July 7th, 2015


work in progress

The world at large has rather under-reacted to this wonderful slideshow/video, perhaps because of the excitement around the new a-ha single, so I want to make sure none of my kindred spirits (meaning you lovely people :-)) missed it:

[watch here]

These images provide a very close look at an interesting selection of Magne's works. Most of these I have not seen in person and probably never will, and I suppose that is the purpose of the video: to give people a rare look into his 'artworld'.

It's particularly great to see the photos of Magne at work on his ceramic sculptures, you can get a sense of the actual craft itself and the methods he is using. Given that the imprint of each letter is driven into the clay individually, it's clear that the works require much planning and deliberation - in terms of laying out the words/poetry on the surface - plus sheer physical exertion, repeated many times on each piece.

Another thing that is clear from these pictures, and we've also seen in other coverage about the sculpture park recently, is that for much of this project he and his assistant are working with all those tools and letter blocks while suspended at a great height. The biggest jars are massive, and I think one article mentioned that each one could take a month of work before going into the kiln. I imagine it to be so much more difficult to be stuck in that small, elevated, static space for possibly hours on end, than to be at ground level and able to walk around the jar to take in the work so far and continually have a visual overview of your progress. (for example, compare these images to the video from the Vallhall DVD 'Seven Year Itch' segment about Magne's work with ceramic jars, where he is walking around, making changes in a seemingly organic, free-form way)

One thing that isn't clear from the pictures is the speed with which he must work. I remember very little from ceramics class in high school, but one thing I do remember is you have to make any marks or patterns on the surface while the clay is soft and malleable, and that window of opportunity isn't very long. I think we would have to re-wet the clay if it dried while we were working? If that's the case here, and at this scale, I would imagine that process can be tedious and add considerably to the time required to complete a pattern around the entire jar. No wonder he is reported to have worked late into the night on these - not only because he is a self-proclaimed workaholic, and because he has to fly over to Denmark in intervals to do the work and would want to make the most of the time on location, but probably also in large part because of the demanding nature of the material he is working with. For example, wood cut projects can wait years for you to return and pick up your tools, but my guess is there is a narrow window in which you can effectively produce a ceramic work given all conditions - which adds to the challenge and commitment of this project, of course.

While I may never see some of the prints and other works from the slideshow, I definitely plan to visit the sculpture park whenever I get to Oslo next year. Anyway, even with this great video it is difficult to get a full perspective on the large jars and impossible to imagine how they will be situated once permanently installed, or their relationship with other works in the collection. It's just a tiny, three-minute glimpse at a colossal effort.

What will it be like to stand beside one of these huge jars and gaze upwards to try to take in the words and phrases as they ascend into the distance, to absorb and fix in memory bits of poetry that resonate with me personally? Will knowing something about the scope of effort behind the works impact how I will respond to them? Will I feel any connection with the place itself while there, as I often feel in other places in Norway? I can't wait to find out.

On a bit of a side-note, I wonder what his experience of these (or any of his) works is once completed. Having deliberated on many aspects, and yet carried out some functions of creation repeatedly and perhaps somewhat mechanically, what then stands out for him from the project? Are there favorite segments on various jars that he feels came out especially well according to his vision? Are there aspects that turned out differently than planned, and if so were they improvements on the original plan or did they impact other aspects in unexpected ways? Do specific pieces bring back vivid memories of the process itself or the circumstances around them, or do all the hours of work somehow blur together for him?

One reason this comes to mind for me - I am not an artist by any means, but I do like to cross stitch. Some of my projects can take months or even years; during college I spent two years making this gray wolf pattern:

This pattern has 20+ shades of gray and several shades each of green and brown. It is so detailed and has so many symbols, I painstakingly transferred the pattern to graph paper in segments of 20x40 stitches at a time, highlighting rows as they were completed so I wouldn't lose my place. Although the process of stitching and finishing it took so many months, I can't really recall many specific instances of me sitting down to cross stitch it, it's almost all a blur. Except - I do remember one evening in winter 1994 sitting on the living room couch with about five threaded needles going at once, anchored neatly in a row on my right jeans pants leg, and the Lillehammer Olympics on TV; skiing and then bobsled and then ice skating. I remember exactly what shirt I was wearing, the drink glass I was using, the quality of light in the room as the day progressed to evening and I had to turn on the lamps, the movement of siblings and parents around me as I sat and stitched, the fact that I had to borrow my mother's scissors because I couldn't find my regular pair.

I have no idea why that one day out of countless days working on that pattern stays with me, but I am glad it does. I also have a particular vivid memory of stitching a Halloween pattern in the car on the way to the beach in 2007, probably it was memorable because I so rarely stitch in the car. Anyway, I wonder if that's a common experience for creative types. Or maybe they remember more working 'episodes' (not sure that's the best word, but it's the closest I can come up with right now) because they are not following a pattern and surely the act of designing/creating from the imagination leaves a much different and more profound mental and emotional imprint?

Yeah, I have no idea what I am talking about :-) Where I am going with this is I wonder how Magne sees his finished works, and if when he sees a certain phrase stamped in clay or color on a canvas, he remembers a particular sunlit morning in the studio, or a time when he misplaced a specific letter block while working, or what shirt he was wearing the day he had to adjust a design while the work was in progress, or..? Maybe this kind of question would only be interesting to me, I don't know ;-) But I've always been interested in the artistic process almost as much as the works themselves, so long story short, this little video is simply awesome :-)

EDIT: Can't believe I didn't mention how it made me smile when I heard the first notes of 'Watch this space'! Love that song, it's like a warm hug and a heartfelt promise from a dear friend.

EDIT 2: If you're not already following Magne's Instagram account, then you may have missed this picture from over the weekend. Hello, handsome :-)