Faceless Artist №2
Artist Siv Bugge Vatne was interviewed in her own studio, September 2015.
FA: When did your interest in Geology start?
SBV: Oh… when it started?
Or what led you to Geology?
Christ! I don’t know. One thing is that I like stones, as an expression, as material, as matter. But that doesn’t mean that it’s Geology!
Is it an interest in the field of Geology, but not Geology as a subject?
More a fascination for what Geology entails than the professional study of Geology?
Yes, you could say that.
Your art has often something to do with a closeness to the materials. What do you think is the reason behind this quality in your work?
I have always been mental about details. My eyes are constantly looking for small things. I think it has something to do with my short sightedness and a need to be down into the matter. Ha ha.
Can it be related to your sensitivity to the materials? A sort of natural way of seeing and understanding things?
I guess so. I don’t know. I’m very detail oriented.
You make it sound so empty, when you use the term “detail oriented”.
Yes, it is boring, sort of. It is a way to relate to things. I do not know why it is like this. It’s hard to say why I have some sort of closeness to the materials. I have no clue. It’s just the way I’m. I do not know why I get caught up in the little things. When I look at things, I see things that are really small. When I’m out walking I see things that are small. I do not see the big picture. I see really small objects when I’m in the forest or on the beach. Just a single pebble on the whole beach that jumps out and with it brings something amazing.
The contrast between your presence and closeness in your work and the monumental quality in your collage The Broken Sea.
To explain it to readers:
-It is a collage made from cartoon cutouts, with fragments of sea from a selection of old comics.
-Which is all glued together to a big fragmented ocean measuring 200cm x 100 cm.
-A sort of Ode to the Sea or something like that.
It had a very masculine quality to it. In much of your other work there is more of a feminine presence to it. But you have this duality in you, that likes both the grand and dramatic on one side and the small and vulnerable on the other.
Yes, that developed over time. I have noticed that the things I’m most passionate about, doesn’t stand out if you only work with small things. You have to put it into a context with something really big or… Then you can see the work really stand out. And also it has something to do with getting small details to be visible in a large piece of work.
I think it is a good thing, that something that is small and vulnerable, can be just that. It’s just a question of different qualities that separately can be equally good. In different contexts or works. Something thrives in one place and other works thrives somewhere else.
I think so too, that is the way I have been working with this last exhibition, In Possession of Emotions and a Rational Soul, where many sculptures or objects stand in relation to each other. Some 2 meters high and monumental while an other can be a small piece of plastic.
Yes, very vulnerable art.
Yes, but that little piece of plastic became very visible for the visitors and left an equal amount of impression on the visitors. I think it is nice to find objects out there and then find a place for them in a exhibition context.
And gain value.
And it does gain a value.
It is difficult when, I think it’s difficult, when you have something so beautiful, a vulnerable lovely little thing. But in the context of art in an exhibition setting you have to be able to conserve that quality in the object. To conserve it, you need to care for it as it were some breakable egg and give it validity and credibility in order to make it work. If you take it out of it’s context… I feel an instinctive fear that it doesn’t have a meaning for anybody , but yourself.
That feeling is quite strong.
Yes, ha ha.
I takes some sort of courage. Not only courage , but also more of a theoretical argument to give credibility to it.
To dare to take it out in the exhibition space. And stand tall with the artwork. Not only that, but to feel that it matters to you. Because it is deeply ingrained in you, the need to do something spectacular or a technically impressive piece of work. Something flash or brilliant. That part of your mind that seeks to strike at and destroy the part of you that values this transitory, delicate object. An object that only needs to change from one context to another to become a piece of art. From one constellation to another and that is enough. What do you think?
I can also be afraid that people might not be able to look past the fact that it’s a small disposable piece of plastic that I found on the ground.
Will it represent something else for others, than it does for me? How can I communicate accurately? Or how can I translate what it means to me? That which it activated in me, how can I activate that in others.
That is difficult.
Yes, I think it is difficult, but it’s a rush when you feel that you communicate. For me, it’s much easier to work with a project that takes time, like my sea collage. Where people can easily see that it has been time consuming to produce the work. If you do that, you already have people drawn in to the work. When people say or think, “This must have taken a lot of time”, then you already have lured them into the work.
