June 18, 2013

Interview with Lina Viste Grønli

Interview with Lina Viste Grønli

Thinging III, courtesy the artist and Christian Andersen.


Lina Viste Grønli will have her first major solo presentation at Kunsthall Stavanger November 10th - December 15th, 2013. Here she speaks with curator Hanne Mugaas about the exhibition, sculpture as media, Stavanger and... peanuts!

Hi Lina! Where are you now, and what are you working on?

In Berlin, where I rent a house with my boyfriend who is a composer. In late June, we will drive to Nogent Sur Marne outside Paris where I will work on an exhibition opening there in September. Right now I'm working simultaneously on solo exhibitions at Maison d'Art Bernard Anthonioz and Kunsthall Stavanger, as well as a large permanent sculpture for New York City Parks Department.

Fra Lina's studio i Zehlendorf, Berlin, 2013.

What can you tell us about the exhibition you are planning at Kunsthall Stavanger, called Tinging (‘Thinging’)?

The exhibition is part 2 of a larger project. The first part takes place at the Maison d'Art Bernard Anthonioz in Nogent Sur Marne in September 2013. Both exhibitions are dealing with the concept of thinging, a rather idiosyncratic inflection of the noun ‘thing’ that I have borrowed from Martin Heidegger. My somewhat personal interpretation is that ‘thinging’ happens when things attract other things. A term which retrospectively describes my work well, because it often features things or objects that are placed on or near one another in a kind of hierarchical assemblage and thus create something new. This action is of particular interest to me as it produces endless connotations and ideas for new work. The term functions well as an umbrella for an exhibition that includes old and new work.

Fruits, Flowers and Clouds, MAK, Wien, 2011. Courtesy the artist and Gaudel De Stampa.

Squaring the Circle, 2009. Courtesy the artist and Gaudel de Stampa.

A good example of thinging can be seen in your sculptures where children's stickers are plastered all over Brancusi-like shapes. How did these sculptures come about, and are they intended to be an invasion and takeover of the rules/frames of modernism? The first time I saw them, I got an uncanny feeling that someone had thoroughly broken the rules.

It sometimes feels like there’s a constant hierarchical collaging going on in my head. Words, shapes and materials come together suddenly after having been chewed on separately for a long while. After which I experience this eureka! moment, which is what happened when these salon-like sculptures in copper and brass on marble plinths got peppered with stickers and magnets.

There were many paths leading up to this, the most striking of which was the idea of ‘thinging’. The sculptures might also be interpreted as a comment on populist vs. elitist art. But they're certainly not meant as criticism, as I am interested in both high and low culture. For example, I’ll always love to come across a Hepworth or Calder sculpture, but if this sculpture also is adorned with a sticker (or tag for that matter), my heart skips a beat. To me, this is not vandalism, more a result of ‘the tooth of time’, as we say in Norway. The Thinging-sculptures evoke a child left alone to add her ‘thing’ (sticker) to the ‘thing’ (sculpture), thus making the object her own. So there is clearly a reflection on ideas around ownership and possession at play. Maybe it is the sincerity and unabashedness of the action that fascinates me.

Skulpturene Thinging og The Thing Things, fra Gaudel de Stampa’s stand under kunstmessen Fiac, Paris 2012. Courtesy the artist and Gaudel de Stampa.

The exhibition at Kunsthall Stavanger will include both old and new work. Many of the works make use of semiotics and semantics, such as the sculpture H (As In: How Dare You Concern Yourself With Art When There's Obviously A Million Better, More Interesting Things To Do?), the public sculpture Yoko Ono, and several sculptures which are basically books that you have found in antique shops. You often start with books’ titles. Can you say something about this topic?

