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How to be a Sami artist

  • Geir Tore Holm, Are you still my friend? Performance, 1999. Photo: Mona Hagen Pedersen

    Several Sami artist’s participated at this year’s documenta14. The exhibition presented issues at the peripheries of the art world, regarding minorities, indigenous art and discrimination from the lager stories of art history. Issues such as these are trending in the art world nowadays, and before embarking to Athens we were pondering whether documenta, and other institution’s, are more inclined to appreciate “indigenous art” when such art is openly critiquing political issues. Is this interest in activist art at odds with work more invested in visual appearance? That was the impression sneaking upon us, that Sami art was celebrated first and foremost when charged with more activist thought. We might be wrong, so we invited Geir Tore Holm to talk more about Sami art and its relation to activism. About good materials, skills and handcraft.

    GTH: you started talking about identity

    Vi ser på kunst: Ja, or like, what does it mean to be a Sami artist? Do you prefer to be referred to as a Sami artist?

    Yes it is fine with me. Because you must be aware that Sami people are connected somehow through a common identity more or less. It is important to be connected and to belong to something, and on the other hand you have to distance yourself, as artists often do. It’s a matter of in and out. I feel very naturally connected to the Sami art world since I am a Sami person and since I come from the far North of Norway which is also a geographical aspect. I know it within my body. And it is about physical things too, about thinking, and language, and humour, and such things. And feeling. A sensitivity to certain things, and very much a relationship to the landscape and to nature. Which is something many Sami artists have in common. Maybe more than the expression of identity, or use of specific things, like clothing, colors.

    It is very complex, as many things are. The Sami people are not a big group of people, so there’s also minority issues, indigenous people issues, many different issues. Spiritual issues, political, so many aspects. That has been my main goal, to talk about, or to show, complexity. Because I am very sceptical and afraid of simplifications.

    Many Sami artists seem to be both artists and activists. Do you think there’s even a disconnect if Sami art practice isn’t related to activism?

    I have been thinking a bit about it lately, because I also find it tricky sometimes. You can talk in a very formal way about art making and art work when it is a political action against something specific. But I think you shouldn’t be too strict, but think about what’s present, and what is the topic of the moment. Artists can be active and do their work in many different ways and layers, and that’s typical, I would say, of the Sami art world. Many Sami artists do different things, paintings, prints and poetry, music, theatre, and that’s maybe, I would say, a little bit typical.

    And maybe, when I talk about my own work too, I want to say that a more Sami way of acting is to be peaceful. Not necessarily, but maybe we do activism in other manners.

    I just read a quote where you claim that Sami visual art has been used as a tool to protect and conserve Sami culture, and that that has made the art conservative, or conserving.

    Sami artists mix between crafts and the contemporary art. This has been almost like a principal. When the traditional crafts are used you use historical elements, and that’s considered a sign of “good” Sami art. So it can be conservative, hehe. But in my opinion, it can be the opposite too. It can be very to the point. And that’s interesting for me. It’s called duodji, the Sami crafts, and the idea is that the object is something you need to make. It is very much about the awareness of what you need and what you don’t need, in fact, and how to do it in a very smart way, but not too complicated way. It is also about the knowledge and the materials you find, like the feeling of good wood. I am interested in it, but I never worked with crafts or with materials in such a way, I am kind of crappy. I use plastic and old kinds of stuff, garbage, that’s maybe one of the things that made me a little bit different.

    To break up the strict divide between art and crafts?

    Yes, and in my education in the early 90’s, it was very much breaking up, unfortunately somehow and good in another way. Maybe it was to the best, but sometimes I would like to do things more skillful, but of course, some days, some mornings, you feel lost.

    Also, it’s liberating to get away from the idea that craft is less than art. Isn’t that idea sort of a symptom of the hegemonic center oppressing women, minorities, of all ethnicities…?

    Yes, exactly.

    When craft becomes diminutized.

    Ja, I agree with you, I agree.

    Let’s talk more about the sami participation at Documenta, and about the year of “indigenous art”. Earlier this winter, OCA had a joint show in Tromsø where Maret Ánne Sara displayed a pile of reindeer heads with a Norwegian flag on top. The piece is a comment on Sara´s brother’s lawsuit with Norway, as the state demands him to slaughter a lot of his reindeers. While in April, OCA organized the seminar “Museums on Fire” in Oslo with different speakers surrounded by a scenography by Anders Sunna.

    Hehe, yes there is very much what we can call an activist style. Both from the Masi-group from 1980s, and these artists today, Maret Ánne and Anders. That’s kind of what they highlight. It seems to me that these are artists with very clear missions to communicate.

    But activist and polemic work can also seem a bit plump, like street art. And we wonder if this tendency, to favor activism, is overshadowing other artists who are less polemic or politically outspoken. One thing we want to discuss is whether the framing of Sami art as very polemic, is to negotiate it as not “real” art but as harmless and easily dismissible street art, and hence not worth taking seriously. Sami art has often been contextualised as exotic or primitive. Are we seeing the same thing now?

