Time and place
Inghild Karlsen has chosen two sites in Øksnes for After-images, Myre and Nyksund. The artist’s choice of landscape thus differs from the other artists, a choice not without consequence for the consideration and encounter of the sculptures.
The Myre sculpture faces north toward Nyksund, where the other sculpture is mounted and faces south, toward Myre. The sculptures are oriented toward one another, making them direction markers as well as creating a kind of interdependence. This interdependence is reinforced by the sculptures’ near identical appearance; the two-part artwork thus becomes a whole.
The connection between them creates dialogues between the sculptures and their respective sites, art and landscape, and man-made object and nature. A dialogue unfolds between art and the everyday. The pure object – or the formal aspects of the sculptures that recall the form of light posts – suggests that the movement of the works border between art’s reality and reality itself. They vary between appearing as lamp posts and sculptures, the former not something one notices on a daily basis given its mundane function of illuminating places where people are on the move. After-images consists of two light posts, but their blue light and installation deviates from common light posts. They are made in art’s world as imitations of the everyday.
However, there is more to these works than their form and similarity to everyday objects; their placement is an important element. Gallery and museum spaces are built to focus on works of art, while the focus in a landscape necessarily includes the surroundings. The environment in the gallery space, or the “white cube,” is subdued and controlled to not disturb the experience of the artwork. The surroundings outdoors are impossible to control to the same extent as a space created for art, and landscape art is thus situated in surroundings that invade the sculpture’s space. A connection occurs between artwork and the surroundings as a result of this invasion that is characterized by integration. The surroundings are no longer a backdrop for art, but are placed in dialogue with art.
What happens to the gaze and the experience of the surroundings of Karlsen’s, After-images? Nyksund is an old fishing village that was abandoned in the 1960s and 70s when a cold-storage plant was established at Myre , which then became the new center for the area; Nyksund became distinguished by ruins while Myre became a thriving society with its population intact. When comparing the two places, one immediately experiences the different time frames conveyed by the two communities, each representative of its own cultural history.
The placement of the work in two different locations provides After-images with a temporal aspect, as viewers must travel from one place to the other to experience the artwork. That they are in two different places that represent and express two different eras, past and present, also involves time as an element. Nyksund is characterized by decay with most of its buildings in ruins and a sense of a place that is abandoned, quiet and dead. The journey from Myre to Nyksund makes this contrast apparent. The view of the collapsed small community reinforces the impression of the ruins as fragments of a time past, and automatically triggers a reconstruction by the viewer of how it might have been. One wanders among the dilapidated houses and uses fragmentary impressions to recapture a bygone history and a culture. There is an urge to reconstruct a past reality, a desire to recreate an intact community through the fragmented state of the ruins with sounds, smells and movement – a society with living people.
When Inghild Karlsen travelled through Nordland, she came across Nyksund and Myre in Lofoten for the first time. Since the 1960s, an increasing number of inhabitants, especially fishermen, were leaving Nyksund. Through a subsidy program, the Norwegian government required that inhabitants move from Nyksund to Myre. After their departure, the houses, roads and facilities became derelict. When Karlsen visited the village, nobody lived there anymore. Nyksund was dead. This made an impression upon the artist. The financially motivated migration and its consequences became the theme of her poetic artwork.
She erected a tall street light in Myre – then another in Nyksund. The street lights have been erected in places where they are not usually found and they are lit year- round, highly visible markers during the winter months and almost invisible during the summer months. Those who visit Nyksund are aware of the dereliction and of the street light that throws its always brilliant blue light over the water of a canal. In Myre, the street light is placed far from the main housing area, in an outlying park near the coast, reminding the inhabitants of the abandoned Nyksund. If one looks up at the light source, one discovers the transparent, bluish, shimmering face of a woman, placed over the neon light tubes like a mask. This gives rise – especially in a place where most of the inhabitants are seamen and fishermen – to a realm of associations.
This method of working corresponds to Karlsen’s earlier work. She is interested in places where another time is brought to mind, areas that have lost their place in civilisation, or gather the dysfunctionality of an entire era. She is fascinated by places that have sunk in value, which have been declassified and overlooked. She finds them in the marginalised areas of regions and towns – like small niches in a world that is always focused upon functionality and efficiancy. These are non-places, where history comes to a halt and that which remains slowly decays.
One single light would have been mute. It is only through its twin that the two outlying lamps take shape and begin to talk to us. The light has no function in terms of illuminating a square or a road. At close range, it illuminates the face of a woman and from afar it creates a tall free-standing marker. The artist calls her work After-images. But afterimages of what? The lights resemble one another. Without the first, the second would not exist. But without the derelict Nyksund, neither of them would exist. They have become public landmarks: the origin of the monument. The light refers to the history of the place and makes – because it requires electricity – its own visibility dependent upon a connection to civilisation. As long as the two lamps shine, they preserve the memory of the split that occurred between the two villages in the 60s: everything can change at any time.
Karlsen did not erect a monument that simply requires a passing glance, whose distinctive presence requires admiration and deference, and which has a very clear meaning. Instead, Karlsen talked to the local inhabitants and discovered that they would prefer a classical sculpture. They wanted it to represent a woman, standing on the shoreline, staring out to sea: a monument to the wives of seamen and fisherman. After-images is also an afterimage of this discussion: the negation of a classical monument. The pair of street lights assume the meaning that the inhabitants themselves choose in their everyday life. In this way, the work invites participation. Meaning is a question of acquirement.
The work goes beyond the borders of “art for public places” and moves towards an art which addresses the public sector and has an undogmatic ethical dimension. Art is not enough. The artist reacts emphatically, is touched and wishes to participate in the region’s newer history. She leaves behind a sign which reminds one of the importance of community spirit. There are more lights in Nyksund now. The sons and daughters of the fishermen who moved to Myre have started to move back into the old properties. But none of the lights shine as brightly as the afterimage that has become a model for the future.
The lamp has received its form from a woman’s face – from any woman’s face.
Harstad Tidende 12.11.98
So what if it reminds one of a lamppost? The woman of the coast WAS actually a “lamppost” in the old fisher-farmer community; for children, the elderly and husbands alike.
Johan Borgos, Øksnes Avisa 01.10.93
In order to avoid cars inadvertently backing into the sculpture once again, a couple of heavy benches will be placed beside the electric pylon, so that it will not become damaged again.
Don’t want lamppost.
Headline in Øksnes Avisa, 17.09.1993
Want naturalistic coastal woman.
Headline in Vesteraalens Avis, 18.09.1993
The people of Øksnesfolk pull themselves up by the bootstraps: Erect “light housewife” anyway.
Headline in Vesteraalens Avis, 23.06.1994