Trond Borgen tekst
Klassisk nonfigurativt maleri som en øvelse i følsomhet
Det flyktige er fastholdt for tid og evighet i maleriene til May Elin Eikaas Bjerck. Som tidens strøm er størknet- frosset, midt i sin endeløse tømming av evigheten.
Kanskje er tiden her grepet som ett trofe, og maleriet derfor feiret som en seier, kanskje er tiden snarere holdt fram som en melankolsk sorg over at den maleriske renheten og styrken som er så fremtredende i disse bildene, egentlig hører fortida til, fordi utopien om kunstens renhet ikke lenger lar seg opprettholde: Selv om Bjercks malerier virker enkle, er de slett ikkje entydige eller ukompliserte. De reiser flere spørsmål om kunstens vesen og muligheter, om dens begrensning og tilkortkommenhet. Slik gir Bjerck oss en utstilling som er en meditasjon over maleriets egenskaper, skapt gjennom en solid beherskelse av handverksmessige finesser.
Men hun gir oss mer. For selv om alt synes å være gjort, for lengst, innen maleriet, fortsetter Bjerck standhaftig med sitt:hun insisterer på at dette maleriet fremdeles har noe å gi oss, og hun gjør det med en hengivenhet som lader malerakten med en stille ekstase. I det monokrome ‘ Kbit passage’ gir horisontale striper liv til billedflaten; og teknikken med å blande sand i oljefargen tilfører maleriet ett dempet, raffinert relieffpreg- nettopp som om det er selve tiden som har avsatt sine spor i det den passerte.
Det store, tredelte ‘Site monokrom’ har fått sin egen sal og behersker dette rommet fullstendig. Her blir meditasjonen dobbel- ikke bare kunstnerens, men også betrakterens; dette praktfulle maleriet i gråblå toner antyder en stille melankoli som innbyr til en introspeksjon som gir oss anlednng til å møte oss selv i et speil som hvisker nærmest lydløst tilbake. Dette er utstillingens hovedverk, og det rommer interessante paralleller til minimalistisk musikk. Jeg tenker særlig på Steve Reichs ‘Musikk for 18 musikere’ , som brer sine ørsmå variajoner og vibrasjoner utover i rommet og ut i universet. En uendelighetens målestokk.
Her ligger en spesiell poesi: Kunstneren blir et slags seismografisk instrument for registreringer av tidens ørsmå svingninger, og for fastholdelse av menneskets pust – av åndedrett og puls. Nettopp derfor er dette øvelser i følsomhet, nettopp derfor blir dette stillferdige forsøk på å gjenskape det renhetens øyeblikk som den modernistiske kunsten trodde den hadde grepet en gang for alle.
Men maleriet må finne dette renhetens øyeblikk og gripe det samtidig, igjen og igjen. Det er en eksitensiell søken, for det som står på spill er maleriets fortsatte eksistens, og kuntnerens rolle som aktør i samfunnets estetiske felt. May elin Eikaas Bjerck finnr det i sin fysiske fornemmelse av det immaterielle. Tiden strømmer forbi, men den fanges likevel i en malerisk struktur, i ett konkret maleri som gir oss evigheten her og nå.
Interview with May Elin Eikaas Bjerck
Olaf Gipser, BETONART
May Elin, as an introduction about your work, could you introduce yourself briefly in terms of your artistic background? How did you become an artist? What is at the center of your artistic exploration?
It has become an important issue for me, how to empty something of its conventional meaning, and how to open something for a new contextual significance.
I got my master’s degree from the art academy in Oslo (SKA) in 1988 and had spent as exchange student two years at the Royal Academy in Stockholm studying sculpture. I got appointed as associate professor at the Bergen School of Architecture (BAS) in 2005. I am given a specific position within the white painting.
My work is based in Jølster where I’m investigating site-specific relations between landscape, readability and identity. My scientific investigation of public art is carried out at BAS. Public art is given a great deal of attention in Norway but suffers from lacking acceptance as evident in terms of funding. We are currently establishing OFFROM, a project-based studio for extended public art. The studio consists of two partners, Nikolaij Sandberg Bjerck with background from cultural industries, management, art and project design and me. We do productions in cooperation.
