Northward, by the sea
Hit the North
Manacled to the city
All estate agents alive yell down the night in hysterical breath
And from the back of the third eye psyche the inducement come forth
Hit the North
It is impossible to say something about northern Norway in this context, so I might just as well say it here at the very outset. I have, it is true, never met an unpleasant person north of Trondheim. I have also never met a single person who has not been seriously fucked up in one way or another. But what I wonder is whether this is possibly an environmental maladjustment due to the dramatic changes between light and darkness, or due to the equally dramatic landscape. Or maybe a combination of these factors. It is true that the intensely wild stare of almost everyone with roots in this part of the country has found a deep resonance in me, which of course comes from radically different circumstances, but it is possible that this is a common form of bipolar psychosis that follows us through our everyday life. Quite frankly: I don’t know. I simply note what my experiences tell me so far. As well as that I think: can you in any way avoid being manic-depressive when you grow up in a world that is either light or dark, black or white, and only nuanced on an exceptional basis. I think, at any rate, that it represents good grounds for making excuses. A kind of diagnosis, or bonus, an excuse for situations that demand an attitude of reserve that is out of reach. This excuse is something I lack myself and admittedly could need on occasion. It’s not the same thing to grow up central Sweden when social democracy’s degree of fitness is still on the plus side. I can’t blame the same external factors to explain why I am fucked up.
Of course, there is a reason why I choose to start with these speculations. I am reacting to pictures that make it crystal clear that it is starting to get cold outside. But not only that. I have just seen three video works by an artist I have known for nearly 22 years and whom I have not seen once fiddling with a camera. So this is in no way the same old, usual thing, although I shall be careful not to say anything about video art being ”a new and exciting medium”, because it has not been so ever since Nam June Paik broke a television set on stage the year I was born. But here it is quite strictly composed works – methodically not unlike the photorealistic drawings we already know from the past. Narratives that overflow with the latent violence that has always accompanied this artistry like a subsonic, basic tone, not always easy to localise, but ever-present.
Now of course it might be asked if this sinister, everyday violence can be said to lying latent; these videos are so text-based that they might rather be described as literary works, and the aversion is in no way veiled in these painful tales of failed sexual abuse and the almost insufferable banality of having to eat while sitting at someone’s deathbed waiting for someone to draw the last breath. Pizza, for example. Or what was my starting point above. A text about a place of origin without once mentioning it by name, but like the drawings, concealing a face. The consistent covering of the face used here, whether it is a pair of knickers or large sunglasses covering most of it, is a technique Figenschou has worked with before. In the past she managed to make a concealed face a meeting place for issues involving the personal, the political and the sexual in a single focused manoeuvre. Now this effort is pursued to invoke a synchronised doubt about the extent to which this is a tenable basis for an identity. And then we wind up in northern Norway somewhere. Where it all began and is still beginning.
Lately I have taken notice of how many people I have around me who come from one place or another. And how all of them have almost identical stories to tell about family and childhood friends. And the fact that my own personal history is exactly the same. The fact that one has moved out of context and is totally alone – and decades pass without any member of this childhood landscape ever even considering a move out of the confines of the municipal borders. Just a reflection that strikes me from time to time: the fact that I am most at home with those who are like me-those who once left home and really meant business. But there is the other side of the coin – the traces that one brings with one from this lost landscape. We can take Hanne out of Northern Norway but can we take Northern Norway out of Hanne? After having seen Belonging a couple of times, the answer must of course be No – we cannot obliterate our own background; it will always be fundamental for what we choose to be. Or what we think we choose. What we like to think that we choose. Our place of origin will always, unavoidably, exercise a strong gravitational force on us. It has occurred that I have driven by my own little hole of a town a few times in recent years. And I have made a few rounds past places I can’t get out of my system, places that would have driven me completely mad if I had to relate to them on a daily basis but which I nevertheless have an urge to revisit either through memory or physically when I can, just to keep this organism somewhat intact. We are nothing without our personal backgrounds. Not that we are special in any respect at all, but it has proven difficult to disentangle oneself from these things that we once fled in panic in our late puberty in order to get as far away as possible.
But we know this – the harshest winter in many, many years; one has to dress warmly. Or be tough as nails; one year I swam naked in Kirkenes in late September. But I also once met someone in Tromsø who said he didn’t even go swimming in the summertime. And it is here that the inherent logic of the drawings washes over me; is this actually a question of depersonalization? Isn’t the answer to the question to an equally great extent that we seek protection? And with what do we choose to protect ourselves? And aside from the sub-zero-degrees on the thermometer, what should we protect ourselves from?