9. oktober 2009– 3. januar 2010
The Solo project in the Nøstetangen Room is a response to reality as it is experienced by contemporary museums. Official museum policies in Norway challenge the museum experts to reflect on relationships; the links between the permanent collection that reflects its original time’s view of what a museum should be, and the temporary exhibitions, which are also connected to their time’s ideas and sensations
PATRICK HUSE in the Nøstetangen Room
Illuminated Landscape (Form as part of Meaning, a reflection of the work of Jónas Hallgrímsson in cooperation with Dick Ringler) and Conceivable Garden (Iceland Greenhouse Series)
9 October 2009– 3 January 2010
The Solo project in the Nøstetangen Room is a response to reality as it is experienced by contemporary museums. Official museum policies in Norway challenge the museum experts to reflect on relationships; the links between the permanent collection that reflects its original time’s view of what a museum should be, and the temporary exhibitions, which are also connected to their time’s ideas and sensations. The relationships between peoples’ cultural history can be seen as attempts to bring shape to recognition, fears, hopes and longings, to the history of production and nature itself. Indeed, there is a relationship between nature, which sets conditions, the production of objects that fulfil people’s practical requirements and the artistic expression that adds extra value to the otherwise purely practical and necessary.
The Solo project is absolutely in line with this way of thinking and, naturally, the foundation for Drammens Museum’s fortunate situation is the magnificent Nøstetangen Room. The pieces on display are exquisite artistic products they were brought forth by talent, the force of artistic expression and by nature (timber for fuel, sand, water) and technology (smelting furnaces, glassworks, potter’s wheels and engraving, etc.). All the artists who were invited to exhibit as part of this project have had something to say to the room, and many of them have approached the challenge by creating special projects that engage it in a dynamic conversation. Andreas Heuch, Jim Bengston and Patrick Huse are the ones who have created and focused their work on the room’s collections with the most emphasis.
For Patrick Huse (b. 1948), the link between his work and the room is transparency and glass. His exhibition has two titles and consists of two parts: a series of 10 Plexiglas boxes with a black lump of glass and an engraved text field, and a series of five photogravures of greenhouses in Hveragerði, Iceland. Both groups of works contain nature that is transformed into shapes and objects that are framed for museum display. The structures in the glass boxes – called Illuminated Landscape – are a contemporary appropriation of the glass cabinets in the room. A glass cabinet functions as both protection and as an abstract frame that promotes the focused observation of an artefact, like an artwork with meaning. The black fields with engraved, illuminated text – which in this case is cited from literary theory – is a contemporary interpretation of the symbols, pictures and mottos engraved in the silver and crystal from the latter half of the 18th century. Now, as then, the glass object is accompanied and heightened by a drawn or written message. The greenhouses are practical glass boxes to protect frost-sensitive plants that would otherwise be unlikely to survive the Icelandic climate. They become a transparent but physical barrier between the nature outside and the nature within, and between us and the green vegetation.
Huse’s exhibition of black glass with text is a meditation on the way that nature is something given and which becomes something else through a process, becoming an object. In principle, the same thing happens when a glassworks transforms sand, using intense heat, into glass that is formed into a wonderful and useful object. In Huse’s work it is rock that has been heated up in the Earth’s own smelting furnace to make magma, which breaks out of the Earth’s crust and, on meeting the cold of the glacier, is rapidly transformed into black glass and non-porous lava stone. This is a natural process, which sets an example for industrial art.
By selecting random, phenomenologically-shaped black lumps of glass, placing them in a display and illuminating them, both with spotlights in the room and a literary text, the natural black glass becomes something more than random, it becomes a fragment of the landscape through illumination. Displaying glass as an object, photogravure and text echoes the structure of Joseph Kosuth’s famous Proto Investigations from 1965, where phenomena such as Chair and Table are presented as thing, image and definition. Landscape and conceptual art meet in Patrick Huse’s exhibition.
Patric Huse has worked with the landscape for many years. His interest in landscape art has brought a fairly unique conceptual practice to a Norwegian context. It is also rare for such an established artist, one who has worked with landscape-inspired, abstract painting – in dialogue with Anselm Kiefer’s cultural-historical landscapes – to approach and enter the world of conceptual art. The has little to do with the young neo-conceptualists, who often use the quirky and specialised parts of Anglo-American digital and spectacular youth culture, or pop culture’s darker sub-cultures with excellent taste and assured style. Neo-conceptualists are often “Slacker” in their attitude.
Patrick Huse’s interests and focus are in another place, and his starting point is the classic conceptual art created by his generation’s European and American artists from the end of the 1960s and onward. As part of a pioneering generation he works with analyses of concepts and phenomena, and he works like an anthropologist. However, his conceptual art is different to that of that time; it is not youthful, not a paradigmatic break, not an aggressive transgression of art’s traditions and time-honoured forms and value systems. He has adopted the methods and broadened the field for anthropological investigations, for Huse – as a mature artist and a man with life experience – has taken on the consequence of the artistic crisis, of which conceptual art is both an analysis and a symptom. He has realised that contemporary art, as an academically acquired discipline with or without a feel for beauty, has entered a youthful, media-borne circle that is more related to fleeting news about fashion than with art that seeks to communicate content and make people talk in ways that reinforce their awareness of the conditions of life as biological beings, both from and on Earth. Huse is searching for this communication, a participatory dialogue with the audience and other artists and people with an interest in the landscape as the basis for existence. The art is input in this conversation, which he believes is the only truly important theme in the present day.