    Its a good idea, and a little bit rough, a new primitivism, try that! Its very rough to do it, but try to do it!

    But would you agree?

    This idea is new to me. But it’s interesting because OCA is a governmental entity. The government wants to reduce the number of reindeer in Finnmark because they find it too many. They want to make it half somehow, and he (Jovsset Ánte, Maret Ánnes’s brother) already has a very small amount of reindeer. But it’s very complicated and there are many layers we don’t know so much about, and it has this David against Goliath thing, you support the underdog. I don’t know, I wish I knew more. What we see now is maybe the interest in art that represent frictions and resistance against dominant powers.

    Máret Ánne Sara, Pile o’Sapmi, 2016

    That’s our issue too. And we are afraid to make a wrong step. However, I think Sara’s Pile o’Sapmi is very powerful.

    Yes, and it’s a little bit hard to get started with what to say. Another thing about Documenta is that they appreciate activists and activism all over. That is the goal of the artistic director, Adam Szymczyk, as well. I did kind of host him and his team when he came to Finnmark. I had a little presentation with them and I wanted to say something about time. I took them to see rock art in Alta, and I said look this is from thousands of years ago, how is it today, and what’s going on in this really big time span. Then I presented an artist from Alta, Svein Flygari Johansen, and his work about the negotiation of the ownership of land. Then I presented an old Sami historian, Odd Mathis Hætta, who for instance is talking about the Alta River and how it was a peaceful situation. And maybe, when I talk about my own work too, I want to say that a more Sami way of acting is to be peaceful. Not necessarily, but maybe we do activism in other manners.

    But now I have been moving away and then it’s like, what is a good Sami life? Street art or vegetable farming?

    Like Britta Marakat Labba, who did the embroideries of the Alta protests? That work gave a very, like you said, peaceful representation. What is impressive in her quiet depiction is the number or people. And the steadiness of her work speaks to something else.

    That is very much what I belong to, so I feel like I am not so happy with people who are so aggressive or militant. But I have learned to not have the judgement ready before hand, you can easily fall into traps. Also working with people in the the Sørfinnset village in Nordland, me, coming from the south with our contemporary art attitude and urban style, I have learned a lot to be humble and to tolerate different aesthetics and intentions. I try to be a little bit like.. but you know, its not my cup of tea, not my can of beer. But it can be interesting too, it can be action.

    We’ll try not to get trapped, and there is a trap for sure. But I really appreciate what you’re saying about this more peaceful work. I mean, that’s what I relate to.

    Yes, but maybe that’s what white people like to think about, “peaceful Samis”

    Haha, ouch. Another trap. You said white people?

    Well you could say western people. It’s about self identification and belonging. I belong to a Sami village. It´s very easy for me to identify myself as a Sami person, a person from this place. But now I have been moving away and then it’s like, what is a good Sami life? Street art or vegetable farming?

    Geir Tore Holm

Vi ser på kunst som er morsom

  • Like før sommeren så jeg Ane Hjort Guttus videoarbeid How to become a non-artist (2007) på Henie Onstad. Videoen viser en serie stillbilder av objekter Guttus 4-årige sønn har arrangert og som hun kommenterer via voiceover. Jeg synes videoen er morsom uten at den gjør narr av 4-åringens kunstverk, snarere viser den en litt underfundig og insisterende vilje til å finne ut hva som er tenkt. Vi møttes for å snakke mer om videoen og om å se på kunst.

    Ane Hjort Guttu, How to Become a Non-Artist, 2007, stillbilde

    Er det en litt fjollete video?

    Hmm. Jeg bruker jo et noe overdrevent kunsthistorisk blikk for å spørre: hvorfor gjør han dette? Da var han bare 4 år og hadde ingen begreper om kunst eller hva det var for noe. Allikevel mente jeg at han hadde et slags medfødt estetisk sans, en viss stil både i formal komposisjon, valg av objekter og behandling av flate, rom og så videre. For eksempel hadde han en klar tendens til å sette sammen ting på en symmetrisk måte, de to eggeglassene, hvis du husker dem, eller to lamper som han plasserte slik at de lyste mot hverandre. I voiceoveren prøver jeg da å filosofere over hvorfor han gjør det sånn, hva det “betyr”. Kunne det f.eks handle om at to lamper som lyser mot hverandre var en slags metafor for to menneskeansikter? Sånn sett er arbeidet ganske humoristisk, om enn ikke fjollete, vil jeg si.

    Ble han ingeniør?

