Fra 14.-23. september kan du oppleve kunstinstallasjonen A nest on the waves of the sea av kunstneren Tommy Høvik i Kulturkirken Jakobs underetasje!
Åpning av utstillingen skjer i forbindelse med Kulturnatt 2018, fredag 14. september kl 19.00-24:00. Det vil være bar og DJ denne kvelden.
Utstillingstekst av Jens Asthoff
Making the leap towards a personal nirvana
Tommy Høvik’s works aim towards a spiritual dimension and in many cases they are self-portraits in a more or less hidden way. For they refer to some of the artist’s very personal experiences and periods of life, which become the starting points for aesthetic transformations. Høvik works in a variety of media, ranging from photography to sculpture, found objects, collage and assemblage, video and drawing. In exhibitions he usually arranges works into spatial ensembles that are intrinsically interwoven.
The neon sculpture A nest on the waves of the sea (2017) takes up the name of the exhibition and allows it to radiate through the room like a poetic leitmotif – while the beam of light literally brings it into contact with the other works. For Høvik, the name is “a metaphor for enlightenment”, and as a paradoxical linguistic image, it imagines a dynamic state of consciousness that combines the unstable surging abyss (of the soul) with a fragile sense of security. The metaphorical and metaphysical profundity of the title takes on a strong physical form in some of Høvik’s other works – for example in Collection 422 (2007–2017): at first glance, a found object recovered from the water, a closed, metal cube with a handle, encrusted with rust. The oxidative growth makes it a kind of material time index, and the fact that the object can be seen and is present at all is a big part of its significance. It is in fact a waterproof metal box containing Høvik’s complete CD collection of 422 tracks from 2007, which in a kind of emotional experiment in the spirit of Albert Camus, he sunk to a depth of 47 metres in a fjord close to his hometown of Trondheim. The artist explains: “I … wanted to experience how it would feel to get rid of something as personal as my collection of CDs, with all the identity and memories attached to it.” There was no intention of salvaging it again. But even at a distance the submerged, the inaccessible, remained active. Over the course of the following years, as he suffered a series of personal crises and losses, including the death of his mother in 2010 and of his 16-year-old cousin in 2011, who lost his life in Anders Breivik’s attack on the island of Uttøya, Høvik increasingly suffered from bouts of depression, and the image of the rusting box at the bottom of the fjord involuntarily matured into a projection surface and metaphor for his loss. Only years later did he regain the strength and willpower to face life head-on again, and in 2017, exactly ten years to the day after submerging the box, he had it pulled back up again: “[It was] a personal ritual for me, with strong symbolic meaning.” In this way he brings the broken-off part of himself back into the physical present – but also keeps it at a distance, visible but untouched: because as Collection 422, the box remains closed and covered in rust, and the music unavailable. Thereby Høvik turns something that was emotively charged and representative of his personal history into an object of the imagination, perhaps in the sense of a “transfiguration of the commonplace”. The tangible, historical object is transformed into something aesthetic. It is no longer merely a found object but is about something (Danto’s “aboutness”); it speaks a language, is an image. In short, its “aboutness” detaches it from reality. In dealing with such imaginatively charged material, Høvik sees art as having the potential to be a religious experience (which, by the way, is also an aspect of Danto’s concept of “transfiguration”) – in the case of Høvik, it is an informal spirituality that can be experienced individually. His works appear to be driven and carried by a reflection on the miracle and the horror of the finiteness of life, they appear to exorcise ghosts and to mirror Høvik’s sense of self – often marked by existential anxiety – from an aesthetic distance. This is also evident in the laconic work 1992–2017 (2017): what at first glance appears to be an environmental still life is in fact a kind of self-portrait. A rectangular stone slab – precious, blue veined Azul Macaubas quartzite, cut to the height and width of the artist’s body size – lies flat on the floor. An array of differently shaped bottles and drink cans are spread across it – in the form of grey concrete casts. No two forms are alike, and each one is an example of different types of alcohol which, according to the artist, “feel like they were a big part my life from the age of 13 until I stopped drinking at the age of 37”. Reduced to concrete casts, the different kinds of rum, pastis, red wine, whiskey and beer are recognisable or can be guessed at. The concrete weight of these manifestations of memory gives them a strong visual presence, but through the grey deadness of the material, it is also as if the ghosts of the past have been exorcised. Høvik has arranged the bottle casts so they appear to be randomly scattered on the frozen swirls of the blue Macaubas – so here again, he picks up the nest on the waves motif by representing the bottles as an extremely problematic nest. For him, 1992–2017 was “like saying goodbye to old friends who weren’t good for you in the long run.”
