The Fish and The Obelisk
“Where does a work belong? The work as work belongs exclusively to the area that is accessible through the work itself.” Martin Heidegger’s words in The Origin of the Work of Art from the mid-30s are from another era, long before the concept “site-specific” became part of contemporary art terminology.
The German philosopher’s contentious statement nonetheless reflects the fundamental character of the originally controversial art project Artscape Nordland, and also serves as a means of approaching Kjell Erik Killi Olsen’s The Man from the Sea in Bø. The male figure stands over four meters high and is cast in iron. It not only establishes place in the physical sense, discernible at a distance as a distinct silhouette mounted on the exposed rocky embankment facing the ocean at Vinjesjø; the sculpture has also become part of the local milieu. Given that the sculpture faces the incomparable view toward the distant mountain formations and the deserted fishing village of Gaukværøy as well as being situated near the county museum in the old local deputy’s farm Parkvoll, the solitary figure is firmly placed within a geographic, historic and social context.
The geographic triangle Bø-Vinje-Gaukværøy, with its proximity to fertile fishing grounds, was one of Vesterål’s most important centers as far back as the Iron Age. It held this position until centralized government policies led to the abandonment of the fishing village in the 1950s. The archaic character and rugged material that give substance to The Man from the Sea relate almost back to time immemorial, traces of which are found in the grave ruins of Svinøya on Gaukværøy. In her guide to Artscape Nordland, Maaretta Jaukkuri describes the dark male figure in light of a myth’s ability to weave a society together by means of invisible threads, and how the figure becomes a bearer of stories who places present times in perspective. As such, the work allows for hidden meanings, both through its form and its site-specific context.
Killi Olsen also relates the elements in The Man from the Sea – their character expressed in the burnt linseed oil and gnarled “skin” – to the underwater patina shared by shells and other sea creatures. The meter-long bolts in the stone foundation connect this male seagoing figure to human ground, and the small crystal stave he holds so carefully in his hands both reflects light and pays symbolic tribute to the sun’s life-giving warmth. Its prism affect is apparent from a long distance, the crystal’s obelisk form dating from ancient Egyptian times. The tall, needle-shaped obelisk in granite with carved hieroglyphics was a symbol for the Sun God Ra, while The Man from the Sea balances the miniature in rock crystal as a finely inscribed direction locator. In addition to their optic prismatic qualities, crystals are also sought after for their conductive properties.
The man’s classic posture may also be interpreted as a meditative position, the model of a watery monument to the nameless numbers taken by the sea over the ages. The gesture with the crystal stave also bestows upon the black giant an intimate presence, bringing the front of the sculpture into balance with the expressiveness of the subtle mini-figure on its back. This small woman clad in gold leaf radiates a Madonna’s inner tranquility within its safe niche on the dark back panel and conjures forth an image of protector of family and community. Killi Olsen’s The Man from the Sea thus pays homage to the openness and dignity of the people of the northern Norwegian coastline, who are authentically portrayed in Knut Erik Jensen’s recent film Heftig og Begeistret. It is thus only natural that the sculpture’s nickname among the locals, Skabelonen (The Figure), is not the art-historical term for sculpture on a pedestal but a reference found in the literature of Knut Hamsun, who at seventeen years old was the deputy’s aide in Bø.
for good fortune
He is tall, and has eyes like the Egyptians.
He has large feet,
feet so large they will drown him,
should he ever try to swim.
He is tall, very tall.
It is as if he has grown,
in order to see more of the sea.
He looks at the sea,
and at the waves, that try to drown them.
Who knows why he stands there,
Maybe he can’t live without the sea,
because he is too attached to it?
He is strong, will not leave it.
He holds a prism in his hands,
for good luck.
The sun reflects in it,
as it reflects in the sea.
He will stand there forever,
at least as long as he can.
He has a woman in his back,
she supports him.
She lets him stand there and look.
At the waves, the light and the sea,
while he is thinking.
He is The Man from the Sea.
Marian Leonhardsen, Snarset, 16 years old
The Man from the Sea
He stands there, staring out towards the horizon. His gaze has found peace where ocean and sky meet in a soft caress. It is where he belongs, liked by both parts. Fear and Pleasure dance closely with each other out there, to the rhythms of the waves that are never silent. The rhythm has marked his soul for eternity. He cannot forget, nor does he want to. The wounds, the scars, the silver that glittered generously all over him and gave him more than he could embrace.
Proudly he raises his head towards the sky lying softly around his waist. In storm and in calmness. The waves caressing the shore are like salve against sore feet. Maybe these feet are just as sore from wellington boots as from burning desert sand. And they are his. They have carried him down to the sea and back to his home. They carry new generations with each step. And when the waves crash towards the shore and angrily eat their way up his legs, he recognises a force he fears and loves. While the day spreads across the land, he gathers strength from the universe. With strong hands he holds the glowing power of life.
I know him, The Man from the Sea, and I know he carries his woman forth in proud silence. With his silent strength and with the strength of the unspoken, but never hidden, he carries his woman with him through storm and calm. She stands there, silent and covered with the finest of metals, capsuled to him, but never weak and dependent. Small, but never without value, because she is part of his backbone. She is a part of his lust, his willpower and his future. A part of everything he lives for. The golden woman in the backbone of The Man from the Sea has her gaze turned towards the land. She sees their home, sees the fields and meadows. She sees berries and plants and has strong female hands. A part of him, and still strong and powerful enough by herself. The light of eternity shines within the golden woman. It is she who has caught the warmth and the growth. I stare up at him in deep gratitude, and know what I owe him. He was the very first to give woman value and equality. He felt her power and her will. He thanked her for the warmth and care by giving her the finest place within himself, in the center of life and emotions. He was the first who understood that woman and man were only strong, tightly, tightly together. Because he saw the greatness in the delicate, because he is eternal and has understood to gild his woman. We women gained new value. We owe him our thanks.
Christina Myhre Storfjord, Sandnessjøen, 2C AF Sandnessjøen Comprehensive School
He is ok, though somewhat very skinny legs. It's great that we can get something like that here.
Elly Annie Hansen, one of the nearest neighbors. Vesterålen 05.28.1994
He is so ugly that I do not want to see it up close. Had there still been a woman...
Bodil Steinsvik. Vesterålen 05.28.1994
A retired fisherman sees daily drop by the dark metal man and calls the artwork a mate.