Lost Light



This is part of my half British grandmother’s wedding table wear. I have eight bowls and five flat plates, a gravy mug and a soup bowl, plus four cup plates of this set. No cups though. They were lost during the Second World War when she was carrying them on a tray as the air raid sirens started howling. The tray fell from her hands and the cups were all smashed to smithereens.
As a child I was expected to help her clean the table after dinner when we visited. If I asked her ‘where should I put this?’ ‘Stand with it in your hand’, she would say. Meaning ‘use your head, THINK’.

(To the audience) Can you hold it for me, please?

This wall clock I inherited from my great grandmother on the other side of the family. They came from an area of so-called skogfinner, an ethnic group immigrated from Finland to Norway between 1575 - 1660. By the beginning of the 18th century, they were largely assimilated into the general Norwegian society, but a significant part of the skogfinne population stayed (and still do) in the deep forests along the Swedish border. They were poor and specialized in metalworks and forestry. Besides from my short legs, this clock is all I have from my great grandmother. She used to hide her sinful but profitable playing cards behind the picture of the angels whenever the priest came by.

Her son, my grandfather, moved from the deep forests to the city and became a dentist. He opened a dental practice in Grønland, which at the time was the slum of the city. I used to love hanging out in his clinic because the windows opened on the square where the circuses would put up their tents and camps, and elephants, zebras, sea lions, acrobats and clowns would wander around.

This area of Oslo accommodated a large part of the first wave of Asian immigrants to Norway in the 60s and 70s. Systematically exploited and terribly discriminated against, these often highly qualified people struggled to make ends meet. My grandfather would see them in his clinic and was shocked and worried to learn they could not afford to pay for dental care (this was before the general introduction of fluoride toothpaste and caries was a huge health problem). He started to secretly save up the gold dust from the work on wealthier patients in order to be able to sometimes offer a gold filling to the poorer ones. This Robin Hood-like strategy sounds nice, but it was, of course, absolutely illegal. If caught he would have had to go to jail. He therefore lived in terror of financial controls, and every year he was paralyzed by anxiety while doing his tax returns. From him I have inherited a dentist stool, my eyebrows and a visceral disgust for accounting.

So this is time. Time is a measure unit for life, things travel through it anchoring us to the world and to each other. But in talking about life you can’t avoid casting the shadow of death. If you inherit something, it means it is no longer of use to someone else. So you hold it in your hand, or you let it slip. Oops! It joined the cups. My daughter will only have seven bowls. The dinner party just got smaller.

Where I come from women didn’t get decisional authority over their own income before 1888, didn’t get the right to vote before 1913, and didn’t have property rights to family farms until 1974.

Owning objects doesn’t make me a subject. Owning MYSELF makes me a subject.

Can I really say ‘I’? History doesn’t remember the blood. It only remembers names.

I salute you, Medea.

I salute you, Lady Macbeth.

I salute you, Nora.

I salute you, Britney.


This silver coin is a tetradrachm, meaning it was worth four drachmas, and was minted in the city-state of Athens sometime around 450 BC (Euripides premiered Medea in 431 BC, so this may actually have passed through his hand). On the principal side is the head of Athena, goddess of wisdom and warfare and patron of Athens. The reverse of the coin shows an owl and a sprig of olive, both associated with Athena. The silver for the coin came from mines not far from the city of Athens. The vast number of tetradrachms available from these silver mines financed the several achievements of Athens, such as the reconstruction of the Acropolis and building the Parthenon, as well as its participation in the Peloponnesian War.

The tetradrachm was a high value coin representing, in the mid-fifth century BC, four days’ pay for a skilled labourer, or two days’ pay for a sculptor working on a public building. This coin might have bought 12 litres of olive oil or 37 litres of local wine. A cow would cost somewhere between 25 and 51 drachmas while a slave child from Caria cost 75 drachmas, a woman from Thrace cost 135 and a man from Syria cost 301.

The coins were made of pure silver so they were not just a currency with symbolic value, but also bullion and a means of exporting the metal itself. It is similar to the coins we still use today, but it is also fundamentally different. This coin is both concrete, material value in terms of the weight of the silver, and symbolic representation of value to be used as stand in for other goods during trade. I bought this coin on e-bay, and it is considered damaged and almost worthless because as you can see, someone somewhere during the almost 2500 years of its existence has mistrusted it. A deep cut has been made straight through the owl in order to check whether it is silver all the way through. There is a before and there is an after this event: the cut pins this coin to the very separation of concrete and abstract value.


Magician and silversmith P. T. Selbit first presented his newly invented trick to saw a woman in two in London on the 17. of January 1921. A scantily clad female assistant was placed in a coffin and tied around the wrists, neck and ankles before the lid was put on and Selbit proceeded to saw the coffin across the middle with the woman inside. Of course, it took a long time. A shocked audience gasped in surprise when the coffin was finally opened and the assistant, still bound around the neck, wrists and ankles, was found to be unharmed.


The trick became a huge success. Selbit became a rich man. With this trick, he introduced the figure of beautiful, young, female, assistant subjected to torture and mutilation into the tradition of illusion and stage magic, thus almost accidentally stumbling upon a gold mine. The appetite for this figure was enormous, insatiable. And Selbit knew how to make the most of the opportunity: Black-faced, wearing an Egyptian costume and with the stage name Joad Heteb, he also performed the tricks 'Crushing a lady', 'Stretching a lady' and 'Spikes penetration'.

Porous bodies. The image of a scantily clad, defenseless woman completely subjected to male power and control was an irresistible, sexy and cheeky response to the suffragettes', insistent, irritating work for women's suffrage and authority over their own bodies and their own lives happening at the same time. Selbit was no stupid man, he understood this connection. He offered a penniless, unemployed Christabel Pankhurst, daughter of the leading suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst and one of the movement's foremost strategists, £20 a week to act as an assistant in his show. Christabel Pankhurst politely declined.

This is Frances White's wedding photo. Before she married, Frances White worked as an assistant to her magician father Francis White. One of the tricks they performed was the 'Selbit’s saw a lady in two' trick. The original caption for this photograph is: “Mr. White saws his daughter in half - for the last time - after her wedding this morning. The bridegroom looks on...”

Janie's got a gun
Janie's got a gun
Her whole world's come undone
From lookin' straight at the sun

What did her daddy do?
What did he put you through?


I think of the stream of dead women in our stories, in our books, on our screens, in our newspapers. Every single day, every single hour, every single minute. The role of dead woman is technically demanding, but rarely acknowledged in the credits. It requires much more than just holding your breath and lying still. You must have full control over each and every muscle, while remaining absolutely passive. You have to be able to be lifted and turned, pulled and dragged, opened and closed, to be a totally, limitlessly accepting object. An average, trained film actor can manage about 15 seconds of this. A few extra gifted ones, such as Jodie Foster, allegedly can manage up to 30.

You have to empty the lungs completely of air.

In a famous speech from 1913, suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst said: We are showing them that government does not rest upon force at all: it rests upon consent. (…) Not by the forces of civil war can you govern the very weakest woman. You can kill that woman, but she escapes you then; you cannot govern her. No power on earth can govern a human being, however feeble, who withholds his or her consent.

And I ask you: Is this really true?