Stone and Sea
On an island in the Baltic Sea lies a large outcrop of rock that was once left behind by an iceberg. It lies near the very edge of the beach. The stone’s form seems to fix a steadfast gaze on the water’s edge, its nose seeking water. A petrified ancient creature appears to be lying on top. If only it could reach the water it would manage to rise. It is doomed to the anguish of Tantalus; the water is close and yet so far away.
Erik Dietman has looked at this stone countless times, both with and without charcoal in hand. Is it possible that the stone shifts a little, revealing something of its earlier life if one only looks long and hard enough? Dietman has also used the stone in connection with a retrospective exhibition of his work at Centre Pompidou, where it was rendered in almost full scale on an image of the Champs-Elysées. In front of this, on another stone in the water, stood Dietman as a lightly clad satyr, playing on a baguette. Water, bread, music, incantations – nothing helps. What we do know for sure is that on our next encounter it will lie there, its steady gaze fixed on the clucking, lapping, glittering water.
One might easily imagine Steinar Breiflabb sending greetings from far north in the Atlantic Ocean to his distant relative in the Baltic Sea. They are from the same family although Lophius Piscaterius is younger, happier and sprightlier and knows time, growth and knowledge, arrival and departure, flight and presence. The toll of heavy winters tears at the stone formation; there is no promise of eternal rest for the powerful tail.
The boat on the back is a disquieting element; it speaks the language of being on the hunt. The tree that grows under it will in time demand divine reprisal when irrevocable growth triumphantly shipwrecks the boat of all-knowing humankind, who took the forest’s trees to build boats for catching fish to feed her insatiable hunger. One day there may be cause to look up to Steinar Breiflabb and take him seriously. He is able to confide a great deal about our accomplishments and about our shortcomings.
When Erik Dietman still considered himself a master of casting he placed on a pedestal three cast plaster chairs with the fourth leg sawed off. Under the amputated leg he placed a small potted cactus that in philosophical manner will grow and eventually topple the chairs. Soon four decades will have passed since that sculpture was made. Early on, Dietman showed an interest in pitting art’s strength against nature’s – to the latter’s advantage.
This measuring of energy is no less uneven when the artwork is placed out in nature’s space. Humanity occupies nature’s space with places, harbors, roads and bridges, but the frail call of a work of art is more difficult to sense. In a place where survival is of utmost importance, whispering, the quiet prayer to be seen is hard to perceive. Surely this would be much clearer if one stood on Steinar’s back during a storm and held onto the poles that hold the boat up. Steinar Breiflabb also speaks of this measuring of energy between nature and art. The artist understands that he works in a space where a conversation may be interrupted at any moment by something that neither wants anything from us nor we from it: it just is. We should probably say frightful and magnificent, but these are moral and aesthetic categories that go unrecognized by nature.
Thoughts return to the installation in the Baltic Sea, to the object of our adulation, our encouraging cries and jokes, indifference. The hard stare that wants only water, uncaring about the two-legged creatures that come and go largely with the same rhythm of the seasons. Why should it care? It was never asked when the glacier once abandoned it on the edge of the shore. Neither does it suffer the torment of Tantalus; it is only a matter of our imagination and precisely the indifference that Steinar Breiflabb, humorously, evokes.
Ask peeked out the round window of the houseboat. On the other side of the sound there had once been a large outcrop of rock. Now it was gone. Aslak from the dock said they needed it to stop the Germans on the ferry from coming ashore, but Ask did not quite believe this story.
Ask had lived in Brønnøysund for seven years. Most of them were on the Romsdal cutter ship Aldebaran, together with Papa and until last year with Mrs. Pigalop. The lady had neither “menstruation nor migraines,” as Papa used to say. Although she was a most special parrot, she had never quite managed to secure a position for herself as head of the household. One summer day Mrs. Pigalop flew away. Ask was sad that she hadn’t waited to leave until he came home. Still, he couldn’t help thinking that it had been brave of her.
A bleak cultural official stands and waits at the airport. His tie shows that the wind is from the northeast and that landing conditions are good. The cultural official tucks his tie under his all weather coat and combs his hair to the side. He’s looking forward to steak for dinner. But first he must meet the Artist.
The thin body sat wrapped in a prickly wool blanket. Ask had terrible stomach pains and had skipped school for the day. Papa was busy with the boat drawings upstairs together with Edith Piaf. Ask breathed onto the window and pressed his entire tongue to the glass. It was an almost perfect heart that he could see through. And he did. He discovered it when he looked out at the sound. A beat up tractor shovel was on the large rock protruding from the water in the strait. Ask’s eyes darkened. Åbo rock was the last in the inlet. He didn’t want it to disappear too.