My background is related to the art and cultural discourse that emerged in the period when Norway achieved its national independence in 1905. Artists investigated specific locations in search for new relations between history, identity and democracy. The Norwegian painter Nikolai Astrup, a contemporary of Edward Munch, lived here in Jølster. Both of them were strong contributors to this discourse, preferring site-specific landscape interpretations and identified symbolic personifications, replacing heroic symbolism.
The national independence followed this wake towards collective communication, changing painting for accessible graphical productions, and was followed by industrial design, new combinations of art, architecture and landscaping, crossing art disciplines which were contemporary parallels to discourses at the Bauhaus. Jølster became a brand for national art and culture. Today, the new global context, migration, and climatic change actualize the question of identity. Lacking identity is a great loss, causing riots and disturbance.
Other lasting influences on me have had the important art discourses of Minimalistic and Concrete Art together with Russian Constructivist and Abstract Expressionism as well as Joseph Beuys’ public investigations.
I’d like to talk with you about your work Site Monokrom which has been fascinating me since I’ve seen it the first time. While being a painting based on oil, its non-figurative, non-painterly emphasis on materiality suggests a sculptor’s approach, focusing on the object character of the work. What motivated you to make this work that oscillates between painting and sculpture? What kind of investigation were you after?
Site Monokrom is an investigation of something genuine that is at same time present. Material and technique are closely implemented in the process of developing the expression. This relationship is part of an investigating process: the spatial action, the handling of the rakes and the material, raking the fine lines until the point of their dissolution, modulating scales and direction. It is the saving of the immaterial between the striations that gives the work its spatial communication.
The monochromatic graphical richness takes advantage from the condition of the eye. I investigated the richness of structuring the grey color, searching for a grey point zero. The oscillation occurs in the modulation of layers establishing a physical microspace where the monochromatic meets with the site, where the expression establishes a communication of graphical expression.
The oscillation between painting and sculpture can better be understood within the discourse on sculpture. Willy Ørskov, a Danish sculptor of the 20th century, suggested that there is a difference between the notions of sameness and identity. He understood sameness as a given property which mainly gives meaning to the figurative, while by contrast he framed identity as an activity; that is, identification. Identification is useful within scientific investigation and is an alternative categorization of the object, including identical objects, but also identical conditions, identical change, identical scale, etc.
Furthermore, Site Monokrom suggests in its title yet another type of reference – a kind of territorial space. The canvas seems to be an abstract landscape, a geological formation. Instead of operating within the figure/ ground polarity, the work seems to be based on the modulation of ground solely. Its title suggests an affinity with ideas from the land art of the 1960’s, albeit within the framework of painting. Would you agree?
The territorial directionality of the work is connected to navigational skills; it mediates a spatial orientation. The expressive character of the work relates to transitions in nature/ culture, and the significance of contextualizing this transition into visual language. We navigate by conscious and unconscious registrations of light with shadow; we navigate by traces of handling and movement. My ambition has been to question the silent awakening of something that is part of our collective consciousness. To register tiny variations that are vibrating into space, in endless continuity, with ongoing introspection. Yes, I agree.
The affinity with ideas from land art relates for instance to the work of Robert Smithson. In the pieces like Glue Pour or Asphalt Rundown, Smithson’s territorial exploration establish a topographical mutant where gravity and the immanent energy of the material are cooperating, creating an artificial landscape. His focus on entropy is also a method to enrich the understanding of potentials in concrete.
Another reference is some of the work of Richard Long which I verified and contextualized in field studies in the Moroccan dessert. I’d like to mention also Beuys’ investigation of bronze in his work Blitzschlag mit Lichtschein auf Hirsch; mediating a rare ability to empty and re-energize the significance of material.
Site Monokrom is situated with the space of the art gallery. By contrast, your work Ørnesvingen seems
conceptually and technically closely linked with Site Monokrom, yet has left the autonomous realm of art and its spaces of production and presentation. It is a piece integrated with an architectural work and contrary to the vertical picture plane setup of Site Monokrom, it has been conceived horizontally and has literally become ground. What motivated you to make this passage from the one work to the other one?