Yes, ideas around semantics, semiotics and conceptual understanding bring these works together. Otherwise they are really quite different. My relationship with books is on one level very personal. For as long as I can remember, I have been particularly interested in and have collected book titles and covers. There is so much meaning in such a small object! Combinations of books’ titles are probably my earliest appropriative works. I could stare for hours at a stack of books on my desk, restack them, and then stare some more. My first "bookshelf" works, [Untitled (Container) and Untitled (Two Paths)] were based on my own book collection/stack, subsequently spending days, maybe even weeks on end in thrift stores searching for that title that meaning that would make the collection/sculpture complete.

The Idiot, the Stud & The Brothers Karamazov, 2009. Courtesy the artist and Gaudel de Stampa.

The sculpture H (As In: How Dare You Concern Yourself With Art When There's Obviously A Million Better, More Interesting Things To Do?) was for a time a recurring theme for me, and the sculpture exists in four different versions, ranging from a 20 cm tall sculpture in teak to a several hundred kilo granite sculpture. I always had the feeling that people never quite understood what I wanted to say with this sculpture. Actually, it is a good example of what might happen to a piece once it is presented to a public. I'm sure that most people working in the arts have said this sentence more or less aloud to themselves at one time or other, and in this sculpture it is me talking to myself. It also contains something I have long been interested in, namely giving content to form. And I think it's quite a funny piece, a bit like New Yorker cartoon meets Lettrism. I’m still dreaming about a 6 meter tall version outside Oslo Central Station. I like the idea of art being this constant quivering presence, whether it's in a public square or on your desk.

H (As in: How Dare You Concern Yourself with Art When There’s Obviously a Million Better, More Interesting Things to Do?) 2005 - 2009. Courtesy the artist and Gaudel de Stampa.

The Yoko Ono sculpture shares some of these ideas. I find it difficult to point to one thing in this particular work. So much happened between conception to finished piece, and it was actually created specifically with 'art in the public sphere' in mind. I thought it was quite moving to see Yoko Ono stand there large and very present (bricks giving associations to something lasting and durable) in a town (Skien, Norway) that is mostly all about Henrik Ibsen. The sculpture was prominently placed, blocking a major portion of the view of the harbor. You could say I appropriated her into representing the role of art in public space. It has been my experience, and something I have followed with great interest, that the immediate local populace more often than not isn’t particularly interested in having art on their door step. Especially art they didn’t chose themselves, and even less so when they find out the cost. I have a theory, which I hope to test someday, which is that if you just give the locals 10 years with the hated sculpture they will begin to love and protect it. Maybe I’m naive (and it might take a little more than 10 years), but there is something about these sculptures that, after they have been tagged, urinated on, and generally despised for years, when the municipality finally gives in to pressure and tries to remove them, the locals come out to defend them. I hoped for the longest time that this would happen to Yoko Ono in Skien. I longed to see her covered in moss and seagull droppings, and find out what role she might play for the city over time. Maybe Skien would also eventually become Yoko Ono's city!?

Yoko Ono, Skien, 2007. Courtesy the artist, Gaudel de Stampa, and Christian Andersen.

Sculpture is your medium of choice. For your show at Rogaland Art Centre in 2006 you bricked up giant letters that eventually produced the sculpture ARBEIDERPARTIET [The Labour Party], and you were selected in 2012 to produce a large sculpture that will be placed permanently outside the United Nations building in New York. But you also produce tiny sculptures the size of a postcard. What interests you specifically about sculpture, and could you say something about "the play of scale"?

There was a time when I worked almost exclusively with a kind of ’human scale', something between 1.5 and 2 meters. But I think these choices often also come down to convenience; the size of the studio or your suitcase or where the work will end up --the aforementioned public square or work desk! It's amazing how much has also come about as a result of economic considerations over the years. But in essence I have always felt equal parts engaged with formal and site-specific issues as with conceptual concerns, so decisions regarding size and material never feel arbitrary. My choice of scale has also changed in tandem with my art-political convictions, for example public versus personal. I still find myself alternating between these attitudes. Perhaps I was more militant in my younger days, and keen to push art on people. Now I think that that might not be such a good idea. But I'm not sure. You have a responsibility as an artist in Norway, especially when you expect the state to give you artist’s grants, and personally, I think art is incredibly important to share and discuss in a society. But sometimes you just want to give up and play with your friends, those who understand and appreciate what you do! I think it's okay to think that way sometimes. One has to make sure art doesn’t simply become a tool for mediation. These are broad questions that I have had to deal with a lot lately due to the UN sculpture. It's supposed to stand there forever! The sculpture measures 6 meters in diameter and it makes me rather anxious to think about that.

