An Anti-Monument in Røst
Italian artist Luciano Fabro (b. 1936) has used white marble from Carrara, Italy for his sculpture Il Nido (Nest). The works consists of two Doric column fragments, too small to actually function as Greek columns, which have broken apart to expose three eggs. The column fragments also protect the eggs and form a kind of nest. As such, nature and culture meet in a work linked with a classical cultural inheritance. However, the powerful surrounding nature, which takes possession of the nest and the oval eggs in their juxtaposition with the man-made structural elements, overwhelms the classical rhetoric. The egg has been a sign for eternal life and rebirth in many ancient cultures, and is thus more of a cultural symbol than a direct representation of nature. In the catalogue for the solo show in Essen and Rotterdam in 1981 (Luciano Fabro – Sehnsucht, Essen und Rotterdam: Museum Folkwang und Museum Boymans-van Beuningern), Fabro says: «When the senses are renewed in art, art also renews nature. When we speak of nature we always speak of nature that has been given to us through art.»
The sculpture may be viewed as an image of nature’s recycling of human scrap, nature that runs its course and reclaims abandoned human constructions. It lies in the grass in a large gorge on Vedøya, southwest of Røstland. The base of Il Nido is Vedøya itself. As a bird reserve, Vedøya belongs to the common puffin, and people may only visit the sculpture on the birds’ premises, avoiding the hatching season. Fabro transformed Vedøya without leaving traces in the Lofot nature. Vedøya will never be the same, but is not changed; it has been altered and given focus. Fabro has managed to add a new character without making a monument. This is in keeping with his artistic background, as part of the Italian artist group arte povera. This movement has its name from an exhibition in Genoa in 1967, whose curator, Germano Celant wrote in the catalogue that «povera, that is, poor, may in this case be understood as a voluntary peeling away of appropriated culture in order to attain the original authenticity in body and mind.» Fabro called it a Franciscan simplicity. Inherent in this was the desire to distance oneself from minimalism’s and conceptual art’s theoretical production, while sharing the wish of these movements to de-mystify artistic production.
Arte povera presents an experience or ways of thinking that involve a receptiveness to incidental encounters. The group cultivated the ephemeral, and defined art as a phenomenon in the here-and-now. Luciano Fabro has maintained simplicity and an anti-monumental approach. His work is represented in most major private and public collections, and he is now considered as being part of contemporary art’s «establishment.» Il Nido demonstrates that he has nonetheless maintained the basic approach to his work since his youth, true to his own background as protagonist in the arte povera movement.
In the 1660’s in the outskirts of Denmark and Norway, the Danish carver Abel Schrøder worked with church decoration. The pulpits he made for the churches in Tjøme and Vivestad in 1670 are considered the last Baroque sculptural works in Norway. During the century after the Reformation, many important artists were occupied with dismantling the archaic Catholic Church interiors and recreating them in the Lutheran spirit. The pulpit itself was the source for the new teachings. The word of God and human language convened here, in the voice of the minister. God’s word reached out to people and the people aspired to communicate with God. However, the pulpit was not only a religious instrument but also one of power and ideological persuasion. Not unpredictably, the word of God often corresponded with the will of the King. In 1670, this ideological program was expressed in sculptural form. Catholicism was defeated as a religious and political force, and ministers mounted Abel Schrøder’s pulpits in Tjøme and in Vivestad to preach the word of God to a Protestant congregation in an autocratic state.
II Three centuries after Abel Schrøder, his modern colleague Oddvar I. N. sanded a 980 cm. diameter circle onto a mountain in Vevelstad to create a light, polished, 75 square meter surface. In Vestvågøy, Markus Raetz mounted an inverted male head on a slender granite column. In Vedøy, outside Røst, Luciano Fabro placed his three highly polished eggs between two broken columns, all in Carrara marble. Following the Reformation, every Lutheran church had its own pulpit. Toward the end of the twentieth century, each municipality in Nordland County had its respective sculpture. The patron list includes the following: Ministry of Cultural Affairs, Nordic Council of Ministers, The Norwegian Council for Cultural Affairs, Northern Norway Council and sponsors SAS, Widerøe Airlines, Ofoten and Vesterålens Shipping A/S, Telenor and Alcatel Kabel. It reads like two stanzas in a concrete didactic poem about the corporate mingling of economic and cultural capital governing Norway in this late modern period. As the pulpits were an ideological platform for the word of God and absolutism, one wonders if it is possible to read an ideological program in the corporate willingness to place modern places of worship within the cathedrals of Nordland nature?