Another typical Høvik process of poetic memory work, which he began in 2010, can be seen in the assemblages on paper such as The Dance (2017) and Untitled (2018). Images and short texts – his own, ones he has found, some of them handwritten – are layered on top of one another to form a kind of conceptual diary, subjective, intuitive and often linked to existential themes. Untitled, for example, shows Høvik as a teenager with his late mother, and the handwritten note in pencil (“Hope you can see that things are much better now 2018”) is a message to her. In works of this kind, the uneven layering of sheets of paper of different sizes and textures literally gives the topmost sheet a story: the different layers are the memory-triggers that form the foundation of the image at the top. This use of fragments of writing and images as a materialisation of emotive states also has literary forebears, from Friederike Mayröcker to Arno Schmidt – and, as in Collection 422, the accumulative process deliberately denies clarity by opening up the material to the imagination. For Høvik, the sheets represent real experience, and layering them one by one means moving them into the realm of memory – but also writing a no longer visible story that is only hinted at by the cover page. The rest is left to the imagination and empathy – perhaps something like the Proustian moment in Høvik’s memory work.
Seasons change, mad things rearrange (2017/18) is focused more on flâneur-like observation and photographic immediacy. The work consists of a number of Polaroids that Høvik took over the course of about a year on hikes: landscape photographs through the seasons, the solitude of the forest, trees in front of trees or a tree on its own in front of a vast horizon; lakes, water lilies, and only rarely a human being, for example as a back view in a canoe. The ephemeral nature of perception and nature fits the unique character of the photographic medium. “After I stopped drinking and partying so hard I replaced it with experiences of nature instead,” the artist comments on the creation of this group of works. As is often the case with Høvik, the title is taken from the line of a song, in this case from How Many Mics (1996) by the Fugees – a cover song with a complex, forceful sound that jars with the sublime calmness of nature in the pictures.
Another example of Høvik’s treatment of highly personal material can be found in Blue Nude (1993–2018). The two-part work consists of a plaster cast of a male chest in Yves Klein blue. Inside the cast are two flat metal bars running across the entire breadth, and a collaged black-and-white photo on a background of the same blue. The photo is of a young, buffed-up Mark Wahlberg posing for Calvin Klein in the 1990s. While the plaster cast is reminiscent of body portraits by artists such as Matisse and Picasso but most closely resembles an Yves Klein relief, Høvik contrasts it with a clichéd, pop-culture-style “ideal body”. In fact, there is also a personal element to the work: the cast is of Høvik’s chest, and the metal bars inside are from of an operation he underwent in 2005. As a teenager he suffered from a moderate case of pectus excavatum – a caved-in appearance of the chest – and at the time he regarded Wahlberg’s body as the epitome of an ideal male physique. The bars were implanted in his chest for three years. So here, once again, he deals with highly personal material by giving it visual form. While Høvik vividly sums up the experience of the stigmatisation/aestheticisation of his own body, this story also becomes the starting point for aesthetic transformation.
Most of the other works in the exhibition also explore borderline experiences, both physical and psychological. In Epikrise 2016 (2017), a dark-tinted glass pane measuring 187×60 cm (again the artist’s body size) leans upright against a wall, and a blue business shirt hangs behind the glass. “I have worn this many times to appear professional and to hide my depression,” says Høvik. On the back of this emotionally and experientially saturated garment is a short extract from the expert opinion of a psychologist, written about the artist after the actual “epicrisis” referred to in the title. Elevated Summer (2017) deals in a different way with an excursion into liminal experiences. The work comprises a large landscape photograph of an idyllic summer’s day, a portrait format covered in dense text on a psychedelically patterned background, and several small, individually framed sheets of paper covered in lucid, sometimes chaotic-looking paintings, drawings, assemblages, handwritten texts and photographs. The work is perhaps the most direct expression of Høvik’s continued craving for extreme experiences. With searing clarity, the text tells of a camping trip in the woods Høvik went on with his girlfriend, where they tried LSD for the first time – and had a terrifying, life-threatening trip. The works on the sheets of paper were made under the influence of the drug, the photos show the place where it happened. It was an experience of a dramatic disappearance of reality, and as Høvik explains: “Although I had some interesting perspectives and visual insights during this trip, it was one of the most intense and traumatic experiences of my life so far.”
Each in their own way, Høvik’s works are self-portraits of inner rebellion and perpetual unrest as well as attempts at invoking the eternal – and between fear, a euphoric craving for freedom and a spiritual reverence for nature, they make the leap towards a personal nirvana.
All quotes: the artist in an email to the author 17.8.2018
Arthur C. Danto, Transfiguration of the Commonplace, Harvard University Press, 1981