“Art on the coastline”

Essay av Rimma Schipina, St. Petersburg. Ph.D og medlem av the International Association of Art Critics AICE.


The Norwegian fine art exhibition ”Approach” was opened in Elagin Palace-Museum. It features works by three artists from Northern Norway: Solveig Ovanger, Ingrid Larssen and Cecilie Haaland. They work in the most ancient techniques: Solveig Ovanger creates art objects of fish skin and ox hide and Ingrid Larssen of silk. Cecilie Haaland's technique is unusual, as she combines porcelain and photography taken with a ceramic pin-hole camera.

If you bring a seashell to your ear, you can hear the sound of the surf within. Something similar happens with the finest masterpieces: the sound of breaking waves, snow or ice is replaced by the silence of the sky and the ocean. An unexpected historical parallel to the intimate works by the Norwegian artists is the art of antiquity, where terracotta Tanagra figurines belong to the same style as architecture and paintings of mountains and the sea. The similarity probably lies in the proportions of the construction and the predominance of pure geometric forms. According to E. Panofsky and A. F. Losev, the style, reflecting the current view of the world, is reduced in proportion. Perhaps the logic of ships’ frames, the knowledge of building materials and flexible, streamlined shapes  determine the morphology of both styles.

In Ingrid Larssen's workshop are cardboard prototypes of her silk sculptures marked with a large number of points drawn at intervals calculated to a fraction of a millimetre. The assembly of this structure brings about organic forms that resemble squid, jellyfish and other oceanic relics from earlier life on earth. In drawers and on the table lie shells collected on the beach, ready to be used in future works. The window above her working table faces the ocean. From the house a snow-covered space stretches down to the shore. It is easy to direct one’s eyes towards infinity.  Ingrid's husband goes out to sea. From this background arise the wonderful, subtle and restrained expressions and forms of flickering "Rotatorina", "Amforina", "Teleostei" and "Flagellata", floating and undulating on the seabed.

The exhibition is a result of а trip to Norway made possible by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Norwegian Consulate General in St Petersburg in spring 2012.

Solveig Ovanger showed me a depression in the ground where the plot thickens: "The Vikings lived here". No further explanation was needed. A minimalistic strategy, like that of the Vikings, characterizes the work of Cecilie Haaland. On the simplest forms of unglazed porcelain are left the finest imprints of light: here begins the paradox of minimalism. Cecilie adds light and shadow through photographs taken with a ceramic camera. The birth of a metaphor begins with the material, which is ontological: light, dark, clay. Cecilie Haaland's squares are archetypical. In his thesis "About  Heaven", Aristotle describes the two basic types of movement typical of heavenly and earthly bodies: circular and in a straight line. The square, as a formal element, is often found in Norwegian  architecture. The square, as a symbol, is interpreted as land surrounded by water. From Cecilie's house you can open the door onto a small terrace on a sea wharf, something that creates a sense of mastery of the elements, as reflected in the works of Cecilie Haaland.

Fine art, which concern work with porcelain, silk and leather has in Norway a status very different to that of Russian tradition; it is not classified as "decorative art" and especially not as "design". Their meaning is identical to paintings, sculpture and architecture. Functionality is likewise played down. This principle is evident in the works of Solveig Ovanger. Her art objects of ox hide are dynamic forms, which may be called sculptures rather than objects. The dress made of fish skin – a casting of unfulfilled destiny, endowed with awe and chastity. Solveig leans over the book "Sacred Geometry", containing ideas that are echoed in her own experiments: symmetry reflected in a sphere and in the fragments of a plant. They express certain humility, the modesty of accomplished hard work: preserved soft, uneven skin, loosened fibres. Tactile sensation, as also in nature, fulfils rational mathematical harmony - flowers are fragrant, radiant and delicate.