III When hope for eternal life, as preached from the pulpit, is weakened, a metaphysical void ensues. Open nature is in itself cathedral and place of reverence for various forms of self-worship. However, these days a fixation on the body and sports revolves around hope for life in this world: The dream of eternal youth. When belief in God loses its spiritual power, art remains as the last transcendence. However, art is its own mystery not a platform for expressing another. Standing before modern works of art, we worship The Other and The Eternal. In place of religious art, art becomes religion.
IV In the sculptures of the Artscape Nordland project, art is sited in places that are difficult to access – both in outer and inner human nature. For a few years, Fabro’s Il Nido (The Nest) was mounted in the center of the flat landscape of Røst. The sculpture was moved by helicopter from this central site to the bird-inhabited cliffs on the unpopulated island of Vedøya. In order to get there, one must take a boat from Røstøya in the direction of Nykane and the Skomvær Lighthouse. From a distance, the sculpture seems to be one of the sheep grazing on the island, only somewhat larger. And whiter. It lies on the grass hill at the foot of the shrieking cliffs. Kittiwake. Puffin. Teist. Razorbill. Sea Gull. Guillemot. Cormorant. One must row ashore alone in a small boat and tie up to a floating dock by the shore. The sculpture lies on the crest of a green hill, near the entrance to a ravine that slopes in toward a deep incline. You wade uphill in luxuriant grass. You step in sheep droppings. You startle birds. The sound is that of a thousand throttling larynxes and for a moment it seems as though the entire mountain is breaking apart. It does not fall; rather, the black mountain spreads its wings and takes flight. The black mountain beats thousands of pairs of wings and alights. The mountain has laid eggs. The mountain flies. It soars in the air. You arrive at Luciano Fabro’s smooth stone eggs and rough column section, hurled into the ground below the birds’ shrieks.
V Art is not easily accessible. Art is also international. In 1432, Venetian nobleman Pietro Querini was shipwrecked on one of the furthest islands in the Røst archipelago. The accounts from Querini and his men are some of the earliest firsthand descriptions of encounters between Norwegians and outsiders. Through its export of dried fish, Røst has a tradition of dealing with Mediterranean countries. Fish is a food for Catholic fast rituals. In June 1996, two Italian fish merchants stayed at the local fisherman’s inn while waiting for the owner of the fishing village. He never came. It seems far too predetermined, yet was hardly unavoidable: It had to be an Italian artist who laid an egg at Røst. The artist is a migratory bird. Art moves experience from one part of the world and places it in another.
VI By cultivating the creative process more than the ultimate work resulting from the process, Fabro works with making art a place where new knowledge may be had about the world. This place may be quite difficult to find when entering a contemporary art museum in a devout and self-effacing manner seeking transcendence. Perhaps it is easier to approach place in a small boat, and then on foot, through grass and sheep droppings and the bird shriek on Vedøy.
VII On the way back, from the approach to Glea in Røst and at a distance, Luciano Fabro’s Il Nido no longer appears as a sheep, just a little larger, a bit whiter. It looks like a bird that has landed with white wings of marble, roosting and hatching fantastic creatures from its smooth eggs.
The sculpture can only be put into place with the help of a helicopter, and in respect of the bird life the transport must be delayed until the late winter of 1995.
After an exhausting journey, including a segment in a rowboat, he found the sculpture on Vedøya.
Nordlands Framtid 12.09.98
At the opening festivities there will be music, song, drama and poetry readings. Mayor Arnfinn Ellingsen and a representative from Nordland County will hold speeches. In the evening there will be (among other things) complimentary food and drink at “Stephanies”, lottery drawing for sculpture placement and orientation about the historical ties between Italy and Røst, as well as general information regarding the history of Røst.
...reports Nordlands Framtid 29.04.1994
– And Luciano Fabro’s sculpture on Vedøya?
– For me just knowing that it is there is meaningful enough.
Kjartan Fløgstad in Dagbladet 03.09.97
Now the marble from Carreras gleams in its beauty, against a rugged background of Norwegian mountains, which forms a half-arch behind the marble nest. According to the Italian it was never the intention to compete with the magnificent surroundings. That would also be an impossibility.
Stockfish tie Røst and Italy together. This close connection has been used by the artist when he made the sculpture.
Nordlands Framtid 15.09.95
The dull, fluted fragments from the culture of the past “crack” like a fragile eggshell, and reveal the strength of nature’s polished ovals.