This is where we make an important distinction. The pioneering generation in conceptual art (Robert Morris, Sol Lewitt, Joseph Kosuth, Mel Bochner, Rober Smithson, Lawrence Weiner, Art & Language, Hans Haacke and Marcel Broedhaers – just to name the most important ones) worked with to change the structure of how an artwork should be represented. They moved away from visual, anthropomorphic or abstract/geometric forms – everything that had comprised modern art – and to a production of art through texts, definitions, photographs, diagrams and structural investigations that would reveal how the work of art and the art world functioned. They worked with structure and when Kosuth, among others, moved to working with content, like an anthropologist, it was first his own Western culture he investigated. Kosuth has increasingly developed his artistry in the direction of content and his themes over the last fifteen years have been issues linked to migration and human meetings across different, established boundaries between civilisations.
Huse is not interested in working with a structural change in how art should appear as a form of presentation. His starting point is the new forms of presentation that were launched at the end of the 1960s. His art is a response to the complicated issue of whether conceptual art can give rise to a tradition. The early, paradigm breaking conceptual art couldn’t – and didn’t. It could – and has in the form of academic theses – degenerated to become a “style”. Anthropological conceptual art may form a tradition by bringing in new themes, and it is in new areas of artistic work that Huse’s contributions and significance are located. Huse’s theme is mankind’s potential for survival as natural beings on Earth.
He builds upon his fascination with the Icelandic landscape and Arctic areas. The foundation of this fascination is that these are the areas in which climate change is first and most clearly noticeable, and it is in these areas that conditions have been and are most extreme. These are the final outposts of human life, and it is impossible to survive without a close and lasting relationship with the landscape. Such knowledge, respect and familiarity with the landscape are vital to life and, accordingly, Patrick Huse finds the best examples of the importance of understanding the landscape through journeys, investigations and dialogue with the people who live in these areas. It is the sensation of the landscape and the desire to understand, describe and codify the vastness that is our foundation and our surroundings, that led Huse to start his work on the Illuminated Landscape. With its basis in the given, or found, Icelandic nature – the black glass (which would often be called a found object in modern art) – he searches for a poetic description of how it is to live in such a harsh landscape. He found this in the poetry of Jonás Hallgrímsson (1803-45). Hallgrímsson is a major Icelandic poet, the first to give the people of Iceland a language with which to understand the values of their landscape, called “the poet of Icelandic consciousness” by Halldor Laxness.
In order to further illuminate the Icelandic landscape, Patrick Huse has used the Harvard-educated professor Dick Ringler’s book about Hallgrímsson’s poetry. Ringler is Professor in English and Scandinavian Studies at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and it is his book, Bard of Iceland, Jonás Hallgrímsson – Poet and Scientist (2002), that is the basis for the engraved texts on the plaques below the black glass. Ringler’s book includes a formal analysis of their language to illuminate the poems; in their time, they were an attempt to illuminate the landscape.
Patrick Huse’s artistic practice entails criticism of the development of an art system that is intertwined with the market, short-term media exposure and is reflected in the major art metropolises. In our normal, everyday dealings with art in the art world, it’s all about New York, Berlin, Basel and London. In many ways they have been centres for modern art and they continue to be extremely important. However, in line with the first conceptual artists who, rightly enough, had their successes and careers in galleries in just such places, Huse problematises what makes a centre; they might say: What about Nevada, what about Arizona? Huse might say: What about Archangelsk, what about Hveragerði, what about Greenland, what about Seattle? And what about museums and universities as central places in relation to private galleries and auction houses? What about communication instead of transaction, and what about illumination instead of profits?
And what about a book instead of the cultural pages or weekend supplement? There is a strong degree of secession to Huse; he is doing the same as the Viennese around 1900 and the Romans in Antiquity. It is about the realisation that if art is to be free, the artist himself must take responsibility for its production, interpretation and dissemination. He must look for financing that is not dependent on the market and he must want to take art to the people. A museum is a good alternative to a private gallery. Patrick Huse’s most recent artistic projects have resulted in major museum exhibitions in central places that are off the usual Euro-American route.
Huse’s own project is well illuminated through the production of four ample books – all for sale in the museum bookshop in the Lyche Pavillion – where an informal, provisional network of natural scientists, anthropologists, art historians and local residents have worked together to communalise aspects of living in a world where extreme situations are on the way to becoming normalised, and where the world is continually getting smaller as it is continually getting closer. He moves around the outposts of the world like a nomad, finding that these are also central places – for those who are there. Sometimes there are few people, other times there are very many people there. With this method, his art is dedicated to illuminating us about the potential of art in a global world.
- Åsmund Thorkildsen
Museum Director and curator of the Solo project in the Nøstetangen Room