TEXTS REFLECTIVE POSITIONS
The text Reflective positions was written in the event of Aud Marit Skarrebo Holmen's exhibition posisjoner (positions).
Written in small print, the title of the exhibition, positions, is both suggestive and vague. But approximate positions don't exist. By definition, taking a position is to have an opinion, to state a point of view, to take one's stand.
And the art of Aud Marit Skarrebo Holmen does not shrink from taking its stand – neither physically nor metaphorically. But it tends to take on places (or positions) one will not position oneself to take. Whether it be spaces one doesn't seek out or secluded places. However, this does not reduce the relevance of the place.
In art, specificity of place denotes that quality of a work which connects its delimitation (specificity) with its position (place); the inherent contextualisation of the work. This is a basic quality of Holmen's works. The place – the position, if you prefer – defines the work. Without the place there is no art. Without the place, art fails to become art, it is just words. For the words in Holmen's art are many and large, and she is not afraid of using them.
In 1983 Ole Robert Sunde published the book Fra dette punktet trekker jeg en omkrets (I draw a circumference from this point). Sunde's prose is not considered very accessible, and he has been accused of getting lost in textual labyrinths of his own making. But of course, straight ahead is not always the shortest way. Fra dette punktet trekker jeg en omkrets could easily have been a text from one of Holmen's works. As with Sunde, her aim is not necessarily that of telling or clarifying, but just as much to pursue associations and uniting trains of thought. Her syntax is stable, but the presentation of the words is an important variable as they meet the reader – or viewer.
Holmen joins a long tradition in giving the text space within space. Conceptual artists have been exploring text and language since the sixties, as well as the impact these have on public opinion. Semiotics has been dissected by pioneers like Joseph Kosuth, and Jenny Holzer's statements and aphorisms, "truisms", can still be observed in all formats, nearly anywhere in the world. So text occupies an important place in the visual arts. Could it be because the structure and form of a text is so simple, but still of great analytical complexity? For texts are signs, and signs always represent something else, a content. But, as linguists tell us, contents is relative, it is relative to the interpreter.
In 2004 Holmen placed the text trøst (comfort) under a bridge in Bergen (Nye Nygårdsbro). A meter high yellow letters made of foam rubber, against concrete. It was suggestive and poetic, but at the same time very intrusive. For comfort is normally such a quiet thing. But here one is confronted by wall-to-wall comfort. Five foam rubber letters suddenly take the form of an emotional bombardment; because comfort is vulnerable and important, and therefore a big word.
As I mentioned, Holmen has worked with – and played with – many big words over the years. And many small ones. She has explored words in relation to places and positions, and the impact they have on our experience and interpretation. On a grubby floor in a former prison bathroom she washed out helt ren (completely clean). In an underground fortification she used dried glue to shape DET ABSTRAKTE HATET SAVNER RETNING (abstract hatred is without direction), and on the windows of a deserted industrial building she wrote Dette er et verdifullt sted (This is a valuable place). Holmen challenges the text, the context and the viewer's associative creativity. But what happens when an artist who works in a way that is so focused on places, is placed in the artistic isolation room of the gallery?
The white cube of the gallery used to be considered THE place for an exhibition, whereas these days it is just one of several possible venues. It is a context on a par with other contexts. So the gallery's space is not a neutral one to Holmen, but rather a place whose position needs to be challenged.
Tactile point poetry
The texts at the exhibition are of varying dimensions, mode of presentation, and literary genres. This frieze runs all round the exhibition room: DET RASTE ORD NED FRA VEGGENE DRØMMENE LÅ SOM MORKEN MURPUSS I DE FORLATTE IRRGANGENE INGEN KLARE TANKER TIL OVERS TOMHETEN FYLTE ALT (words tumbled from the walls dreams lay like crumbling plaster in the deserted labyrinths no clear thoughts left the emptiness filled everything)
It is tempting to call this frieze, as well as many of her other texts, tactile point poetry. For this kind of text is both poetry and prose; again with associations to Ole Robert Sunde's complex and labyrinthine representations. But unlike Sunde's audience, Holmen's can both read and watch. You could of course say that all texts contain imagery, and that all texts are visual. The difference here is that Holmen chooses to place her text in space. She makes the text tactile by reflecting on poetic imagery with visual means. For Holmen is not an author, she is an installation artist, and installation art is defined by its fondness for adding movement to visual art; a fusion of the dimensions of space-time.
Holmen is attentive to this dimension, and she emphasizes the visual nature of the text, its typography; the shaping and contextual positioning of letters. Through her choice of typeface, text size, colour and materials, she adds interpretative dimensions to the construction of sentences. While helt ren was washed out in a neat and personal handwriting, full of loops, DET ABSTRAKTE HATET... was designed in a classic antiqua script, a font commonly seen as historical and authoritarian. For the exhibition positions she has chosen a sans-serif typeface. Sans-serifs are characterized by their lack of the small feature called "serifs" at the end of strokes, and they are often considered simple and more direct.
Apparently it is almost impossible to watch short texts in one's own language without reading them. For when you know a language, you no longer read the words, you see them; they become word pictures. So interpreting, or deciphering, is implicit in seeing. And it is just as difficult to keep a text at bay as it is easy to take it in. Armed with this awareness, and her own consistent use of the text's inherent visual quality, Holmen guides the viewer's attention away from the dichotomy of text and image, making the word pictures explicit, as pictures.
The position of the place
You enter the exhibition by walking straight up to a wall with the text PÅ HVER SIN SIDE AV SANNHETEN (on either side of the truth). The wall and the text make one take sides and take a stand, at the same time as the text emphasizes the relativity of that choice. If one takes the most natural course, one enters the room with the frieze DET RASTE ORD NED FRA VEGGENE (words tumbled from the walls), which we have already mentioned. And they do, quite literally. The room is blanketed in messages; stories, maxims, aphorisms and phrases. They are above us, under us, they approach us and we have to step over them. Or step on them. Together they create a deafening silence. Deafening in its grand and complex message, quiet in its demanding expectation of a response. Because the words demand that we read them.
In the centre of the room is STED (place). The rest of the words relate to the surface in different ways, but the context, the place itself, has been given a spatial, or sculptural form. The place has been given the task of representing the classic way and shape of exhibiting art. The object, the classic artefact, is back where it belongs, and the criticism of the institution is obvious. The sculpture, i.e. the place, has been positioned at the centre of the exhibition, like a golden calf around which the audience is dancing. In the past, the room in the gallery, the place, had a defining power over the object, but here it is the object that defines the place as a venue of art. And when the place becomes obvious, it is placed at the centre; at the centre of an analysis of the position of the place.
The relativism of art
By relativising the importance of the sign, Holmen emphasizes the limitations of language and the potential of art. For art expresses itself through a logic that is different from that of traditional, regular language; art says things that can only be said through art.
And as if to underline the relativism of art itself, the word LIKSOM (as if) shines at us from the middle of the space. This spineless, weak-willed word undercuts everything else with its lack of positioning. It is pending, which is what Holmen's art still chooses to be, as well. Because she has so far never used a full stop
Translated by Egil Fredheim