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Art in the cycle

Algae and potatoes become natural partners at an exhibition in the industrial city of Skien.


My father worked at the paper factory in Skien, the town where I lived until I was six years old. I don't remember it smelling that bad, after all we lived with the smell every single day. But people who came to visit Skien often said that it smelled of farts, something the town had in common with Moss. You remember the smell of moss? My father often came home with large rolls of paper that we dragged across the floor and frantically drew on. Thin and nasty drawing paper, but we never ran out. You get the picture. Already at that time, creativity was called forth from the paper mill. Not to mention all the books that were printed. Now the paper factory has closed down – but the area where Union Papirfabrikk was located, huser now including Teater Ibsen. In the old wood spirit factory right nearby there is an art gallery. Closer to the center is the magnificent building where Norges Bank used to be located, as it is now huser Telemark Artists Centre. I've never been a fan of industrial society – when art and artists take over building masses, it's almost just fine. Only they don't call it business development. Art is not commercial development in disguise and never will be, so it is said. Please.

I'm back in town to see the exhibition "Algae and Potatoes". I think it's exciting. I think it's important. My God, algae and potatoes. It is very important. The superfood spirulina and the rare potato type of meat potato. I'm looking forward to this. Research and art. Climate, future, new opportunities in all the gloom.

But then.

I'm looking forward to this. Research and art. Climate, future, new opportunities in all the gloom.

The stony in man. On the way to Skien I visit Porsgrunn, where I moved after the first six years of childhood. Here it was much more intense industry than in Skien. Ammonia, aluminum, PVC and the gods know what. Industry, gas and yellow smoke as far as the eye could see. Frierfjord was one of the world's most polluted fjords. Still, you can't eat the fish. Uncleaned dioxins, chlorine compounds, PCBs, and mercury straight into the ocean. No, I don't have much left over for the industrial community. I visit Kunsthall Grenland to see another piece of the art festival "Greenlightdistrict" which "Algae and potatoes" are also part of.

Maybe I shouldn't have done that. For the staged photographs of Karoline Hjort and Riitta the icon that I have only admired online before, is just as strong as I thought. No, they are stronger. Deeper. Warmer, more basic. The human head in «Eyes as Big as Plates Niels ", is disturbingly mythological. This head appears between the black and gray stones, white-speckled by moss. Has it not always been there? Is it Odin with one eye? Is it the stony in man or the human in the stone I see? I don't know what it is, but the photos land, anchor, ground me and I just love these two women who travel around and put shells, moss, sticks, straw and leaves on (often older) people. The tranquility, the almost obvious in the staged composition; the looks, the bodies, the naturalness of the posture. This is where you belong, this is where you come from, this is where we are going. It is here we must if we are to survive the time we are in. We are nature.

Field map and reference library. It is with this bodily sensation that I arrive at Skien, the potatoes and the algae – and it was very thought out. I walk the path and the first thing that comes to my mind is an unspeakable field. A small square of soil in the green grass introduces me to Åsa Sonjasdotter with the work "Making a Living". It is not spectacular, but neither does the potato as much of it. The small square with black soil fits well with Sonjasdotter's many years of work with the potato. As she writes in the catalog: "A potato mist in the backyard can either mean that one year's survival is assured or one has meaningful and relaxed leisure time." True, the potato has now survived through history for many generations.

Art is not business development in disguise and will never be.

I stand behind the white brick building where the gold bars used to rest behind thick walls. I look at the earth and think about how valuable it is. That the earth is the new gold. Or no, that it has always been the real gold. That the oil was never any black gold, it was, as Juan Pablo Perez Alfonzo called it, "the Devil's Excrement" – and that it is the soil we must fence for. The land we must invest in, put our shares in.

I'm going in. The reference library "Sympoiesis" named after philosophy Donna Haraway's understanding of the word – "do together" – is the first thing I come across. A mini library of books like Biological-dynamic agriculture by Grepperud and Mohr, Inger Elisabeth Hansens To recycle the longing. Runoff takes place as well as a book on field botany. Murakami and Dag Hessen are also represented. The latest book to Haraway, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene, is a stated common reference among several of the artists and curators involved in the project and perhaps one of the books most talked about in the art field at present.

On the second floor is the main exhibition "It Was Tomorrow and It Is Yesterday", an interactive installation by Alison Hiltner, the first I meet. I have read beforehand that I will be involved in a science-fiction-like scenario. I don't quite know if that's how I can describe it, I just know I have to get out of that room as soon as possible, because the sound is infernal. I can only see some plastic bags with a green content that I think are the algae; I see some wires attached to some appliances and it seems that it is from these appliances the sounds are coming.

Is it the stony in man or the human in the stone I see?

It's like being in a terrorist chamber. I feel a certain responsibility for being a good visitor anyway and with my hands on my ears I blow a sensor that is explained in the program: “Through carbon dioxide from the breath that is converted into data, the algae will release more oxygen into the air. The sensor will also collect CO2 level data, creating a baseline for the air in the pumps so that the algae bag will 'inhale' and 'breathe' when the audience does not control the bags with breath directly. ” This breathing I do is the interactive bit that makes me intimately connected to the algae. In theory, maybe; but I don't feel any intimacy. When I eat spirulina at home, I feel more connected to them and less alienated than in this dystopian space. The project is interesting, it is not, but there are so many thoughts, so many threads and lines to follow that my body relaxes.

Newspaper Art. I pop out and into a tiny room with lots of newspaper-like pages on the walls.

This is Åsa Sonjasdotter's story "From meat to meat". The relief is great when I see it actually er a newspaper. I don't have to squint on the wall, there's a stack in a corner. I pick with me a copy and sit out in the sun to read. Newspaper artwork is fun. The story is simple, but the issues are complex. The combination of war and artificial fertilizers, lightning and roots, of large, black and white images and short textual elements work well. Capital letters, open spaces. I put the newspaper down on the green grass. The story is a mix of the artist's own journey into the world of the meat pot, short reflections and history fragments from the history of fertilizers. The crux is to stop seeing our large population solely as a problem.

We are nature.

We can look at human feces as a resource that can be used to feed ourselves. I'm a little skeptical, but it's mostly because human feces today are so full of chemicals that having to use it as fertilizer offers me immediate acceptance. Persistent pesticides, hormones, chemicals. Think of the feces from a hospital or nursing home? Should residues from this feed the food? Pesticide residues are so persistent that they can remain for years – yes, even become more toxic over time. But aside from the worst drugs and pesticides and all the other crap that comes in our stools, I'm sure that's where the shit belongs: in the cycle. It should turn into soil. Both the potato and the algae deserve all the attention they can get, and the honor is the Greenlightdistrict festival that gives us these exhibits. But does everything have to be so thought out? So intellectual? Where's the dirt under your nails? It's so clean on the premises. I bring a dung grip and come back in September and harvest meat potatoes. And the Sonjasdotter newspaper? After finishing reading, I will put it in my permaculture bed. Back to Earth.

The exhibition "It Was Tomorrow and It Is Yesterday" by Alison Hiltner is on June 13, and "From Meat to Meat / Making a Living" by Åsa Sonjasdotter is for September, both at Telemark Art Center. "Eyes As Big As Plates" by Deer / Icon at Grenland Art
hall stands until June 25.

Nina Ossavy
Nina Ossavy
Ossavy is a stage artist and writer.

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