Fire, flowers and a path
In a little birch wood by the bank of a river I came across Huda Hákon’s Three Éldar. In itself, A locus amoenus in itself, it has been enhanced and elevated by the three golden, lacquered steel sculptures. There is a dense atmosphere that invites one to spend some time in this almost Arcadian state. There is nothing frightening about the flickering flames. They do not threaten to spread from this periphery to the woods and further to the town of Mosjøen. They burn only in the artistic sense, changing from purely abstract sculpture to a symbol – with extraordinary artistic beauty. They evoke a range of senses, from warmth and radiance to movement and contrast.
When Hulda Hákon started work on the piece, she stumbled upon a path, a well-worn track that she could use as an axis. Slabs of graphite, some with texts, are now part of work and dot this path. By the side of this path, I move between the three flames: walking, stopping, reading, walking and always on the lookout. “Where does this path lead?” the path questions me at the outset – and finally, at the end, it reproachfully asks “Why did it take you so long to get here?” These two questions apply to art encounters in general; the aim of which is not as purposeful as the road seems to demand. In between these, other questions appear: “Is this your first visit?” “Where do you come from?” “Are you waiting for somebody?” – and on a bench with a view over the river: “Why did it take you son long to get here?”
Yes, why indeed did I spend so much time here? Because I know of no other work that so completely and directly assumes the position of the viewer, and repeatedly hands the responsibility back to me – the subject – to reflect on the aim of art. A kind of winged happiness takes hold of me, a happiness that brings with it peace and an untroubled state of mind. During the summer months, countless blue flowers thrive here as well, and they enhance the green of the grass and make the gold shine more brightly. These flowers come from the world of Novalis Romance, the world of dreams, and prolong my visits. These are the flowers of poetry; like those referred to in The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard, who also lit the blue flame in Yves Klein’s work.
And so I stay within the work. I wander along that heavy path between nature and art, naturalness and artifice, and cannot, will not, decide. This locus amoenus has a power over me of the kind reserved for mythological figures in Renaissance painting. I can hear the river sighing and the vague noise of the city in the background; I smell the grass and the flowers feel the wind that makes the birch trees rustle. I am keenly aware of the place and listen to the stories of the “aestheticization of knowledge,” as Michel de Certeau has called narration. Yes, this place is beautiful because the art doesn’t overwhelm me; rather, it opens my eyes. It gives me a space for my dreams and stories. It gives me privacy, because it makes it possible for me to really be here, to be present.
Three Points about a Meeting at 17 Below
A tree from the earth’s heart. Wonderment. Faithfulness.
– Rolf Jacobsen
1. Walking from downtown Mosjøen along Route E6 at 10 below freezing looking for a sculpture, is in itself an experience. No one I ask can give precise directions as to where I should go, but a footpath of trodden snow along the Vefsn fjord leads me to the right place. I stand in a small wood of birch trees, right between the E6, the supermarket and the fjord and see it, Three Éldar. The sculpture consists of bonfires – licking flames of varnished stainless steel – placed to form a triangle among the trees. Straight across this triangle runs a path of granite tiles, more or less concealed by snow and frost. I am told that the granite plates have inscriptions, a series of simple questions: “Why did it take you so long to get here?” “Can you take a message?” “Are you alone?” and so on. The guidebook that I have with me also reveals that spring will provide the sculpture with a third element: blue flowers. On this December day, then, only a third of Three Éldar is visible: three steel points of warmth in white snow.
2. However, the Three Éldar are here and do not seem to be particularly hampered by their frozen and snowy state. They represent something fundamental; humanity as civilized beings. When humankind learned to make fire, it learned to master its surroundings in a superior manner. Fire meant primarily life (warmth, food, protection) and was thus in its essence inclusive, a gathering force. It also represented power, a means of excluding others and limiting such fellowship – fire as a symbol of man as a contentious, or social being. A we distinguished by the difference from and distance to the other. In a third way, fire represents the cultivated human. The bonfire comes to represent the exchange of stories, knowledge and poetry: storytelling as situation and basically cultural phenomenon.
The symbolism of the number three in sculpture is found in many places, foremost in religious themes. One such place is the Holy Trinity, in which the Holy Spirit filled the disciples and showed itself as twelve “fiery” tongues that taught the twelve to speak different languages, enabling them to go forth and spread the Christian word. Language is a precondition for communication beyond the most basic level (“cold,” “hungry,” “tired”). This special ability to express oneself is an important common trait, a characteristic shared amongst people. However, differences in language are equally important and it is these that make it impossible for us to understand each other intuitively. The differences provide the ability and potential to misunderstand, to make one misunderstood, and to invent.
3. Many people believe that our information society has strengthened democracy and understanding by evening out social differences. However, in the jungle of messages and channels, humankind is reduced in numbers to marketing statistics, deprived of the individuality afforded one even as a consumer. This pervasive, en masse and vexing culture drowns out the individual’s voice. In contrast to this, Three Éldar is agreeably mute during our brief encounter. In the snow at minus 10, I am relieved to avoid what I imagine is the cultural background noise generated by intrusive questions on granite or the diversionary attraction of blue flowers. The sculpture gives – at least on this day – room for misunderstanding. Three Éldar is not a roaring fire; it does not let out a howl, but rather a muted mumbling. On a still day that is enough.
“It’s getting warmer,” the taxi driver says as we drive to the airport in the evening, “now it’s only 16,5 below.”
I consider Tre eldar (Three Flames) to be a work of art which does not belong to this group of incomprehensible works of art, but which opens the door so that ordinary people can understand moderen art.
Pål Stuvland in Nordlands Framtid 30.06.97
Tre eldar (Three Flames) is a work of art which is capable of capturing the interests of both those viewers who are popularly-oriented and the high-cultural.
Pål Stuvland in Helgeland Arbeiderblad 28.06.97
Fire, gold and green forests.
Headline which describes the Vefsn-sculpture in Helgeland Arbeiderblad 03.02.96
The sculpture is without title, and symbolizes a stage without persons or action. This is to be left up to the public.