Betweeen the eye and the world
We have all been trained in our school years to use protractors and to appreciate their usefulness. We have been taught that out there in the world objects have specific qualities or properties, and that it can be useful to know exactly what those qualities are. In order to measure some of these physical properties we need tools; for example, protractors, which allow us to precisely assess the shapes of some things. More exactly, protractors can measure the angles at which one side of a surface meets another. Whenever we use a protractor, we pay tribute to the sovereignty of things out there in the world. Things have properties of their own, or so we admit – and what is left up to us is to find out what these properties are, in and of themselves. We should beware of distorting those properties in the course of measuring them, and the protractor is excellent for just such a purpose, since it does not add anything nor change anything in the world it tells us about.
And so, it seems, is the Protractor built by Kristján Gudmundsson. True, it does not look like the protractors we remember from school: it is huge, heavy, massive, cut in stone – a proper match for the hills of Skjerstad it overlooks. It is dug firmly in the ground, immovable and immutable, just like the slopes of the mountain range it measures. Its family resemblance with the world out there emphasizes even stronger the humility of human tools, their placid submission to the world we wish to measure, describe, represent.
But look more closely: there is a hole bored through the thickness of the stony protractor, a tiny duct, just big enough for an eye to look through. If you put your eye to it, a miracle happens: the mountains seem grandiose and overwhelming no more; they seem to lose their awesome authority, they no longer dictate the rules! What you see now is what your eye tears out of the world puts there before you. It is you who has made the selection; you have created the world you see just by looking at it, and there is no protractor in sight to testify to the advantage that mighty things “out there” have over your allegedly weak and derivative, impressions.
Gudmundssons’ Protractor asks us where the truth of the world lies; and it suggests an answer: in the meeting between the world and the eye. Maaretta Jaukkuri suggested that the meaning of a work of art resides in the space between the art and its viewer. Gudmundsson seems to move a step further: Meaning is to be found in a similar in-between space of encounter and dialogue – between the inhuman world and human worldliness.
When people from Misvær rowed to the church on Skjerstad, they made their last take – the last change of rowing crew – at Sandøya, where the bridge attachments are today. The place is still called Avløysa (Relieve). At the last take the oars were often given to the youngest ones, in order for them to rub shoulders with the grownups. Now it was their turn, new strength and new willpower would carry the boat forward. There was also a take when the old ones felt life was nearing an end. “It is soon the last take for me,” an old man said a few years ago, just before he died.
For the old people this was, however, not the boat’s last stop. They felt sure the boat would go on, that new energy would take over where they themselves had to draw in the oars. They were sure progress would carry on – towards a better life, better conditions. Loss and strife were things of the past, only the future existed. Building communication lines was the foundation for the aspirations of wealth and growth. The village wanted to join modern society, and every effort went to achieving this.
Where the ferry meets the bridge at Avløysa, is the last take for modernization, the transfer from travel by sea to travel by land. The most important means of transport throughout ten thousand years had its final replacement. This enormous historical span, and especially the changes involved during the past century, is difficult to grasp: even more difficult to grasp than the changes in travel and communication are the cultural changes that followed in their wake. Communication lines, the contact between people, has been dependent upon the conditions nature itself provided. Our history and our culture are therefore inexticably bound to and formed by nature. Now, we have broken the grip nature had on us, we have risen above it, put it behind ourselves.
Some will ask if this story is worth remembering, if there is any point in digging up the past. The answer is simple enough: History only tells us that we ourselves are soon history. Our own actions, from the first to the last take, are a mere stroke of an oar within history – to us, an incomprehensible and tiny moment. History enables us to understand that the future is the only thing that will always be there. Perhaps this can only be expressed through art, as our Icelandic sculptor has attempted at Sandkollen. He wishes to tell us about communication between people, between people and their surroundings, about the importance of taking care of history and to bring it into the future. He also has more to tell: When Kristján Gudmundsson came on his first visit, I had the pleasure of taking him round. What really got his attention was the farming, the cultural landscape – that which our forefathers had formed with their toil and in holy respect for the God they believed had created the landscape. After wandering through overgrown hamlets, with their cultural landscapes and old buildings marked by neglect, he commented: “A nation without farming, without living villages, where the cultivated landscape and buildings are not maintained, is no longer a nation.”
In this perspective, working with cultural heritage and the protection of the cultural landscape gain new importance. In its deepest sense, all such work with culture is a question about creating identity. A local society with a consciousness about its past has no identity, no awareness about the qualities and resources that can be used and developed – bring the boat further. If we put such thought into Protractus it no longer is a question of “beautiful” or “ugly”, it has something to tell us that we hardly can avoid.
How to measure a landscape
The sculpture Proctacus by Kristján Gudmundsson is a substantial granite structure standing before magnificent nature. In the sculpture’s form, the shape of a measurement instrument used in geometry for measuring angles of drawn figures may be recognized.
This monumental shape where the views of a stunning landscape preside acquires a highly symbolic meaning. It speaks of the human mind and way of looking at things and almost reflexive eagerness to measure all things against another. I have pictures of myself looking through the opening of the sculpture from the trip I made there with a few friends some years ago. How much more spectacular can a place be? How many more monuments and representations of human presence are we able to produce?
The act and tools of measurement speak about concepts of the ideal, the perfect, about the idea of setting points from which to evaluate. The ideal, as from ancient Platonic discourse, is not in this world; it is a construction of the mind and identified through its relation to the real. In providing a basis for the perfect and finding ways to measure the rest, concepts of “deviation from the standard” are proposed. The perfect it is an expression of a collective dream.
Instruments of measurement are encountered in different cultures, in the surrounding media, in everyday communications. You may try to approach an ideal but may never become identical with it. Identification with the ideal may be a result of a distorted obsession with panic ensuing at the thought of not being able to sustain it. It is always based on rejection of the external and uncontrollable. The ideal is also incapable of withstanding time as it is altered by time.
As Boris Groys proposes in Art Judgement Show, artistic production may well stem from humanity’s need to reproduce its own image in the environment. Similarly, dreaming is a mental means of situating yourself in the world in a place that most ideally suits you. Through seeing and reflecting, the world becomes appropriated and molded into a set of subjective standards. Perhaps dreams are the most subjective production of the human mind, but may also become realized through focused efforts.
I wonder what a person sees when looking at a landscape? Why is the mind allowed to wander far away? Is it because nothing reminds you of yourself in a landscape, your own human form and limits? Is it because it is another world, one outside of human existence? Yet may it really be separated from the self? How do you measure a landscape?
There are many standards for the ideal landscape as well as for the ideal human. Landscape becomes an extension of culture with a set of measurements accompanying it. Through the injection of your own “perfect” self in the environment, you appropriate it, make it part of your own mind, your own dreams, creating a layered fiction of seeing that is shared with others who may understand the relational concept. Ultimately, everyone sees it differently, as measurements mutate over time, an inherent part of the real world.
We have been fortunate with it.
Per Erik Våheim
Skjerstad has, with this, received the best sculpture in the entire region.
Both in Nordlandsposten 26.10.93
We could not afford this.
City council member Brynhild Vesterli Pedersen, Nordlandsposten 06.10.94
I am wild about sculpture. Artscape Nordland is the best thing this county has experienced. I took the trip to Saltstraumen to be a part of this. Sculptures get everyone’s attention and are super cool.
Geir Arne Olsen replies to Nordlandsposten regarding the question What do you think about “Protractus”, 26.10.1996