Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Sigbjørn Bratlie: Igloos in Thornton

Sigbjørn Bratlie: Igloos in Thornton

Clare Nadal writes
Meltdown by Sigbjørn Bratlie
Back in June we announced the exciting news that for the first time ever our summer residency would feature an international artist, Oslo born Sigbjørn Bratlie. I took some time to speak to Sigbjørn find out a bit more about him, his artistic practice and his hopes for this summer project.

When South Square was constructed in 1852 it was originally designed as twelve adjoining cottages to house the local stonemasons as they worked on the now famous Thornton viaduct. The annual South Square summer residency celebrates this heritage by once again becoming a home, and offering the gallery as a live in space for an artist in residence. In 2011, Alfie Strong became the first artist to spend the month of August living and working within the gallery, choosing to live in a tent within the space, whilst creating artwork in response to the gallery’s past and our connection to it.
Alfie Strong in residence at South Square Gallery
Taking this context for his starting point, Sigbjørn will spend his residency period constructing a house-like structure, considering what it is to layer a house within a house. However, in his typical humorously whimsical and mischievous way, Sigbjørn doesn’t want it to be a recognisable English house that he builds, but a realistic white wooden igloo. Having worked for his uncle’s interior decorating and carpentry business for over eleven years, he has the technical skills to realise this aim. The project forms a perfect opportunity to incorporate these practical skills into his art practice. 

He says to me, I wanted the structure to be a slightly absurd one; I like the idea of building an impossible house, to invent a type of traditional living that doesn't exist, and maybe doesn't even make sense. The wooden igloo project is kind of crazy, which I like about it.
“I want to present it as ancient lore, the age-old tradition of Norwegian wooden igloo-building; that I am the representative of some tradition-bearing institution. Obviously I know I am fooling no-one: everyone in Britain knows that there are no igloos in Norway. But I intend to play my role with conviction!”

In this way, Sigbjørn’s project will have a performative element as he creates an extensive fictitious setting within the gallery space, surrounding his wooden igloo.  This is a technique he has used in previous projects, specifically his 2007 installation Vanlagnad ('sad destiny') at Galleri 69 in Oslo, which saw the gallery transformed into the home and workspace of a fictitious Norwegian poet. 

This show was an attempt at creating the antithesis to contemporary popular culture: the home of a traditional eccentric Romanticist poet, living by himself, removed from civilisation, churning out lyrical observations on nature, animals and the imagination.
Vanlagnad Galleri 69, Oslo (2007)

Vanlagnad Galleri 69, Oslo (2007)

All Apologies UKS, Oslo (2008)
To make the fictitious setting complete, Sigbjørn even took the time to write the poet’s complete works, which featured around 400 short poems, written in an archaic and partly incomprehensible Norwegian dialect. Surprisingly enough however, during the entire exhibition, the poet himself remained “mysteriously absent”. Visitors were able to occupy his living space, sit on his chairs and bed, put their cigarettes out on his floor, and read the paper sheets of poetry which lay scattered all over the place.

A follow up event at The White Tube, Oslo in 2008, in collaboration with Arne Langleite, featured a fictitious book launch of a fictitious collection of Romanticist poetry, published by a fictitious Norwegian publishing house.

Båt på land The White Tube, Oslo (2008)

Sigbjørn's South Square residency is titled My Wooden Igloo, a purposely simple, childlike title that reflects the humour always embedded in his art. Drawing on 'luftstott', the Norwegian word for 'pipe dream', this references Sigbjørn's notion of 'the artist as anti-hero', a concept key to his creative practice. This 'anti-hero' figure is one who desperately tries to create ground-breaking profound work, yet most often fails miserably, inspiring an absurdist humour.

As Sigbjørn points out to me, constructing an intricate structure like an igloo is not easy, "it may be that the igloo ends up being just a tad wonky and askew, but I think that adds to the charm of the project." Likewise, a dramatic irony exists in the knowledge the viewer possesses that this age-old tradition of Norwegian wooden igloo-building is in fact hollow and non-existent.

Sigbjørn's projects, whether installation, painting or performance, are always a humorous comment on contemporary culture, art history and theatricality, and often tend to influence one another. His most recent residency in Latvia, has involved him spending a month working with a local theatre company to learn the famous 'To be or not to be' monologue from Hamlet - in Latvian - and create a video piece from this. Like The Wooden Igloo, the finished video work will be an ode to creative and literary genius, undercut by the knowledge that Sigbjørn (and many other non-Latvian speaking viewers)
will be entirely unable to understand the true meaning of the piece, in many ways making it quite meaningless.

The Wooden Igloo is open from 3rd August until 22nd September. A closing event will be held on 20th September, open to all. I shall be blogging during the two-month residency period so look out for further updates from me on what is happening in the gallery.

No comments: