Steinar Christensen, In the tidal range
Artist Steinar Christensen named his sculpture at Skutvik in Hamarøy Stella Maris—Star of the Sea. In recent years, the former professor at the Norwegian Academy of Fine Art has grown fond of incorporating a message in the titles of his sculptures. At Skutvik, this message is not immediately apparent, even though the waves often wash over the sculpture, given its location in the middle of the tidal range. Steinar Christensen revealed to me that the hospital in Kristiansund where he was born in 1946 bore the name Stella Maris, and his birth was not an entirely insignificant event in his life.
Steinar Christensen spent six years of his childhood in Skutvik, and the family lived in the house where his mother was once born. His father worked for the Inner Mission movement, and the family moved around a lot. Christensen's original northern dialect has long since eroded, and those who meet him today likely assume he was born in one of the larger cities in Western Norway.
As soon as the administration for Artscape Nordland was established, they contacted Steinar Christensen. They had studied his body of work. Would he be up for contributing a sculpture at Hamarøy?
Once the necessary decisions had been made by the Municipality of Hamarøy, Steinar Christensen flew north for his first inspection. Skutvik stood out in his memory, and it was a natural starting point for his inspection. The Mayor of Hamarøy was part of his welcoming committee, and he unlocked the door to the house where Steinar Christensen had lived many, many years ago.
On a bench in the living room was an old book. Steinar Christensen picked it up and checked the title page. His father had signed his name there, one year before Steinar was born. The experience felt like a homecoming, and he was inspired to create Hamarøy's very own Stella Maris.
Once in Skutvik, Stella Maris is a five-minute walk from the nearest buildings. The many elements that make up the sculpture are seemingly left in the tidal range at random. Visitors soon discover, however, that the four five-pointed stars made of marble, steel and aluminium, the steel chalice, and the neck of a string instrument, carved from granite, have been meticulously placed there.
The sculpture's message is not entirely unambiguous, yet the symbolism is still relatively clear-cut. The five-pointed star symbolizes the cosmos, the spiritual aspect, the incomprehensible. The neck of the string instrument, be it a violin or a standing bass, immediately brings our attention to the man-made, to culture.
And finally, the chalice, with its long, classic shape, draws our focus to the architectural, the house. If we study the sculpture in more detail, we see that some elements are based on a classical standard of beauty, with no regard for the havoc wreaked on them by the harsh natural environment. We could go on.
If we lift our gaze to the mountains and the horizon, and follow the ever-changing sea back to the beach at Skutvik, Stella Maris can be seen as a collection of objects that just happened to come to rest there—from the distant past or the present. This brings out other concerns. Are the objects secure on the rock, or will the elements in time rip away parts of Stella Maris? And what about the chalice, which is closed at the top? It might break tether one day and drift far, far away to strange shores.
A sculpture that sits in the tidal range has many expressions. The neck of the string instrument and part of the lower stars will be more or less submerged at high tide. In winters with heavy snow, only the granite neck of the Stella Maris will be visible, and only at low tide. At high tide, the entire sculpture may be gone, covered by water, snow and ice.
How exciting it must be to sit there an entire day, observing how the shifting natural landscape affects your experience of Stella Maris!
By Gunnar Engegård
Born: 1946, Kristiansund, Norway
Studied: 1970, Western Norway Art Academy, Bergen
Lives and works: Son, Norway