The artist gets out of his Widerøe plane and parades toward the cultural official. Aslak stood on the dock and swore. He chewed on a cigarette butt while he rolled himself a new one. Ask scrutinized the surly brute of a boat builder. Tar on his fists and grooves in his face. Like hell he wanted a stone whale in the middle of Brønnøysund. For several thousand! Like hell. Ask was fascinated, but it was somewhat frightening all the same – most likely because of Aslak’s ranting.
Behind the rolls of sea charts were the cylinders of paintings Ask had made in art school. He mustered the energy to fish down the pictures he had painted a few years ago when he was in first grade. In the middle was one of a dragon. Aslak had told an incredible story about a Swedish artist who was going to come to Brønnøysund with a dragon. They were really supposed to paint cubes and rectangles in school that day but all Ask could think of were dragons. The artist lived in a water mill. Ask was also surrounded by water.
The local Council coat-of-arms gleamed on lapels. The money machine had slowed. The artist’s sketches faded. Having the local Council facing you was an interesting and uncomfortable experience, mainly uncomfortable. A few blocks away sat the editor, flourishing his tabloid pen. Whale hunting had never been more legal.
His binoculars firmly held in the palm of his hand, Ask peered out onto the strait. His full attention was concentrated on the disappearing rock. What happened out there then was to open a new realm for Ask. Åbo rock was not to be blown up; it was to be made larger.
A guy sits in a tractor and chews on his moustache. He has instructions to move stone. Summer was a good season for Ask. The sun toned down his orange hair school was reduced to a mere building and the evenings seemed infinitely long. A warm dry thaw wind rippled the water. Ask paddled out toward the fish in his four-foot rubber boat. A flock of startled seagulls flew up when the wayfarer lifted the boat onto land.
While he climbed up, Ask understood how ingenious it was to place a boat high upon the back of a fish. He sat awhile and looked with satisfaction at Aldebaran before sliding down the back to lie in the fin. Large black-backed gulls circled above him while infinity lay beyond. The shrieks of the gulls were as hypnotic as the thought of eternity. Ask liked eternity.
Give me soul
On an islet, in a bay south in the channel someplace
I have found my place, here I lie in peace,
here I lie in peace.
Here I lie and snooze in quiet and in storm,
here I shall lie during workdays and feasts,
during workdays and feasts.
I lie in the middle of the channel pointing south,
and I like it best when the clouds drift,
when the clouds drift.
Then I avoid all the seaweed that lies as a veil
around my body, rubbing, it bites and itches,
it bites and itches.
When reflections shine in the ocean,
and the colours they blink like amber
I send a thought
to those whose idea I was.
I’m not a heap of stone
that lie here cold and alone,
my body must have life
and a soul, here I lie in the middle of the channel.
I know I want be bored to death,
nature is my friend, he will create my soul,
create my soul.
Nature will form me and give me color,
this happens the whole year, when it rains and snows,
rains and snows.
But life is also feeling things happen,
life, is to hear small children who laugh,
children who laugh.
It is smelling the coffee in the cup,
and accepting that children spill their juice,
spill their juice.
I don’t want to lie as a moron
in the bay, only visited by midges
that are filled with blood
whose purpose is to just to die.
I am not a heap of stone
that lies here so cold and alone,
no, let me mingle,
an ant hill in the middle of the channel.
Here the birds should be able to rest,
without feeling they bother anyone,
And should they need to relieve themselves
it is charming with a touch of white,
a touch of white.
I hereby invite anyone who can
get out here, from the sea and the land,
from the sea and the land.
Welcome as guest on my curved back,
this you should know: with me you are safe,
with me you are safe.
So I hope my presence will be
a pleasure, and that it will give
Brønnøysund a face,
some dreams and a little nostalgia.
To me it is reality:
I will be here for all eternity!
Whatever you feel –
from today I am permanently established!
Written for the openeing of Artscape Nordland, Brønnøy, 27th September 1997
Looks like a children’s drawing!
Local politician Ragnvald Dundas and Deputy Mayor Odd-Ivar Gladsø are shocked by sculpture sketches. Helgeland Arbeiderblad 04.06.93
This doesn’t even look like a whale!
Whaler Steinar Bastesen comments the sculpture sketch in Helgeland Arbeiderblad 05.06.93
– But is it a fish or a whale?
– I think that the belly and the front part look like a whale. The back part looks like a fish. People must decide for themselves, says Magnar Solbakk.
– What does the artist say it is?
– He has said both.
Cultural consultant Magnar Solbakk in Helgeland Arbeiderblad 04.09.96
The background for the name “Steinar” is simply that the sculpture is made of rock (stein), while the species is “Breiflabb”.
Question regarding species is cleared up in Brønnøysunds Avis 29.09.97 under the Headline “Steinar Breiflabb welcomes all”
He’s okay. An alright sort of guy. But nature needs a couple of years to complete the work.
Erik Dietman comments his own sculpture in Helgeland Arbeiderblad 27.09.97
Look, a whale!
Headline in Helgeland Arbeiderblad. 03.06.92