AN ENTRENCHMENT FOR CULTURE

One of the most interesting developments in early and more recent modern art has been the global expansion of commissioned, public sculpture. The notion of sculpture as moving away from national monument toward an art that is closely related to architecture has rapidly gained ground. The development of the idea of sculpture has ultimately become a search for culture’s borders: sculpture seeking to conquer the non-culture of the specific site and measure itself against the forces of nature, seeking to move from space to place, from mental object to environmental object.

As public sculpture transcended its role as monument as well as the term «public,» it began to challenge and seek out less accessible territory. Accordingly, «public» acquired a new meaning that transgressed urban settlement and the so-called cultural landscape. Sculpture moved «beyond» and became something private and solitary. Whilst urban monuments are clearly supposed to serve as identity symbols for the masses, it seems that the public sculptures which are erected in thinly populated areas lose both their public aspect and fail in their task of providing identity markers for the masses. The sculptures become objects that are hidden away in specific sites and their entire symbolic impact is thus altered. When a group of hikers from urban cultural centers finally stumble upon the sculpture, the work forfeits its hard-fought transcendental status for a moment.

Cavéns group of three sculptures, Today, Tomorrow, Forever, is located in the midst of a sparsely populated village in Beiarn municipality and was completed in 1992.  It is without doubt a late modern «counter-monument.» It is site-specific in the sense that it is made from materials found and worked upon on site: wood and stone.  The area where the sculptures are placed has been organized specifically for them.  The works form their own small center amongst the scattered housing of the village.

There are three sculptures, with bases that are almost circular in form.  More accurately: the form of the sculpture is a star with eight points.  The sculptures are freely grouped in an almost triangular formation. Each star sends out intentionally thick and clumsy rays, the eight-armed woodpile resembling an intentionally clumsy parody.

The elements in Cavén’s sculpture group do not aspire to greatness in the sense of promoting the notion of sculpture as national monument; rather, they seek to convey and disseminate, to eliminate the distance between viewer and sculpture. This is apparent in the spread out manner in which the sculptures are placed, surrounding the viewer and reinforcing the horizontal character of the sculpture entity. This viewer-friendly tactic eliminates any sense of distance between viewer and work.

Cavéns sculptures are made to deteriorate on site.  They will crumble and disintegrate according to weather and use. They are entirely at the mercy of the place, continually transforming and adapting and seeking the same quality of time as their surroundings. Ultimately, this connection to place is the same as the connection to memory. The memories are intertwined with one another.

Cavén’s work reflects sculpture’s close alignment with modern architecture, as seen in the principle of stacking. We may also view Cavén’s three sculptures as three different object types: the pile or stack (the cultural category of both work and stack are almost indistinguishable), the plinth or base and the sculpture (the star made from a stone slab).

Culture means building, another term for stacking or piling up. This is an essential element of Cavén’s work as well, and plays on the natural urge to climb on things that are stacked. The act of climbing also reiterates the pattern of building, step by step.

The importance of landscape as backdrop is less pronounced in Cavén’s sculptures than in many of the other works in the Artscape-Nordland project. It consists of mixed woodland, stony outcrops and a scattered settlement. The meager landscape surrounding the sculptures is hardly Nature at its most sublime. It is not a landscape that fits neatly together or melds with the sculptures; it draws away from them, is open and without contrasts. This kind of nature might even remind one of Finland.

Kari Cavén’s three sculptures appear to be a cultural entrenchment against a meager landscape; as though it is only by means of this entrenchment that we may experience and understand with greater clarity the very sparseness of the nature. A similar relationship may be seen between the architecture and concept of the Finnish summer cabin, or the small Norwegian mountain huts. Cavén’s sculpture is also structure; «through» it we may see more clearly the ruthlessness and harsh reality of living in these parts. This impression is reinforced by the knowledge that discouragement is an inherent part of the act of stacking. As the Italian pergola makes us aware of the Mediterranean landscape and the compassion manifest in the natural flora, so does the very act of building such cabins and huts represent an acceptance of culture against the background of this sparse nature.

Altti Kuusamo

Kari Cavén

Born: 1954 Savonlinna, Finland
Studies: 1977-78 Konstindustriella högskolan, 1978-82 Finlands konstakademis skola.
Place of residence: Helsinki, Finland.