    Han er bare 13 år, så jeg vet ikke. Men han blir nok heller ingeniør enn kunstner i hvert fall. Men tilbake til spørsmålet ditt om fjollete, eller tøysete, så virker det som det er en mer fjollete tendens på gang i hvertfall på den norske samtidskunstscenen. For eksempel var jeg på Soppen i Ekebergparken i helga, og der var det jo en hel del som kan plasseres i fjolleri-avdelingen. Da jeg sto der tenkte jeg at hvis man så det i relasjon til verdens tilstand, så minner det litt om Dada. En slags trang til å hengi seg til vanviddet fordi den politiske tilstanden bare er for absurd. Det var nesten en form for hysteri der som jeg synes var ganske gøyal.

    Dadaistene opererte vel ikke med manifester i samme grad som f.eks surrealistene, men tror du fjolleriet allikevel har et politisk potensial, eller potensial for endring?

    Ja totalt. Desperasjonen som kommer til uttrykk hos dadaistene er selvsagt politisk. Og jeg synes det alltid er fantastisk hvis det er noe ordentlig mørkt over et prosjekt. Heldigvis er det ikke noe ironisk over det nye fjolleriet, hvis vi skal kalle det det, heller en form for sårbarhet. Håper jeg.

    Jeg tenkte vi også kunne snakke om Tiden går, filmen du lagde i fjor. Her prøver Damla å lage et prosjekt om tiggeren Bianca, men det går ikke. Hvorfor ikke?

    Fordi det som begynner som et kunstprosjekt, ender med å bli en viktig relasjon for Damla, og da blir det for instrumentelt for henne, eller for kynisk om du vil, å insistere på å fortsette å kalle det kunst. Når man omgås folk som f.eks lever på et eksistensminimum, kan kunstlivet virke ganske fremmedgjørende. Jeg vet ikke egentlig om prosjektet hennes er så bra, som kunst betraktet, men så er det jo også bare noe som jeg har funnet på. Samtidig kan det jo også være spennende å diskutere dårlige prosjekter, og noen ganger blir noe bra først idet det har mislykkes.

    Damlas prosjekt er kanskje mer en form for aktivisme? Gir aktivisme dårlig kunst?

    Nei, jeg synes ikke det. Her i Norge blir diverse kunstneriske strategier ofte avskrevet lenge før noen virkelig har prøvd dem ut. Damla har et stort alvor, og det kanskje også derfor det er så lett å “ta henne”. Jeg merker i det hele tatt mye alvor blant studenter, også hvis de skal være fjollete. Samtidig savner jeg noe kunst som er skikkelig tragisk. Men når det gjelder aktivistisk kunst så må den jo være bra for å fungere, altså som kunst.

    “Fungerer” kunst bedre enn aktivisme?

    Men er ikke kunst også aktivisme? Og hva betyr det å fungere? Mener du politisk, så er det jo ingenting som fungerer, hverken tradisjonell politisk aktivitet, aktivisme eller kunstnerisk virksomhet. Den fjollete tendensen vi snakker om kan være en reaksjon på både venstrevridd bekymring og høyredreining. Men jeg vet ikke om kunst “fungerer” i det hele tatt, jeg vet bare at jeg blir glad av å se bra kunst, av å se liksom en ild, eller noen som trosser all logikk eller økonomiske hensyn for å lage ting som de bare vil se, vil være i eller som de vil skal finnes i verden. Jeg synes det er fantastisk at folk vil bruke så mye tid, og jobber og jobber for å få frem noe viktig. At det finnes livsbejaende, originale, eller dystre måter å uttrykke seg på. Jeg er egentlig ikke opptatt av sjanger, det kan være grafikk eller performance, det handler mer om energi.

    Senere går vi bort til Fotogalleriet for å se utstillingen: “Mellom Popmusikk, Terror og Forførelse” av Adel Abidin. Her vises fire videoarbeider: ett om Michael Jacksons plutselige gjenoppstandelse, én om fire menn som slår/spiller på brød, én videosekvens med kvinnelige, forførende sangere som synger dikt til Sadam Hussein og annen video om paven som er installert på utsiden av galleriet.

    Adel Abidin, Michael, 2015, videostill

    – Victoria og jeg var og så på denne litt tidligere, men vi ble bare irritert og måtte gå etter 7 minutter. Utstillingen har fått veldig mye offentlig støtte og kanskje det er et tegn på at den kommer til å være tam, daff og uinteressant. Dessuten er den laget av kulturbyrået Mesén, som du kanskje har et forhold til?

    – Hehe, tenker du på fasadeforslaget mitt til Oslo S? Det var ikke Mesén som hadde ansvaret for utsmykning den gangen.

    – Yess, i følge med utstillingen her har Abidin laget et banner på sentralstasjonen hvor fire menn er avbildet i trusa med “camel toe”. Det er ganske enkle grep, og Mesén har en tendens til å pakke inn alt i et irriterende kunstspråk og påstander som denne: “Ved skamløst å blande det maskuline og feminine oppstår en gråsone mellom de to kjønnene.”