Back to your question: conceptual concerns, choices around materials and the receiver are equally important and come together into a finished product, involving both conscious and unconscious choices. By the way, I don't think intuitive choices exist. Knowledge about materials, proportions and perception underlies every choice, whether formal or conceptual.

Arbeiderpartiet, 2005, Rogaland Kunstsenter.Courtesy the artist, Gaudel de Stampa, and Christian Andersen.

You are planning a 2.5 meter high peanut-sculpture for Kunsthall Stavanger, which will stand outside the building in close proximity to Barbara Hepworth's sculpture Figure for Landscape. We both have great respect and admiration for Hepworth. Where does the peanut come into the picture?

There might be something subconscious here that I have not managed to excavate yet, but the idea of the peanut came as I was whittling some ear sculptures for the art fair Independent in New York. At the time, I was being drawn back to Hepworth’s work and was researching and reading about her sculptures. For both the work on the UN sculpture in New York and for Kunsthall Stavanger, I was moving in (physical) close relationship to Hepworth’s sculptures: Figure for Landscape outside Kunsthall Stavanger and her sculpture Single Form outside the UN headquarters in New York. Peanuts for Barbara is an homage to Hepworth and her integrity in terms of natural forms, and at the same time a humble and slightly self-critical comment on this tribute (the word 'peanuts' in this case referring both to the legume and to 'trifles').

Peanuts for Barbara, skisse, 2013.

Lately I’ve begun to think of you as a sculptor, in that you have begun to carve sculptures in addition to appropriate and piece objects together. Can you tell us about the ears?

I know! The ears, although I already sent them out into the world, are still buried somewhere deep in the intuitive landscape for me, and I did not yet succeed in the excavation. I’m starting to think that maybe I should just leave them there and call them Intuitive Sculptures. But I must say, I've rarely had more fun in the studio than when I made them. Just get up in the morning, go down to the studio to whittle wooden blocks while I listened to the complete archive of Desert Island Discs on BBC. This is life, I said to myself.

Janus Ear, 2013, Big Ear, 2013. Courtesy the artist and Christian Andersen.

You grew up in Stavanger - what do you remember best, and what was inspirational to you within the culture and environment?

I grew up in several places in Stavanger, but mainly Storhaug with my sisters Silje and Maja, and mother Gro. I am still very fond of Stavanger, even though I moved away when I was 19 years old, and love to visit the city (my mother now lives in Hana). Nature here is almost shockingly beautiful. What I remember most are the Emmaus gulf, the beaches of Jæren, the Ullandhaug forest, the Iron Age Farm, and the small local museums, like the Canning Museum and the Maritime Museum. Stavanger Museum was and still is a peculiar introduction to the history of style with its very idiosyncratic display cases. Rogaland Theatre where my dad worked as an actor is also firmly placed in my memory and was babysitter for me and sister Silje for many years. We sat in on everything from auditions to the opening night party!

How do you see coming "home" to Stavanger and exhibiting in the new Kunsthall Stavanger after so many years abroad?

You want your mom to be proud and aunts and uncles to like what you do. A dilemma when ‘what you do’ is to put a coconut on a book! Of course, and most of all, I am looking very much forward to the show, and I could not have chosen a better location to come "home" to. It is amazing that the old Art Society gets a fresh start as Kunsthall Stavanger!

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