I just have to point out that it was a really successful artwork.
Perhaps the best I ever made.
I wouldn’t go as far as calling it your best work, but it is really good.
Lets go back to the vulnerable in art. It’s interesting to find out why it’s so difficult to promote the vulnerable art.
Yes, that has me wondering also.
It’s something pitiful about it, isn’t it? Like some side of you that don’t want to expose?
Yes, it is hard to do it!
How to give it a form or give this type of work a direction, that you are comfortable with, over time. Many of your works fall in to this category.
The problem for me is more about how to present the work to a curator or a gallery owner. Because the things I’m working on that are quite vulnerable and not really a piece of work in the proper sense, before they are mounted in the exhibition space.
And it is difficult to earn any money on artworks like that.
Yes, that is also a problem.
But one way of making this type of work to stand out, is immaculate gallery surfaces. It’s almost a necessity for this type of vulnerable works. It’s a way of illuminating the work. I have hard time seeing this type of work in competition with the architecture that takes a lot of the attention.
When talking about the artworks that are very delicate, it comes down to a question of trusting in the work. Often they appear and I’m just able to catch it, before it’s gone again. Just because I moved it. Taken it with me into the studio. So many of them don’t really go on to be artworks. You move them around and suddenly you see something, without being able to articulate it. It doesn’t stem from a preconceived idea. I’m not able to explain, with words, what it is. I’m barely able to see it myself.
I need to trust that fleeting quality, which I believe it to have.
But how to protect it and keep it alive? Like a flame that is almost dying. The fire needs to be kept alive all the way to the exhibition space, but bad weather is always threatening it.
You can easily kill it on the way. And when you arrive at the space it might be dead. The anxiety that you might have lost it is always there.
One potential problem may be, that a large percentage of the visitors at the exhibition might not be interested in that type of art. Perhaps most of them?
It takes sensitivity to see that work, and I think people often lost that ability, that sensitivity, from when they were young. That susceptibility, that curiosity.
But in my last exhibition, I was very surprised of just how susceptible people were.
Okay, perhaps I… yes.
It gets me wondering. I was surprised at just how judgmental I could be. The person could come from a completely different place and might never have been to an exhibition in his life. He might be nervous about the whole exhibition setting, but still manages, to convey to me, a beautiful way of approaching the work that completely blows me away.
So people are susceptible.
Sometimes we need to give people a chance. I think part of our fear, in relation to vulnerable pieces of art, is the lack of resistance. You feel the lack of resistance in process.
Because, if you have a piece of art, that has a lot of resistance in the process, that will generate confidence in the artist for overcoming that resistance.
If the art takes a long time to make?
Yes, but time is only part of it. That you struggle with it, that you hone your skills working with it.
That’s when the confidence sets inn.
I don’t think you feel that you have managed to overcome anything, you “just” find things. But to have that tranquility in your soul, almost like a child. Like my youngest daughter. Every time we go out she picks up a stone and are just mesmerized by it. And I just,”you need to throw that away”! And she goes “ I don’t want to throw it away”!
I know exactly how that is. Ha ha.
That gray pebble makes her very happy. I think that is very similar to what you do. That closeness and curiosity. You see how beautiful it is with children, but we as adults don’t allow our self to enjoy it in the same way. As an adult you should have put those childish behaviors away. I don’t know. A pursuit that is just so… When you grow up and learn what is useful. Some of that Norwegian worker spirit. Which does not allow you to walk the beach, as a drifter, picking stones. Sort of like Tortilla Flat, by John Steinbeck.
My daughter went to this Culture kinder garden were they had this project. During the whole project she had been protecting what she was making. She did not want to talk about it. She had it hidden between her arms, so no one could see what it was.
I’m wondering if it’s right to call the little things vulnerable like the small piece of plastic hanging from the ceiling. Why call it vulnerable? I don’t know if that’s accurate.
It might be wrong! Maybe it’s art that makes you feel exposed?
That might be right! I did feel exposed at my last exhibition.
With that piece of plastic, we instinctively feel that it’s not salable, but in reality someone might buy it. But then it’s more about trusting the artist integrity or trusting the artist expertise. And in the art world, the artist’s reputation, is the most important part of what generates money for the artist.
