Images show the various works on display by four Norwegian artists. Created on site, the works provide commentary on contemporary environmental issues. (JG Photos/Tunggul Wirajuda)

Norwegian Female Artists Cross Borders With Artworks That Provoke Questions

FEBRUARY 17, 2015


The chalk drawings by Norwegian artist Ingeborg Anne Lindahl fill the walls of the Salihara gallery, striking viewers with their stark lines and vast size. Titled “Untitled Future: In the Shadow of Nature,” images of a volcano spewing lava are as much of an allusion to the mountains and geysers of Norway as they are to Indonesia’s volcanoes.

“[Lindahl] was drawn to impermanence and thoughts of expulsion,” says curator Kjell-Erik Ruud.

“Her drawings on old schoolboards with chalk are not only aesthetic, but also comment on contemporary society. She is inspired by how man wants to bind the forces of nature and counteract its ways in terms of our biology, natural disasters and depleted natural resources. It seems like a contradiction between the instinctive and reflective [nature] of our species.”

Ruud’s interpretation is clearly reflected in Lindahl’s works. The chalkboard aptly illustrates environmental pollution from excessive industry, while also conveying nature’s impermanence. In a further homage to impermanence, Lindahl infamously protested the lack of fees for artists by wiping clean one of her chalk drawings.

“Untitled Future: In the Shadow of Nature” is one of many works in “The Other Side,” an exhibition that showcases four Norwegian female artists: Lindahl, Mona Nordaas, Gitte Saetre and Anne Knutsen. Held at the Salihara cultural center in Jakarta, the event underscores Norway’s avant-garde art scene, which until recently has been relatively unknown in Indonesia.

“The artists in [‘The Other Side’] are concerned about the environment and want to raise questions about the society we live in,” Ruud says.

“The challenge is to put together an exhibition that accommodates political questions, but also reveals the differences between the artists and gives a glimpse into what’s happening on the Norwegian art scene. We will create art on the spot instead of carrying huge crates from one part of the world to another, which might not be seen as politically correct in the art world,” he adds.

“Nonetheless, I wanted to highlight women artists, specifically a group of artists who would create a common space despite their differences.”

Nordaas perhaps epitomizes Ruud’s vision with her work “Phyllotaxis.”

The installation artwork sprawls across the floor of the Salihara gallery, with its Lego-like tiny details and patterns intriguing visitors.

“ ‘Phyllotaxis’ takes on nature’s logic and its geometric-like natural symmetry. Unfortunately we often miss out on this, as humans tend to impose their will on nature, prompting them to alter and destroy it,” Nordaas laments. “The fallout of this, like consumerism and capitalism, along with environmental issues like global warming and rising water levels, concerns me, because I’m concerned about what sort of world we are going to leave to our children.” 

Most notably, “Phyllotaxis” takes on consumerism by challenging viewers to see trash’s artistic potential. 

“It features various items like used toys, waste, buttons, CDs and plastic items. Nordaas then symmetrically arranges them around a point or axis. By putting together ordinary things into something beautiful, she sets out to give viewers the opportunity to see things in a new light,” Ruud notes.

Images show the various works on display by four Norwegian artists. Created on site, the works provide  commentary on contemporary environmental issues. (JG Photos/Tunggul Wirajuda)

The work is an environmentalists’ dream urban community, with its patterns alluding to Jakarta and other metropolises, all having a center that spreads out to the peripheries. The improvisation behind “Phyllotaxis” as just remarkable as the end result.

“Some of the items I used to make ‘Phyllotaxis’ were scrounged at the Bantar Gebang land fill, while others were knickknacks donated by students of the Erodio art school in South Jakarta, where I have been teaching master classes,” Nordaas says.

Fellow artist Saetre’s series of video performances titled “Woman Cleaning Performances” is just as profound, albeit somewhat low key.

 “In [‘The Woman Cleaning Performances’], the identity of Norway is personified by anger and shame. Here, Norway is personified as a contemporary hausfrau [housewife],” Ruud says of the 12 works, symbolizing the political acts that define Norway’s place in world affairs.

In “Woman Cleaning Final Destination,” made in Indonesia earlier this year, Saetre explores environmental damage, as well as indicting consumerism and dependence on plastics. “In Woman Cleaning Tanks,” Saetre alludes to the 1993 Oslo Accords that facilitated peace talks between Israel and Palestine. Saetre’s gesture of cleaning up the tank then criticizes what she terms the “obvious male aggression inherent” in the Mideast conflict. Her 2014 work “Woman Cleaning National Identity” shows her willingness to provoke thought not only within Norway but also elsewhere.

Protesting her country’s failure to greet the Dalai Lama during his visit there, the video art depicts Saetre cleaning the sidewalk before parliament with a Norwegian flag. Made in anger and shame, the gesture earned her threats on social media as well as a barring from an art exhibition.