National Romantic Psychedelia
I visited Dan Graham’s pavilion on a warm summer day, in a Lofoten bathed in sunlight. A heat wave had hit northern Norway and the beaches were full of tanned people – in short, an exception. Everyone smiled broadly. Life smiled. Knowing that this was a short-lived phenomenon made it all the more intense. Graham’s sculpture was actually a short distance down the highway toward Gimsøystraum, which separates Vestvågøy from Austvågøy. I had seen his architectural glass constructions or pavilions on a number of other occasions: in urban park surroundings on the continent, on a roof in New York with a view of Manhattan, and in the form of a sophisticated exhibition space for video viewing.
The sculpture at Lyngvær is the most spectacular of Graham’s works I have seen to date. It consists of a steel construction that frames three large glass surfaces mounted to a concrete foundation. The special glass that is used is transparent and reflective, the reflected image of the landscape juxtaposed with the actual landscape one sees through the glass. The three glass surfaces interfere with each other and when the viewer becomes part of the scene an incredibly complex visual structure is created. The surrounding landscape space is at once fragmented and gathered as a totality in the sculpture. We are drawn into a multi-faceted, multi-layered and endless landscape. Compass points collapse. The sculpture is oriented with the front facing onto the fjord. A curved glass surface captures the wonderful fjord landscape and at the same time distorts the view by compressing the scenery horizontally with a corresponding increase in height. The gentle stretches in the landscape are thus transformed into steep peaks with precipitous mountain faces. The reflection recalls the fantastic mountain formations of Chinese ink drawings.
Norwegian national identity has been linked to the codification of Norwegian nature in National Romantic painting from the 1800s. That is, the fjords and mountains were recognized as Norwegian: signs for something specifically Norwegian. The romantic, national landscape exists as a collective imaginary zone in the soul of the Norwegian people. The nature of the Lofoten Islands, in particular, with its fishing villages and boats, has become an artist and tourist cliché. Graham’s sculpture creates its own psychedelic variation on this National Romantic vision.
The sculpture renders the landscape into a virtual image that twists and turns on itself depending on the orientation of the viewer, almost like a Rorschach test. The foundation in front of the curved screen becomes a kind of stage floor that indirectly encourages the viewer to step into the inverted reflection, to be transformed into a grotesque and amorphous entity. The fascination with these kinds of affects seems to stem from an endless, childish source: Our own reflection never ceases to engage us on the most fundamental level. Graham’s construction stirs the imagination to such an extent that the viewer becomes drawn in, losing visual control and perspective. We are thrown into the image. The concept of the sublime that fascinated eighteenth century philosophers specifically focuses on this feeling of being overwhelmed, as though an abyss in our ordinary perception suddenly opened before us. We are nonetheless able to try out new positions and interact reflexively with the sculpture; in this sense we maintain some form of control. There is nothing really troubling about this sculpture. Rather, it evokes a sense of wonder about reality’s innumerable facets and realms of visual possibilities.
The sculpture image
We are three girls who live in the area near the sculpture. Tine is the one who lives nearest and is perhaps the one who has been there most. The sculpture became well known in the community very quickly. Opinions were divided about it, but most people thought it was great to look at. What is extraordinary about the sculpture is the special glass that makes you look very fat close up, whilst you look very thin from a distance. If you remove yourself from the mirror, the mountains takes on a completely unbelievable shape, and if you are so lucky that you see the sun at the same time, it becomes even better. «The Sculpture Image» is prettiest when there is fine autumn weather. During the opening of the sculpture there were some pupils from our school who had written some plays/sketches which they performed. Tine and Lena were there, watching. Some times we just go there to have something to do. We think the sculpture was a great initiative in this somewhat boring place.
Lene Kristin Westeng, Marie Aga Jørgensen, Tine Hansen, all thirteen years old
«Shower stall at Lyngvær»
«No title» is a very fine sculpture. We call it the «shower stall». When there is midnight sun, it’s completely fantastic. It is also nice around the sculpture. The sea glitters when there is sunshine. Really it is only expensive glass and concrete.
