The vastness of the Scandinavian landscape is brought into focus in Norway Contemporary! Currently on show at Museum Kunst der Westküste, on the North Frisian island of Föhr, it revolves around the work of seven artists, each of whom explores the somewhat melancholy motifs of dark, cold and solitude. Nonetheless, there is a fundamentally hopeful element here: at its most basic level, this is about human survival in deeply challenging conditions.
Drawing on the longevity of its core themes, a relationship emerges between these contemporary pieces and eighteenth-century Romanticism. Edmund Burke’s version of the sublime – or terror in beauty, explored further in a Tate article here – is never far away. Ingun Alette Mæhlum (b.1973) produces photographs in which the very obscurity of the setting, covered by snowdrifts and mist, becomes the focus. Roads lead to nowhere, and even the distinction between land and sea is blurred. Sandfjorden and Aurora No.6 by Jens Knigge (b.1964) take the viewer to the most northerly parts of the country, where the conditions render shapes and structures abstract. People are notably absent; it becomes hard to imagine existing in this context, beautiful though it undeniably is.
Yet Trond Ansten (b.1984, Norway) and Rune Guneriussen (b.1977) both offer a charming, playful counterpoint to this sense of frozen loneliness. By inserting everyday objects into seemingly uninhabitable places – a rocky ledge, for example – Guneriussen brings a trace of human presence to the environment. His interventions, such as One Can Rely, a collection of desk lamps glowing gently in a glade, have a sense of hopefulness. Ansten, meanwhile, a biologist and exhibition guide as well as a multimedia artist, is also interested in the man/nature relationship. He creates surreal scenarios in his films to question reality. Overall, there is a lyrical quality to this exhibition: the pairing of nocturnal darkness with the vivid white of snow, or of icy winds with human warmth is affecting and revealing.
Norway Contemporary! runs until 24 June. Find out more here.
1. Rune Guneriussen, A Grid of Physical Entities (2012).