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The art from the other side

Is it possible to build a new and completely different society than what lacks empathy? Last year we lost a unique voice in the Norwegian art landscape, which spoke to us from an alternate reality.


"Be chaste and pure," the Aztec culture seems to announce from its grave, and "also be virgin." Such words do not sound good among the people of progress today. If the words nevertheless resonate with someone – to the extent that you see the necessity of a turnaround for themselves and others – then a possible urge to opt out. Simply punch holes in this world and crawl out of it, find another life sentence; see that the grass is much greener on the other side, and move there before our own grass disappears.
One must take the liberty, which it is so politely called, to break through to the other side – with the abandonments and grief that follow in the wake of such a move. Beyond that, the other waits, the one who lets me know that it is not me who decides, but that someone, or something, calculates my steps on Earth. There, on the other hand, is also the art – which has never tolerated human interference. Whoever prioritises himself should be exalted, it is said in the Gospel of Thomas. Therefore, the appeal must read: Sign out; We've heard it before, and important things can never be said too often. (Isidore Ducasse: "You say important things when you try not to say anything unusual"). Youth as Seniors: Sign out. Enough is enough. "Be chaste and clean and virgin" – that's the way. Thus, a kind of regressive way of exploring reality, and therefore inaccessible in the thought system of the modern world citizen. Directing the steps backward to move forward requires an open attitude to things.
About a year ago in the spring, an original and recluse died in a self-erected plank building at the bottom of Munkerudveien on Nordstrand. For about 50 years the man had been a well-known and partly infamous figure on Nordstrand – all the scares of children growing up – but who, instead of hurting a cat, almost raised this animal as he was the great comforter and redeemer. It's really him this is – because he signed out. His opposition to the social machinery led, among other things, to a change of name where he went from being called Ole-Bjørn Magnussen to Torbjørn Hangårsta. Our acquaintance started with him getting a kitten from us after reading our ad tag on a telephone pole in Sæterkryset.

Art has never withstood human interference.

Uncompromising. Ole-Bjørn changed his name in protest against the conformist reality we live in ("he goes stubborn"). Compromise was not part of his vocabulary. Steil, he opposed a majority of dogmatists in the health and social services, and the judiciary. The freedom he sought contained a redress – an apology from those who had hurt his loved ones. He never got it. The power apparatus seldom admits mistakes. The story is that his mother in 1943, during a long-awaited holiday stay with her two minor children in Sørlandet, walked on a mine and had her leg torn off. When asked if the area was safe to move in, she had received a positive response from a German officer. The children were waiting in the hotel room nearby – the Germans had made this available in exchange for the mother sewing uniforms. Later, Ole-Bjørn would spend many years asking for compensation from both the German state and the Norwegian authorities. The case went all the way to the European Court of Human Rights in The Hague.
Unlike most who resign and accept the situation, Ole-Bjørn built up a rare and original alternative to a community he felt lacked empathy. Based on his own home, erected by scraped building materials at the bottom of Munkerudveien on Nordstrand, just 100 meters from his childhood home, he made a different reality. Here, principles other than the rules of the remaining society applied. A different rhythm was created. Changing work, imprisonment and vacancy were replaced with a specialization in artistic activities. Canvases were excited, and notebooks filled with novel drafts and poems. The house soon had to be expanded; small and large extensions were erected, which were to house studios and storage for the arts. Without any form of education he went to work. The content of the works was nothing to do with it, a life in the margins of human existence formulated opinions worth highlighting, images that could extend awareness of human diversity. Much of what Ole-Bjørn has written and painted also tells of inherent loneliness. The art became a friend and comforter – beside the cat who always surrounded him.

Ole-Bjørn built a rare and original alternative to a society that lacked empathy.

Artist's position. What is an artist, how far does the definition go? What we probably demand from the artist, in addition to the craftsmanship, is that he expresses a truth in a social reality that requires lying if one is to go any way. This is how you understand that the artist's conditions in society face a tough test. Ole-Bjorn's distancing from the safe comfort zone most seek, enabled him to see life more clearly. Nothing could be used to explain the wound after the shock he experienced at a young age. It is from here that he signals to us; through their images and texts, with their urge not to accept society's lack of interest in human pain. He does not speak to us through brilliant craftsmanship, but on the basis of a wisdom that means that what is expressed on paper and canvas must be taken seriously. It is obvious to compare him with the painter Bendik Riis (1911–1988), whose significance is valued more and more today. Unlike Ole-Bjørn, Riis had an art education, but their fates and creative activities have many similar features: Through pictures and texts they seek to convey aspects of human life that a dogmatic self-centered social machinery does not sympathize with. They both experience being outsiders in their time, with associated social consequences.
Great art has always had contact with the alchemy. Simple metal has turned into gold. Here can be mentioned many fates that today stand strong in the history of art. So far, Ole-Bjorn is not coming; until there are too few works and too little documentation. Still, he is related to these. The house of dilapidated building materials at Nordstrand's lowest level was perhaps in reality a castle – a piece of poetry.
On one occasion I bought a painting of him when I came down to where he lived. He mentioned the price, 1000 kroner. I assumed it would be around something like that, and had the money ready. He stood silently for a long time, looking at the banknote in his hand, before turning abruptly and entering another room. When he returned, we shared a simple roll cake, and sales were not mentioned in a word. Today the picture hangs in my theater. It shows two figures communicating, seated on each priest's collar. Behind them we see mountains and valleys, from the colorite it is clearly a clear summer day. Probably it is the family farm of Ole-Bjørn's mother in Valdres who is shamed.

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Lars Øyno
Theater director and writer. See also Theater of Cruelty or Wikipedia

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