The change you are mentioning concerning the direction of space is actually a paradoxical change of intention. From working with two-dimensional surfaces, with a horizontal character, towards physically hitting the three-dimensional ground, being surrounded by perspective lines and disappearing points…!
The shift that is characterized by both works is not only one in materiality, scale, and orientation; it is in particular also a change in terms of artistic practice.
The shift presents an important change. The gallery space is privatized, and art needs to go public. I have spent time on how to provide participatory art, investigating my artistic contribution in terms of the qualities which can be useful in the field of public art. What is the attraction, who is the public and where are the borderlines for potential implementations?
Concrete is a very common and ordinary material; its ascent as genuine material of modernity has paralleled the emergence of mass culture. What does this material mean for you? What is the reason for you to work with it? What role plays this connection between materiality and culture in your work?
Concrete is an instrumental extension which makes me capable to work with public art. As such, it has conceptual and spatial implementations. Concrete is an amalgam of rock, sand and water. I’m working at the moment with a material process where concrete changes its consistency from soft to firm. This process is entropy, productive movable energy. Fresh concrete can be investigated like a river, and its transformation gives an attractive possibility of patterns.
What does texture mean for you? How important is texture for your work?
Texture belongs to the material, natural or cultivated. Texture is a kind of vocabulary, providing the readability of a consistence. Texture is an imposed pattern which informs us of certain qualities.
Next to concrete and oil paint, you have worked with glass, such as in your work The Glass. While the material realm is distinct here from your previous works, your fascination with the making and treatment of surfaces based on a machinic, serial technique of articulating traces is recurrent and common to all of these works. Obvious in all of them is your disciplined restriction in working on surfaces. What defines your use of technique in relation to a work; which relationship between technique and effect are you striving for?
In The Glass as in Site Monokrom, I am striving to establish a spatial communication. The work is installed in the reception of the Ålesund Hospital. We searched for something movable, continuous, which could implement a specific energy into the site. With the technique of sand blowing, the potential masking components are providing the possibility of patterns. With the intention to fulfill the quality level of sand blown glass, we tested 11 different types of glue, searching for a consistency with the firmness and resiliency that could deliver a patterned scar providing the precise depth and contour that gives sand blown glass its special reputation (done in corporation with Tone Stensrud, Norsk kunstglass).
The work JMP Kjøsnesfjorden seems to follow and further deepen your fascination with surface treatment and the use of concrete. How did you develop this project, what was the starting point of your work?
JMP Kjøsnesfjorden, is a pilot for OFFROM studio, discussing landscape and identity. It is an international art and land based project, situated in Jølster. The site is contextualized by the Jostedalsbreen glacier. The fertile moraine can compared with an oasis. The steep mountainsides provide tremendous acoustics, the landslides and avalanches provide moraine soil material, the glacier provides melting water, humidity and a wide range of minerals. Tunnel geo-engineering provides us with building material and it is an aim to achieve a new spatial interaction between concrete and ornament. The testmolding has been successful.
What can art do in meeting with architecture and planning?
This is an area for exploration. The concept is framed by the local climatic and topographic conditions. The investigations are developed from site-specific analysis and registration, aiming to impose a vocabulary for collective communication. Working with the necessary set of horizons and viewpoints, spaces will be interpreted in terms of quality and context. Extending space, investigating in- between spaces, contextualizing social program, implementing new abstract combinations and letting a new set of spaces become spatial key experiences.
How do you relate architecture and ornament?
Ornaments are religious and cultural exchange of symbols, patterns and archetypes. They are connected to our collective consciousness. Ornaments are cultivated during centuries, expressing a rich complexity of faith, empathy and co- existence.
Do you see a spatial-architectural interaction between the material of concrete and the ornament?
My field of exploration lies in the transitions where nature and culture mutate. I intend to implement the ornament in a spatial orientation. The work in Kjøsnesfjorden will be implemented within the frames of geologic and topographic specific conditions, providing spectacular climatic performances. Immanent in this concept you find a vision, intending to develop a vocabulary for a new layer in collective identity. The investigations reveal patterns which concrete can make accessible. The complexity is framed within extended public art in public space. [In the JMP, the ornament still is on a conceptual level (image 4.1+4.2), Theo and Nikolaij executing the 1. workshop (image 4.3)