Tales of Transformation – enacting displaced identity
Tales of Transformation was a journey I embarked upon in February, 2011, which came to its academic close in September, 2014. (The body of work is ongoing.) Soon after I started my Masters I found out there was a little Anakin living in my uterus and so the journey took on a whole other level. I shot the first image in 2011 at Hanging Rock during an exhausting first trimester, I shot the last in a park with a sleeping toddler at home in 2014 and finished the exegesis, printed and hung the show while dealing with a miscarriage and the start of another pregnancy. It’s been quite a ride! And I am incredibly proud of the result. So far it consists of 13 photographic light paintings with more to come.
There is no way I can do a 25 000 word exegesis justice in a blog. There is no way I can even begin to talk about it all, but I’ll try my best to give you a taste of what it’s all about. And because my pregnancy brain can not be bothered trying to boil it down in a new way I’ll give you a bit from the introduction to my exegesis as framework:
(All words and images are copyrighted.)
Transformation and Translation
The physical construct one lives in, a place of residence. An environment that offers a sense of security and happiness, a sense of belonging. A place of origin, a place where one was born or lived for an extended time, a native habitat. A source, a starting point, of relating to or being of a place. The centre or heart of something.
The concept of home is no less complex now in a world that has grown more connected, and we move more often and more freely within it. The saying home is where the heart is rings truer than ever.
As a Norwegian expat of many years, I often find myself contemplating where or what home is. If home really is where the heart is, does that mean that I will forever be torn between two countries and two cultures, or have we in our globalized society finally surpassed this strange need to identify and categorize ourselves as belonging to one specific place?
Many expats often speak of “missing a piece” of themselves, or of feeling incomplete as a result of being away from their native country. They speak warmly of the return or revisit to their homeland, as if they have both an emotional and a physical connection to their place of birth. Outside this place of origin they feel estranged, and in a constant battle between languages and cultures.
I have never been such an expat.
To me it was with a great sense of relief that I left my home country. I felt invigorated and unrestricted. It was as if I had been stuck in a small box for far too long and finally I set myself free. That is, I finally found room to grow. I still feel very much connected to Norway and to its rich culture and traditions, and I am in every sense of the word a Norwegian, but I have no intention of ever moving back there. My definition of home was never limited solely to my country of birth.
Salman Rushdie wrote in 1991 (cited in Bammer 1994, p. 233):
The effect of mass migration has been the creation of radically new types of human beings: people who root themselves in ideas rather than places, in memories as much as in material things; people who have been obliged to define themselves- because they are so defined by others- by their otherness; people in whose deepest selves strange fusions occur, unprecedented unions between what they were and where they find themselves.
As an immigrant I am creating and inhabiting a hybrid identity. I can no longer be defined solely by who I used to be or where I came from. As an expat I occupy a space between the nationality I was born into and the nationality of the country I currently reside in. As simply a Norwegian, my identity is deprived of this exponential growth and change that has occurred in the nine years since I left Norway. But neither do I fall under the label ‘Australian’: I wasn’t born here and I’m not a citizen. Even if I became a citizen, the ’Australian’ label would reference nothing of my Norwegian heritage and upbringing. To exclude one or the other would be to rob me of vital parts that make me who I am. So I am left constantly negotiating between two languages and cultures, caught in endless translations, trying to cultivate this space in between and re-form an idea of home. It is within this space that I create my work.
As I am growing new roots in Australia, this project explores what happens to traditional and iconic Norwegian myths and folktales when they are displaced geographically and form part of my personal journey as an expat.
Curator Nicholas Bourriaud hypothesizes about how postmodernism is over and has been replaced by what he calls Altermodernity. The Altermodern, according to Bourriaud (2009 A, p.12), “has its roots in the idea of ‘otherness’ (Latin alter = ‘other’, with the added English connotation of ‘different’) and suggests a multitude of possibilities, of alternatives, to a single route.” It is not my intention to discuss whether or not postmodernism really is dead, or if Bourriaud’s altermodernity has taken its place, but to look at the concepts of displacement and translation within Bourriaud’s theories of the altermodern and what he calls contemporary radicant artists. A radicant is an organism that grows its roots as it progresses and adds new ones as it develops and grows. Bourriaud (2009 B, p. 22) explains:
To be radicant means setting one’s roots in motion, staging them in heterogeneous contexts and formats, denying them the power to completely define one’s identity, translating ideas, transcoding images, transplanting behaviours, exchanging rather than imposing.
My MA research project is about becoming a global citizen, and merging cultural and natural iconography through narratives and aesthetics by an artist whose work spans borders and hemispheres. My works focus on the journey and the destination rather than just their origin. Creating this body of work is more than a process of re-staging iconic images and tales from Norway. On their journey from a more traditional storytelling form I allow them to be reshaped and reinvented through my memories of them, my current understanding of them and the ways in which they are influenced by my current place of residence. Bourriaud (2009 B, p. 51-52) writes:
Contemporary art provides new models for this individual who is constantly putting down new roots, for it constitutes a laboratory of identities. Thus, today’s artists do not so much express the tradition from which they come as the path they take between that tradition and the various contexts they traverse, and they do this by performing acts of translation.
According to Bourriaud, translation is in itself an act of displacement. With this project I am allowing Norwegian myths and folktales to transform through the translation from one cultural context to another. The purpose is to see what remains, what is lost, what translates, if anything, and what is created when I try to merge past, present and future to reform an idea of home.
And so, without further ado here are some shots of the installation of my assessment show in Bendigo:
(All installation shots by Steinar Ellingsen.)
My saving angels, amazing friends and colleagues, Andrey and Anna, helping me hang the show. Also helping out, and without whom none of this would ever come to pass, Steinar And Anakin.
Pregnant, tired and proud.
My trolls. These guys are made entirely out of paper and tape, then photographed.
And now the body of work in the order it was presented. All images by yours truly.
Tales of Transformation
“Nøkken” (Sea troll/ Water spirit), 2013
“Tyrihans”, 2013. (Image forms part of a triptych based on the folktale 3 Sitroner.)
“Prinsesse” (Princess), 2013. (Image forms part of a triptych based on the folktale 3 Sitroner.)
“3 Sitroner” (3 Lemons), 2013. (Image forms part of a triptych based on the folktale 3 Sitroner.)
“Untitled” (Troll, head 1), 2014
“Untitled” (Troll, head 2), 2014
“Untitled” (Troll, head 3), 2014
“Soria Moria” (Battling trolls), 2014
“Reveenka” (The fox’s widow), 2014
“Kornstaur i måneskinn” (Stooks of wheat in moonlight), 2014
“Hughr” (Concepts of the pre-Christian soul), 2013
“Kvitebjørn Kong Valemon” (Whitebear King Valemon), 2014
“Huldra” (A Tail of Transformation), 2011
Unfortunately there is no way a shit web resolution can give you an accurate picture (hah!) of what these look like on the wall. But believe me when I say they glow!
And so, the journey will continue… I’m not sure which folktale is up next, but I have a feeling it will have to wait until I’m married and have given birth. Particularly since I have a fondness for building all my props and a need for intricate planning. But you never know. 🙂