Theater of Cruelty

Our own basis of life

Nina Ossavy
Nina Ossavy
Ossavy is a stage artist and writer.
PICTURE ART / Is art that takes a value position marginalized? The artist duo Book and Hedén's exhibition Real Adventures has a no-bullshit filter that is a rarity in the Norwegian art world.


Nature is squeezed on all fronts. Wind turbines, new giant roads, cabins and residential areas take over. Nature is still seen as a resource we must exploit, at all costs. The earth is full of poison, the water can not be drunk in many places, animals are expelled from their habitats. Nature is becoming scarce.

But in art we find nature, where for example trees are hung upside down and moss covers the walls of galleries and stages. This is not surprising, because there is a longing for and a need to heal the separation between man and nature. One place to express this longing is art. I welcome the trees in art, but miss the critique and artistry that lifts the gaze from the natural expressions and opens up for larger structural issues. This requires will, courage and meticulous reserach. Not many artists dare. The artist duo Book and Hedén are an exception here, and their latest exhibition Real adventures recently in Kunstbanken in Hamar was perceived as very brave and with a no-bullshit filter which is a rarity in the Norwegian art world.

Good playwrights

With Real adventures Book and Hedén deal with human dominance over nature. They confront topics such as pollution, land degradation, chemical-based agriculture and genetically modified crops in a completely radical but non-didactic exhibition. It's well done. The exhibition shows both completely new works and previous works, put together into a total experience where the rational, the mechanistic view, vibrates in excitement towards the irrational, the inward and the utopian. By utopian in this context, I mean the original, pure nature, represented in the exhibition, among other things by the video Water. Nature itself has the main role in the large photographs in the unfinished series Verk. These photographs have clear references to folk beliefs and legends where a form of animation of nature arises. It is nature itself that is the work.

A total experience where the rational, the mechanistic view, vibrates in tension against the irrational, the inward and the utopian.

Book and Hedén are good playwrights. They know what they want to say and how to do it. The contrast is therefore great to the other side of the main room, where we find works that deal with man's destruction of nature. A room divided into Nature and Unaturity.

In these works, I read Rachel Carson and her groundbreaking illustration of how vulnerable ecosystems are, how wrong it can be to use pesticides.

«Verk (Troll) 7 (13)», 2020, Archival Pigment Print

The life and life of insects

In the newly created video The test points The duo is based on a survey of soil samples at 257 different locations in Odda and Tyssedal, conducted by NGU (Norwegian Geological Survey). It's a scary, almost dystopian, video. In the surroundings around 17 of these test points, the artists have filmed the surroundings and indicated the amount of cadmium, lead, mercury and zinc in relation to the normal values ​​on the video image. So simple can basic criticism be made with art without feeling postulating.

The various works are in clear dialogue with each other.

With the video 33 days from a creek bush >(2014) Book and Hedén show us a living diary of the insects' life and life in a crayfish thicket, which is a kind of wild plum. The small thicket is surrounded by an agricultural landscape with monoculture. Inside the thicket we are captivated by the life of the insects. In some glass mounts we find fragile insects in 1:1 size made of precious metals such as silver and gold. For me as a beekeeper, it is touching to see a small golden bee body lying still as in a tomb, exalted, sublimated and dying. These should be our gods, at any rate we should treat them as such, for without them we do poorly.

In the video work OPERATION, what about Callisto >(2014) we see a tractor spraying two fields with pesticides – respectively Roundup and Callisto. We see how the poison goes astray. With this move, Book and Hedén remind us that no pesticides end up only where they are meant to be. Short texts such as "Industrial agriculture is the largest single threat to biodiversity" and "Bees, bats, amphibians and other beneficial species are dying off, and their declines are linked to pesticide exposure" are presented above the video.

A small bee-body of gold lies still as in a burial chamber, exalted, sublimated, and extinct.

The chemicals can travel long distances, something Rachel Carson pointed out in, among other things SilentSpring >(The silent spring, 1962), with catastrophic consequences for animal and human life. Species diversity, especially insects, is threatened by pesticides. Man's dominance over nature is expressed in many forms – pesticide use and land grabbing are some of them.

To dominate nature

Can we continue to dominate nature to our own advantage? It is this essential question that Book and Hedén challenge us to reflect on with their complex and critical works. The answer is of course no, because in this dominance we ultimately destroy our own livelihood. In their works, the artist duo focuses on themes that are fundamentally existential, not on a philosophical level, but on a biological one. It is about the continued survival of the species, our own species included.

So why has it been so silent about this unique exhibition? Despite the artists' great recognition, both nationally and internationally, the exhibition has hardly been mentioned in the Norwegian press, with the honorable exception of Mona Pahle Bjerke in NRK's ​​Studio 2. What could be the reason for this silence? Could it have something to do with the theme? Is art that takes a value position marginalized? If it's the fear of political art after the overdose of the 70's, it's time to bury it. Book and Hedén clearly show that art that dares to enter such a demanding field as poison and pesticide use, can be as complex and challenging as form-centered art.

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