Blog by the artist Sanne Kabalt

but I do not mean nature | leveld kunstnartun #3

This is #3 of a series of blogs written from Leveld Kunstnartun, a residency in Norway where I am working during the month of August '18 on a collaboration with Laura ten Zeldam


There is a small, geometrical cut-out of a stone painted with ink and pencil. There is a photograph of a rock in the river covered with a piece of glass cut in the exact size and shape of the previous work. Then, there is the sheet of paper used to cut that previous work, under a plate of glass upon which we find the actual stone, filling but not fully fitting the place its shape was cut out of. 


We were very lucky in our stay. Leveld Kunstnartun organises a festival on its grounds once every two years, by the name Stabbursfrieri, and this special occasion coincided with our last weekend here. This gave us the chance to meet (after all the solitude!) a lot of lovely Norwegians from near and far, some of whom have stayed at the residency before us. And then to see some of their art, to hear spellbinding folk music in our backyard, and to exhibit a selection of the work we made here.  

At times, I feel as if I have never been elsewhere, as if this peaceful, Norwegian life is my own, without end. Working quietly yet collaboratively, and more interdisciplinary than I have ever done, is beautiful. In my own working process I notice traces of my years at the DAI, that taught me so many things, for example, to read and reread, to think and rethink, to take my writing seriously. Laura's presence and the call of the surrounding nature wake up the maker in me, encouraging me to put down the books and go out to see, to photograph, to fail and to try again. 

From the spacious atelier we inhabited these past weeks, we moved to a small wooden house, which was to be our very own exhibition venue. Selecting, discarding, clearing. It proved to be a blessing. Sometimes it is only when you exhibit something that you realise what you've actually been doing, and I reckon we are still in the process of realisation. The project is unfinished, but I am very thankful to be able to show some of it and witness what it does in a space, what it does for me, what it does for a stranger. 

This short looping video, for example, was created by playing with printed photographs. I placed them back close to where they were originally taken and blended the print with the place. Few people realised that there is a photo sinking in the water (I guess it's not something you expect, right?) which set me thinking whether they might notice this if there are more of these subtle appearances of photographs-as-objects in the work, or if the video should simply be shown on a bigger screen, or if it is perhaps even ok that they see something moving uncannily underwater without realising what it is. 


Alongside this temporary exhibition, we've made an in situ work that stays here permanently. When you stand next to the house in which we exhibit, you see a range of mountains, including the Haugsnatten, a peak we climbed in our first week here. In this renovated wooden house we exhibit in, the architect built a new little house inside the old one, and between the two is a large indoor window. On this window we replicated the mountain range, by projecting a photograph of it and following its line with a matte etching paste. The curving line of the mountains outside is brought inside. The line is subtle and the visibility depends on the light and angle. This idea came about while we were installing in the space, very last-minute. We noticed the large glass window, we had used a line out of etching paste in one of our other works and then there was the view; all things fitted together. Thankfully, the lovely people who run Leveld Kunstnartun were almost as excited as we were and also the architect approved. This is a true fruit of our collaboration; a glass work, very much Laura's practice and technique, though it used photography to come about, and the concept of it was born from both our minds.   


And so, in a sense, things come alive in a continuous, if staggered, series of transformations, as happens of course with work, and with the coordination of hand, soul and eye, as Walter Benjamin wrote. I know my hand, soul and eye will head home full of light, full of productive doubt and indeterminacy, full of a sense of belonging to a place.

During one of our meals Laura and I were debating what our work is about for each of us. We were answering questions with more questions. What if the process of making a work of art becomes the work of art? How to work with nature without claiming it? Can an artist make a work that is not merely a depiction of nature but nature in itself? Regardless of all our thoughts on methodology, what to describe as the subject matter, if there is any to be clearly defined? To this, Laura said: 

nature but I do not mean nature as in; trees/stones/rivers – 
rather the fading between trees/stones/rivers, object and body.

And it is this odd phrase that we chose to use as a title, at least for now. In Norwegian it goes:

natur men jeg mener ikke naturen som i; trær/steiner/elver – 
heller blandingen mellom trær/steiner/elver, gjenstand og kropp.

The doubtfulness and searching tone in the phrase is important. I recall Isabelle Stengers' words; I propose that the experience of writing (not writing down) is marked by the same kind of crucial indeterminacy as the dancing moon. Also, I think of Teju Cole, whose book of essays 'Known and Strange Things' has been a true companion to me here. Somewhere in it, he writes of photographs that are full of a productive doubt. Yes! Let's doubt, waver, err. Let's not know. 

I would like to end with sharing some words I have been writing here, which were in the exhibition as well.
These words are mine as much as they belong to this place and these days.
A place can make a poet out of you, I'm sure.

Tusen takk, Leveld, Norge!

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Sanne Kabalt