I think it’s very exiting myself, to look at those things. That I have made artworks that takes so long to produce and at the same time made pieces that just hang in a string from the ceiling. Here in the studio, the found objects takes equally long to process as an artwork that has a lot of practical or tedious work that needs to be done before it is finished.
You are much more critical towards work like that. You probably went through several different ways of looking at work and different ways of mounting it before you arrived at a solution. Don’t you need to work with something that generates an expertise. That you practice a skill, as an artist.
It takes a special kind of artist, that will spend his/her time looking for things, find them and hang the object in a string from the ceiling. If that’s all you do the whole day. That takes a certain kind of mindset.
Yes, it does!
To do just that.
It absolutely does.
An extreme type of personality. A character finding himself at periphery of society.
Hey, that IS all I’ve been doing this last year!
Who did not use drugs.
No, I have not used drugs. This last year! Ha ha
Imagine it. Some character on LSD walking around observing the scenery.
What I needed to do, this last year, to make it work, because it was quite the struggle. It’s not possible JUST to hang objects and expect them to be finished. So what I had to do was create some rituals to make it work.
What type of rituals?
Things I could not do for instance.
1. I couldn’t use the computer.
When? In the studio?
I agree on that one. I had that restriction on myself.
If I don’t give myself that restriction, then I’m not able to create that type of art. Art that gives the impression of not being worked on. That is true with most activity in the studio, that the computer has to go. Your mind need to be in a state of movement in one way or another when you are making this type of work.
Do you have any other rules you follow?
2. To sit down and not do other things. Have the guts to do just that.
Not even listen to the radio?
No radio, no music!
Oh, that’s pretty tough! Good!
I don’t know if it’s good. I haven’t been able to listen music either. When I do I get sucked into whatever they talk about on the radio.
Yes, but it forces you to a place of calm. I guess you really need to fight the restlessness building up in you.
Yes, sitting down like that and doing nothing is very difficult. Sitting still in a room without distractions is really hard. You have to face yourself in a situation like that.
I agree, that is really challenging. When I sit down and read a book without playing music or listening to the radio. It feels so wholesome, just doing that, without distractions. It gives the activity a feeling of sanctity to it. I think I’ve partly lost it by being way to much focused on my smart phone. Some of that feeling you get from Akira Kurosawa’s samurai films. That presence, the samurai represent. Very focused.
It’s about not doing everything else that you feel compelled to do. It is so easy to start clearing away a mess that have been bugging you or start reading something. The urge to do something, anything. Ha ha.
If you sit down and drink coffee. Is that still what you consider doing nothing?
Yeah, you can drink coffee.
And just look. That’s lovely.
But, you can’t do just that. Because if you do, then nothing happens. Something has to happen even if you don’t move from where you are sitting.
Like a warlord looking out over the battlefield! Ha ha.
I have given myself challenge. Because it can take three months before I trust that a work is something worthwhile. The challenge is to make that same mental leap in two to three hours.
I don’t know if that is possible.
Forcing your brain to accept.
It’s not like I only work with one piece at a time. There is always several things floating around at the same time.
That is important I think. The mind needs to be in a state of movement for something to happen. If not, then nothing is going on.
You have to endure that feeling of doing nothing. That you are not working.
That is horrible!
When you work in that way. That feeling stays with you.
I hate that. I really need to feel productive. It is so deeply rooted in you as a person. When you are productive, it feels really good. That is the worst part when you work much in the studio. Working with a small piece, of larger painting, for hours and not seeing significant progress. That could leave me paralyzed to the chair. That you don’t know how to proceed. You need to fight and press on forward. Just horrible. It’s the most demanding part of the art production I think.
But you need to endure it. You cannot continue working no matter what. Work in itself does not lead to something of value.
No, productivity in itself does not equal value. It has to be the right type of productivity.
Yes, but I do not agree that it’s something we are conditioned to.
I think it’s part of who we are. Like a squirrel in the fall. Finding nuts, digging them down in the ground. It’s something genetical from nature.
That is what I find interesting in art. That it’s other mechanisms than just that.
Yes, but we are not unaffected by it.
No, not at all.
