankind in its development?
When the rocks are wet, the portal is reflected in pools and evokes thoughts of death and the grave; the heavenly perspective on earth has been consummated. The life cycle, from fertilization to death, is encapsulated in the sculpture and its surroundings, and the individual has passed through the door three times: Conception, birth and death!
This trinity may also be perceived in the circular form of the two spheres and in the rock carving. The form of the circle is the symbol of perfection, and the two orbs elevate the entire work into a spherical universe.
Love is heaven that is brought down to earth during the creation process, and it is never-ending, both for nature and humanity. Hence, the artist placed his work in the right surroundings! The artist is a Prometheus who takes “fire” from the heavens and places it in the human realm and mind, at the end of a crag with the ocean’s encompassing embrace – Can Heaven on Earth be more redemptive?
An open-air church
In Ballangen municipality, where Vestfjorden meets Ofotfjorden, lies Artscape Nordland’s Heaven on Earth, made by Inge Mahn. Inge Mahn is German. The site where the sculpture is placed was occupied by German soldiers during the war. Maybe this has influenced the artist somewhat in the choice of location for the sculpture. In my opinion, it points beautifully towards the “big sea” and points the way for visitors who take the trip out to Efjord.
Like so many other places in Nordland, the Artscape Nordland project stirred much debate in the municipality. Opinions were divided, however, with protesters in the majority. The arguments for and against were about economy and locality, and the debates were many and heated, both in the local milieu and in the newspapers. After the sculpture was in place, the “trouble” quietened down, and a long time has passed since I have heard anything but positive comments. Each summer, an open-air church service is held nearby the sculpture, and we ourselves used the sculpture as background for pictures during a wedding.
To me, the sculpture symbolizes more than what the artist puts into it. Heaven on Earth is placed near my home, and is therefore my “heaven on earth”. The best and the most beautiful I know. When I’m there I am home. There I find peace and quiet, and can view the sea which means so very much to me. The sculpture quickly became a destination for walks, but also something more. For several years I passed it every day by car, and after a while it became a pleasant and necessary daily encounter.
My gaze was drawn every time, down towards the sculpture when I passed, as if I wanted to reassure myself that it was there, safe and sound. And it was beautiful to rest one’s eyes upon, both early in the morning and after the working day. It never became boring to look at. The fantastic light we have in Nordland during all seasons accentuates the various nuances of the work. So too, the colour of the sea. In addition, the sculpture emphasizes the sense of freedom I get when gazing out over the sea. It is open and free, and the possibilities are there somewhere, if I want them.
plato in efjord
People have always wondered about the relationship between heaven and earth, spirit and matter, chaos and cosmos.
Many have the idea that at certain places in nature one can experience this connection concretely and gain more insight into the relationship between spirit and matter.
Inge Mahn has created such a meditation point in Efjord in Ballangen, where I feel she has chosen a point within nature that easily inspires us to think and philosophise about the unity between the earth and the rest of the cosmos.
The sea is near, and in the summer one almost feels that the sun in the sky is a part of the sculpture. One can stand in the portal and look at the view of both the landscape and the art work. One actually stands within the art work while viewing it. In this way the artist has included the public in the sculpture and this joined art, nature and the one experiencing the art piece.
I feel that the sculpture also unites old art traditions with new ones. The engravings in the mountain itself and on the ground recall the rock carvings of our forefathers, the oldest and most primitive expressions for viewing and artistic language. We often connect such art works with large world metropolises where “big” philosophers and artists express themselves.
Who knows if people in Norway, for example, in Efjord, have just as many “right” thoughts about heaven and earth, chaos and cosmos as philosophers in the rest of the world?
If one granted instead 40-50 thousand crowns to living culture I might not need to buy lottery tickets every Friday and Saturday on the stairs outside the store in Ballangen.
From a letter to the editor signed by A.M. Hagerup, who is of the opinion that the money should be spent instead on (for instance) vocal music and theatre. Ofotens Tidende 13.10.92
(he comments on a previous cast for a sculpture).
Many people wonder how many sick persons might have been assisted by the money spent on the sculpture, but the thought, the fantasy and the ability to think need assistance as well.
Matz Sandman during the unveiling of the sculpture. Fremover 16.08.93
I have been to Rome and seen what is there. When I returned to Ballangen on a late dark autumn evening, it was gloomy and there was not very much to see. I therefore give this project my strongest support.
Olav H. Steinland (Labour Party) in a city council meeting. Fremover 17.12.92 (he comments on a previous cast for a sculpture).
Heaven on earth. Neither the parson Henrik Højlund nor the Director of Cultural Affairs for Ballangen Liv Ingebrigtsen are able to imagine a more beautiful setting for a church service in the open air.
According to Fremover 18.08.94