Self portrait at 37.
Mother, artist, wife, friend, daughter, sister. So many labels. Sometimes I forget who I am in it all. There are always voices talking and it’s rarely mine. There are hands touching, mouths drinking, my body always someone’s landscape. There are days, weeks, months I forget what I feel like when I am just me. What it feels like to just be. I am always on. Lifting, carrying, holding, soothing, teaching. So rarely still or at rest.
I have days I feel incredibly powerful. When I see the person I have become and she makes me proud. I see how I constantly strive to be better. I see how I push through no matter the obstacles and I feel stronger than ever.
I have days I feel like I am nothing outside my illness. That my darkness is all there is and that I am some sort of contagious disease. Days I fail to contain it. When the woman in the mirror is too flawed to show herself to the world. When I am all shadows and self loathing.
I have quiet days and loud days. Days I feel utterly alone and days I feel more loved than I ever have.
But through all the days I am thankful. Thankful for being me. At 37 I am better than I ever have been.
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. 🙂
I used to be one of those night owls. Working into the wee hours of the morning, always at my most productive after dark. I guess that’s partly why I got into light painting. Daylight just wasn’t as good a friend as darkness was. In the dark I could control the light, mostly anyway, and I wasn’t at the mercy of this big, burning ball in the sky. I was just like any other art student, full of passion and bad habits.
And then there was motherhood. And I became an other kind of night owl. A sleep deprived love zombie always caring for someone other than myself and my art in the dark. And my camera became a daytime thing. For a while anyway.
These days I’m trying to perfect the balancing act between the two. Most certainly easier said than done, but I’m working on it. I know I refer to what I do a lot, but rarely show any of it (except briefly here) and I realise this must leave some questions in regards to what it actually is that i do. There’s definitely a gap between my artworks and the photos I take of my son. So I figured I’d show you a couple of images from my most recent body of work. I haven’t got around to updating my website yet, so for now let’s consider this their unofficial internet premier of sorts.
It goes without saying that these images are copyrighted and may not be reproduced in any form without my explicit permission. I hate watermarks, but it seems you can’t be too careful these days.
A very brief introduction to this project; I’m actively displacing and re-situating Norwegian myths and folktales in an Australian landscape to see what happens when traditional things are allowed to grow and are inserted into a new and unfamiliar context. I’d love to tell you more, but in fear that I might bore you to death by getting into the conceptual and theoretical nit and grit I’ll leave it at that. (click on the images for a larger view.)
Anakin loves looking at my work. He has two old pieces hanging in his room (not too scary ones) and some are hanging around the house in various places. Hopefully he won’t grow into a fear of clowns from this one. 🙂
Anyway, there you have it. A very brief insight into what it is I’m working on these days. Once I finish the series I’ll show you the whole thing, I may even link you up to my thesis once it’s written in case you’re interested. I’ll be showing this work in Bendigo in September next year. There’s a few more trips out into the dark to be made before then. With more creatures, more costumes and always a lot of fun.
More than a few times over the past months I have had to remind myself that there is a lot more to me than just being Anakin’s mum. I have been a practising artist for years and all of a sudden my art has had to take the backseat for a while. It was hardly noticeable at first, but in the past couple of months I have really begun to miss it.
During my pregnancy I struggled to go out and do large photo shoots. The last successful photo shoot I did was at 3 months at Hanging Rock in Victoria, Australia. It was cold, wet and the hardest shoot I’ve ever had to do, both technically and physically.
I make light paintings (they are photographs, not paintings) so I work outside at night. As I got bigger this represented more than one issue; I got too tired at night to last very long and I couldn’t manage to log all my gear around. My shoots usually involve larger set ups and a lot of planning. I attempted another one around 5 months, but dealing with water rats due to my use of a pig’s head and other edibles in a creek was too much and I had to abandon it. So while my belly grew I resorted to building props and planning for future shoots thinking I’d be back in the game in no time.
Before Anakin was born I had a lot of ideas of images I wanted to do with him in them. I pictured everything from the classical newborn portrait as a light painting to larger set ups with various taxidermy and other props that would be included in my current body of work. But I didn’t count on my little man not being a good sleeper, and there is just no way of light painting anyone that isn’t perfectly still for the duration of the exposure. So a few days ago I had to come to terms with the fact that I will never get those images. For Anakin to be a part of my night work he will have to grow a lot older. This realisation made me fairly sad.
What I miss most about my work is that it creates balance in my life. My work is dark, it plays with ideas around horror and humour, it reflects on issues of displacement; both cultural and from reality. Now that I am a mum everything can sometimes become just too cute, too adorable, too goo goo ga ga. I need balance. I need to feel like I am still me.
In December my maternity leave ends and I’ll have one year to finish my Masters and write my thesis, or… a couple of months to upgrade to a PhD. And my project is currently way too big to finish in one year unless I evolve into some sort of superhuman. All the while I will still be a full-time mum. I still find the idea of how to pull this off mind-boggling. But in having said that I am very excited about getting back into it. I am itching to get back out in the night as soon as it gets a bit warmer and I can’t wait to get a bit of gore out of my system.
The above image is Anakin’s favourite. It hangs in our stairwell and every time we pass it he smiles and has a giggle. Perhaps he senses his uncle Eirik under the mask though they have never met, or perhaps he just gets my kind of humour.
So far the only participation Anakin has had in my life as an artist is coming to the opening of the show in Sydney, and at that he did remarkably well considering it was way past his bedtime.
I suppose it’s just a matter of learning the balancing act between work and baby. I have never been particularly good at time management because i have never had to be, and my post-Anakin life has never had enough hours in the day or days in the week. And the very few hours of free time I have at night are only so precious I haven’t had it in me to use them for work.
As I write this while Anakin is napping it seems only ironic that I spend this time ranting about how I have had no time for my art when I in fact could have spent the past hour or so doing something about it. But then again, I deserve some lunch and a time out too, don’t I? I take comfort in that my mind never stops thinking about my work or coming up with ideas for images regardless of what I am doing, so I guess it’s only a matter of time, right?
Does the internet need another baby blog? Probably not, so why start one when there are millions of others out there? Simple. Because this one is mine and I want to remember, I need to remember. I want to cherish everything before it’s gone, before our baby grows up and I’ve forgotten all the little things that make our days go round, that make me smile, cry and burst into a million bubbles.
As Anakin fast approaches his 8 month birthday I find myself growing sentimental already. So what better way to spend some quality time remembering everything that has happened so far than to do this… And in the process share some moments with our friends and families overseas.
So I’ll welcome you to join us on our journey if you want. Feel free to join in with your own stories and comments if you’re so inclined.