It may wrongly be associated with our upbringing and conditioning to society. While in reality it is deeply engraved in our DNA! I don’t think my parents imprinted in me to be productive. But with school and later job, that is a natural way of coping with it. Trying to be productive. It might be different in other cultures. But for me it boils down to a need. To be going somewhere in life and using my time in a rational manner.
I don’t know if I can put my finger on what is in this culture that makes us like this. I don’t know where it is coming from!
It might have something to do with being in school and wanting to get recognition. Succeed in my endeavors.
Yes. When I apply to get into the Autumn Exhibition in Oslo, I know I won’t get in with a small piece of plastic! Ha ha.
But perhaps with a monumental Collage of the Sea?
Yes I know that.
That has gotten you in earlier.
I don’t know that either. At the same time, I did with one of my first works. A picture I took of a fly in the air.
You can say that was a vulnerable work, sort of. But it’s a difficult image to capture.
It wasn’t vulnerable with the frame and technical difficulties to capture the image. It was a strong statement. Even if it was a tiny fly.
The fly is vulnerable, but not the work. I guess that is the difference.
When I think about tea ceremonies and concepts of beauty in relation to that. Doesn’t that relate to a similar way of thinking about it.
I think it does. Why you should do the whisking of the tea in a certain way.
In tea ceremonies everything has a specific framework. To the people that understands why it needs to be done in a certain way. It is an expertise that is appreciated. It’s a strict exercise that is valued from a set of criteria.
Yes, and very strict criteria indeed.
That’s what I love about the Japanese culture. These strict rules can create it’s own type of beauty.
I was talking about altar paintings with a friend of mine. In the olden days that was one of the common jobs for painters to get money. When they got commissioned to do an altar painting, it was from very specific guidelines. But still, artists were able to express themselves within that limited set of choices. Within the Christian tradition. Especially if you look at alter paintings by El Greco.
Then you can see the personality emerging.
And strong sense of identity.
Isn’t that when art is really good?
Those limitations were no obstacle to him.
No. When artists talk about art, that is a theme I find recurring in the discussion. In what way artists own personality enters the work. How to get the artist’s identity visible in the work. Can spontaneity work or should you develop your own rituals to help the process, like a tea ceremony?
Part of what makes it so difficult to give life to that little piece of plastic, is the element of freedom. That you have the freedom to choose whatever, and you choose that vulnerable looking piece of plastic. It is a radical choice. There is something about that.
I feel little schizophrenic about my last exhibition where I had… It was a lot of different materials and lots different ways of working the materials. How can all the artworks connect together with an outset like that?
It worked very well together!
Yes, and the reason for this I think, is my personality. You need to trust that it will be part of the work.
You can say personality, but I think it’s better to say, that it has something to do with your ability to connect with the different materials. It doesn’t matter if you work with monochrome ink paintings or stone sculptures. There is a strong sense of a similar attitude going through all your works. It was apparent in your exhibition. I remember discussing that with you, before the exhibition, that it might be a problem with all the different expressions. But it was not a problem at all when I saw the exhibition in the space.
I was nervous about that, after I talked to you about it.
I see now that I made a rash conclusion.
Good to hear. Because I put in a great deal of time on the planning part of the exhibition. How everything would fit together. It was a relevant comment you made when you saw the model. That the different works could be connected to a wide array of art historical references.
You did have a wide reference base. Land art, minimalism, dadaism and your monochrome ink paintings has strong resemblance to some of Josef Albers paintings from his Homage to the square series.
My concern at that time was, that the visitors to the exhibition wouldn’t see any connection between the works. Or could I trust that there was something there, that binds it together. I just need to keep on working and trust that there is some kind of connection there. I mean, I didn’t create these works, based on some art historical reference. There something else being processed and a different focus.
You will have an another exhibition at a later time that will be done in a different way. But something you should take with you, is that this exhibition was very you in a way. And that is something of value.
It is of great value.
The exhibition really gave the spectator a window in to your way of thinking. Later you might narrow your selection a bit. But that’s not something you should spend time worrying about. Give yourself the freedom to make that choice later.
I don’t know if I have the ability to take that decision either. What happens, happens. Because if I decide to do something, then most likely, I won’t do it.
It’s like a school curriculum?
That would surely kill me. Ha ha