    – Jeg tenkte bare på at jeg underviste i Ramallah en gang og oppdaget at studentene der hadde et behov for at ting skulle være veldig tydelig og eksplisitt. Det sto mye på spill. Og så fantes det selvfølgelig mange kulturelle referanser jeg rett og slett ikke kunne lese, sånn blir det jo fort når man er et helt annet sted.

    – Men tror du det er noe vi går glipp av her? La oss diskutere denne videoen av vakre kvinner som synger hyllestdikt til Saddam på en kokett måte, alt på en nattklubb. Jeg ser bare en kollisjon mellom to forventinger, til diktene og til fremførelsen, og mye ironi.

    – Ja, han setter opp en såkalt “motsetningsfull” situasjon. Ikke sant, Hvis det ikke er noen referanser vi går glipp av her så spiller videoen på at hyllestdiktene til Saddam Hussein blir latterligjort ved å plasseres inn i et sånt nattklubbmiljø. Tror ikke jeg forstår det helt.

    – Ja, og jeg tror det er akkurat det samme som er i spill på Oslo S – en motsetning settes opp. La oss se på videoen om Michael Jackson da. Her har han gjenoppstått fra de døde og deltar på et amerikansk talkshow, mens det koker med folk i gatene, på nyhetene, og i sosiale medier.

    – Det er i hvert fall en imponerende produksjon, mye arbeid og masse statister som deltar.

    – Jeg synes det er litt gøy hvordan de dikter videre på historien hans og hvordan han har hatt det, men det der med folkets hysteri over et popikon, som om han er en gud, er ganske tynt, og ikke spesielt gøyalt. Heller ikke den kommentaren videoen gjør om sosiale medier, “å, selfie kulturen”.

    – Han utgjør en artig figur da, der han ser ut sånn halvveis råtten og nesten død, alt han sier tror jeg også er sitater fra hans egne sanger? Det er jo litt morsomt. Men jeg er usikker på styrken i ideen om Jacksons oppstandelse.

    – Ja, nei. Men tiden er ute, takk for møtet. Vi ses!


  • We met Daisuke Kosugi and Ina Hagen to talk about the new gallery space they are opening this Wednesday. The space is called Louise Dany and is an integrated part of their own apartment, a live-work-show space, if you like. We met them in Vigelandsparken on what was initially a Pokémon date.

    Tell us more about the name, Louise Dany

    We read this book by Katarina Bonnevier Behind Straight Curtains : Towards a Queer Feminist Theory of Architecture, where one chapter is describing a villa drawn by architect Eileen Gray, and where she also lived. The architecture of her building was trying to break with heteronormative living and support other life arrangements, not only the nuclear family. On the other hand, Gray had a housekeeper who was living in the same house, but the maid’s quarters were designed very much like every other building, so in a way, those hierarchies Gray were trying to counter were reproduced all the same. That said, it is speculated that Gray also had a romantic relationship with her maid, and maybe the maidthing was just a story to cover up their relation. And so the maid’s name was Louise Dany.

    Do you want to mirror that kind of living arrangement or untraditional architecture?

    In a way, yes. The front side of our space used to be a milk shop, and the milk guy would live in the back. Later it has been used as a storefront. What’s also funny is that that the windows are covered in this mirror foil, so people walk by thinking they’re only looking into a mirror, while in fact we can watch them pick their nose, trying on new clothes or whatever. That whole thing changes by night though, as we become the ones on display. We like the idea of the space being both private and public at the same time.

    Does your programming also reflect this notion of public while private?

    We want to make intimate settings, and we really like the model of the group critique where we all discuss an artwork or object together. For this first week of programming we are collaborating with INCA, an artist run space in Seattle, and together we have invited the artist Sondra Perry to join us for four days. She will be doing a multimedia presentation, two reading groups and a screening surrounding her newest video work. Perry’s new work is discussing the surveillance of fluid identities and the technology developed to cope with that, seen through the lens of the Alien-franchise.. Food and the dinner setting is something we want to explorer as well, both of us enjoy cooking, and we enjoy being hosts. Our hope is to initiate some kind of artistic community.

    Will you have snacks? I would definitely come if there was art and snacks, and some place to chill.

    We are being chased by an emancipated dog at a spot where there must be some Pokéstuff going on. But our only Pokémon phone died, so we will never know. We’re also talking on how this game might access your gmail account, while google in turn is said to be working with the US army. Here we discuss flooding the web with personal details as a strategy to avoid pinpointed surveillance. Because, you can’t be caught with your pants down if you’re not wearing pants. For some, Pokémon is an excuse, or opportunity, to get out and into the world, while it is also highlighting how public spaces are open to some players, and restricted to others.


July 2017

How to be a Sami artist

August 2016

Vi ser på kunst som er morsom