Vegard Tønder Pettersen, 13 years old
A place of reflections
Sky, ocean and the Lofoton Mountains are reflected and inverted on the three-part, concave glass surface. With a slight movement of body and light one is able to see pine forests and other mountains through the partly transparent surface. A few steps more and one encounters one’s own, the viewer’s, reflection.
Each encounter with Dan Graham’s sculpture in Lyngvær near the old ferry landing by Svolvær is new. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that repeated encounters are all experienced differently. The work’s architectural and magnificent physical presence is constant: concrete, metal and glass, two and a half meters high and three meters wide frame the reflective, translucent glass walls. As one approaches from a distance on the nearby main road through Lofoten, the sculpture always appears the same – as a small, somewhat disturbing, seemingly square thing set in a powerful natural setting. It is easy to drive past or to simply ignore.
The possibilities are nonetheless many, on both mental and physical levels: The first and most immediate impression of the sculpture is linked, naturally enough, to the sensual aspect of experience. The numerous visual impressions, the rapidly shifting light, the sounds of seagulls and lapping waves, the smell of seaweed, the force of the wind and one’s physical movements – all contribute to the experience of the artwork. One has a heightened awareness of one’s own presence in time and space.
One may thus say that the sculpture is inextricably linked to the experience of the place Lyngvær and its transformations by time, making it unnatural to distinguish between the «work» and the «surroundings»: The sculpture reflects time and place in a literal sense. The inversions and the glass’s dual function create an active reflection, one that is in complete correspondence with the changes in time and space in Lyngvær. As such, it represents the place and its time or history. One may also maintain that the sculpture is place; it has contributed to reestablishing a human link with Lyngvær, which lost much of its relevance and function when the ferry landing was closed down. Yet, one may just as easily claim that place, its temporal quality and the viewer is the work; by filling its empty frame, it’s potential to provide meaning is realized.
Accordingly, the work may be said to be in place, be place, take place or enter into an interaction with place. It represents, presents and is Lyngvær. Whichever phrasing one chooses, all of these thoughts lead in the direction of an interweaving of space in nature, place and artwork.
The Lyngvær sculpture’s multitudinous juxtaposed spaces, with the many possible perspectives and the numerous views it provides, also make the sculpture intellectually challenging. In an art-historical context it may be considered a meta-artwork, one that comments on itself as a work of art. Its properties – as surface, reflector, mirror and opening – may be related to well established art theories such as art as imitation, art as expressive alternative to religion, art as sublime experience of nature, and not least, art as self-reflective commentary on its own status as art. Thus, the sculpture touches on the question of the autonomy versus heteronomy of the work of art – it is at once heavy, static, material and process-oriented, open and illusionary. It is both thing and sign, essence and construction, real and unreal, artwork, event and place at the same time.
Dan Graham’s work in Lyngvær serves as a reservoir for experiences, ideas, reflection and self-realization while also possessing an actual, physical existence. Through this multiplicity, it establishes «another place,» a meeting place beyond what is found in daily life and social practices: a Heterotopia.
This is New York and Lofoten in one and the same sculpture.
Director of Cultural Affairs Astrid Arnøy, Lofotposten 02.09.96
Resembles a bathroom.
Edith Jornes in Lofotposten, 07.09.1996
Here the public literally walks into the picture. A fantastic experience.
Harstad Tidende 27.02.97
A sculpture to fall in love with.
Headline in Lofotposten 02.09.96
Could it have received any other nickname than “The shower stall”?
Nordlands Framtid 02.09.96
True enough, I am neither a director of cultural affairs nor an art critic – just a soul from western Norway in knickerbockers with great appreciation for Artscape Nordland... Yeah, the shower stall is a sculpture owned by everyone, and many others in addition to myself love it too.
Mari Jorstad Leithaug in Lofotposten 06.09.1996