1. The Commodification of Mystery
My two month Norway residency at USF Cultural Centre in Bergen expanded my awareness of three themes that pervade my work – the dynamics of popular culture, our sense of belonging and the ways in which we record and 'store' our lives. As a foreigner, I was forced to embrace my sense of being 'other' and investigated the ways in which Norway’s mysterious landscapes, traditions and folklore are transmuted into kitsch in the trolls, Vikings and arcane animals that swarm the shelves of souvenir shops.
2. Preconceptions, Expectations v. Real-time Experience
Allan de Botton has written that when we arrive at desirable, exotic places, we find that we feel a sense of redundancy and do not want to be mere tourists. With this in mind, I wrote a diary about what I expected to feel and experience before I left and after I left England. Then I wrote a ‘real-time’ version. This simple stratagem enabled me to contrast and compare the projected experience with its reality.
3. To Have and to Hold
I returned to England and exhibited my Norwegian work at a solo show at the Black Swan Gallery in Frome. I became conscious that I had unwittingly created an exhibition that reflected the human desire to the turn the gigantic into the miniature – to have, hold, collect and consume in manageable portions. I showed the open studio, I enlarged photos and collected peoples’ ideas. I also did a slide show talk.
4. Archiving Themes and Processes
I gave a talk and slide show during which I discussed the themes of my work in Bergen:
- The studio: thought process and free associations
- Found artefacts: the evocative power and poetics of the object
- The souvenir: geographical travel and memory artefacts
- Culture commodified: visual anthropology of Norway
- Natural beauty and kitsch: landscapes, the sea and artificial kingdoms
- Rites of passage: wedding cards and religious ritual as commercial products
- Loss and longing: the desire for nostalgia
5. The Evocative Power and Poetics of the Object
The shops on the promenade sold traditional woollen jumpers, glass globes, elk stickers and miniature trolls to tourists in search of souvenirs. I looked and was unmoved until I saw a model of a martyr with hands outstretched and seated on his own wooden chair. He looked both familiar and alien, foetal and ancient. A thing of beauty and revulsion. He returned to me over and over again in my thoughts and dreams.
6. Mind Maps
I then made an attempt to impose order and coherence onto my feelings, thoughts, responses and impressions by creating mind maps. These soon took on a life of their own and developed into investigation into the impossibility of capturing all that you see, think and feel. These maps inspired the archive of photographs that I sorted into categories and presented in the talk.
7. Souvenirs and Memorabilia
Souvenirs are tokens of a culture in its simplest form. They are created to be taken elsewhere and represent the quintessence of an event. They are bought as gifts to enable friends to own a piece of that experience. What interested me is that they resembled none of my actual experiences. This progression from reality to fictitious memory, stored in an artefact, fascinated me.
8. Exhibiting for the Norwegians
I exhibited an open studio in USF studios and gave a talk through my themes in slide show. This went down really well as people found it humorous and interesting as local artists hadn’t seen their local area in the way that I was seeing it through my outsider eyes My open studio work was also exhibited in local Bergen gallery 'The Test Room' (PrøveRommet).
Open Studio Exhibition