FLOWING WATER AND UNINVITED GUESTS

2017

Text in catalogue for degree show at Oslo National Academy Of The Arts

There used to be an agreement between the seasons. After a while they decided to sit down and work it out. And they agreed that they would more or less come and stay about three months each and then they would go to wherever seasons go when they’re not where you are. And this would be a cycle and it would go on all the time. And then, one year in America, one of the seasons got mad, and decided it was going to stay, decided that the way things were done there made him feel at home… It wasn’t in terms of the temperature, it was in terms of the philosophy, the politics, the psychology, the way things were going in those directions… And so for a long time where we come from there has been no spring, and no summer and no fall. We have been taken over by the season of ice.

 

— Gil Scott-Heron, from a spoken intro to “Winter in America” (1973).

 

The Akerselva river runs right outside the windows of the National Academy of the Arts in Oslo. The roar of the waterfall can be heard all the way inside the workshops in the old factory building; small drops of water spatter the windows on the bottom floors. We who have lived our daily life at the academy have walked to and fro every day across the bridge just outside; when the weather permits we have eaten our food on the broad steps that lead down to the water outside the canteen. The river is always there, it flows and flows; down from the mountains, through the forest around Oslo, and then it conducts the water out to the fjord, and from there to the great sea, where it mixes with water from all the other rivers in the rest of the world. The water is the same everywhere, and is constantly being replaced. Always old, always new. The water that flows through you right now once flowed in the Amazon, the Nile, the Mississippi. It has fallen as rain and snow, lain for years as ice in glaciers and on mountaintops. The first life forms on earth arose in it. Water binds us together all over the world, through time and space.

 

In the winter the waterfall becomes a huge, light-blue-grey ice palace, and the river is hidden under thick layers of snow-covered ice. The ducks that live there paddle with their feet to keep some small pools of flowing water free. They paddle and paddle, and take turns going ashore, putting their heads under their wings and sleeping. The ice remains until the spring comes, but the ducks make sure it never covers everything. There are small holes in it, patches where the river is still acces­sible and open. The ducks keep it active, ensuring that the winter is unable to maintain its grip.

 

And what about us artists, inside and outside the school – what do we do? On most days, perhaps, the artist does nothing. She reads, thinks, tries things out. Crumples sheets of paper and throws them away. Tries again. New colours, new formats, new materials, sounds, words and forms. Goes to exhibitions, sees the works of others. Doubts. Meets other artists and talks to them. Doubts again. Takes paid jobs to stay afloat. Looks and looks. Tries to explain to herself and others what she is doing, fumbles, struggles, gives up and tries something new. Looks for the magic point where something suddenly comes up. The image. The moment that takes her breath away. What she cannot predict, what surprises her and forces it way through. What has no name yet, but vibrates with its new, clear tone. What makes sense. She lives in the expectation that it will happen.

 

The artist’s practice is like the paddling of the ducks. She keeps the ice away, the pos­sibilities open, so that the big, new event can arise. What does not exist yet, the new, the different. What opens new doors. Hope. The most important function of the artist, what justifies her activities, is not to make works for collections, luxury objects for people she does not meet except at the point of sale. She does that too, sometimes beautiful things, sometimes ugly, difficult, bad or horrible things. Most of what she makes ends up in her own stores. Her most important contribution to society is the artistic practice itself. It is unpredictable, uncontrollable, indefensible viewed from a ‘common sense’ perspective. It is continuous, and usually has no clear boundaries with the rest of her life. It explodes concepts like ‘making a living’. Her job is to keep the world alive, to make sure the ice does not get a grip. The artist’s greatest contribution is that the possibility of the great and unexpected is kept open. Her prime mission is to keep that potential alive, to guard the flame. Her artworks are crystallizations of this practice, concentrations of matter in a continu­ous material, traces of her activity in time and space.

 

The philosopher Slavoj Žižek has said that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. It is as if we are no longer capable of imagining other scenarios for ourselves than the precise one we live in, as if nothing else, nothing outside, exists. The ice spreads; it would so like to overlay everything, control, seal off and constrain the world with its bank-owned ‘common sense’ and its market-oriented efficiency. It sneaks into our minds, freezes our imaginative capa­­city, steers our thoughts into fixed grooves, reduces our lives to time units, our gestures to services and objects to goods. But this is not the result of laws of nature; it is not true, right, logical or absolute. It is a construct. That means that it can be discussed, criticized, rethought, changed. For every choice made, infinitely many possibilities have been rejected. Some may have been worse, some better – whatever the case, there were more doors we could have opened and more paths we could have taken.

 

Artists are not needed first and foremost because we need more art objects. The museums of the world are crammed full of them. The world needs artists because artistic practice is precisely about exercising the imagination; evoking and sharing images, forms, sounds that have no name yet, that no one has described, far less commissioned. The most important artworks are uninvited guests. They expand freedom. The world needs artists because someone has to continue making things that do not run after the market, things that are not sensible, efficient or competitive, that do not find their justification in the relationships between supply and demand. It is all about activating the world. It is all about keeping the ice away. There is noth­ing more important. It is about our lives.

 

Dear graduating students, the very best of luck!

 

Marianne Heier