The exhibition Horizon, prepared for the Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, is a continuation of Hege Lønne’s artistic experiments started in the 1990s. The massive, and delicate at the same time, three-dimensional fragments of mountain landscapes constructed as sculptural forms, arranged in rows or presented on their own, sometimes next to mountain postcards, at other times to daily-life objects, dealt with man’s place in the world. A place determining one’s life, belonging to the given geographical, social or cultural context. At the same time, the natural world within the scope of the artist’s interest is one of the most unpredictable of worlds, governed by its own laws, existing beyond any divisions and patterns established by man trying to find a place for himself in it.
Hege Lønne’s installation, full of dualisms and contradictions, studies the relationships between man and nature. It consists of four video projections and a large sculptural object, a section of a rocky scenery, placed on tall tunnel-like plinth. Situated at eye level, the endless mountain landscape creates the illusion of the skyline, continued in the video projections: in a slowly moving minimalistic landscape and in the film showing a man strolling about the woods. The work’s horizontal part is complemented with two, equally sparse formally, films presented on monitors: a ribbon floating in water, and monstrous, biological-organic structures moving towards the centre of the picture. The spatio-temporal situation arranged within a single room with moving images and an open sculptural form knocks the viewer out of physical balance. All of the work’s different elements are marked by repetitiveness, rhythmic monotony, and a homogenous visual structure. The artist’s installation explores the notion of both spatial and temporal infiniteness, the immense power of nature, and the construction of the world. Each of the installation’s parts is an independent art form able to function on its own. Each of the parts (the videos and the sculpture) can be extended (by looping or adding new ‘modules’) into infinity.
The man appearing in the film is construed as the centre of the world, setting earth in motion, lending rhythm and movement to the cinematic picture, being its driving engine and protagonist at the same time, a force and a small fragment of the universal system of the world. The sense of a slightly slowed-down march adds drama to the film, enhanced by the lack of a soundtrack. The visually appealing, minimalistic scenery composed using the artist’s own technique has in itself an immense power. The tension achieved with the slow movement makes us curious about what this place really is and how it has been created. Even more powerful are the close-up images of roots turning towards themselves and forming an illuminated crevice. The disturbing ‘cosmic’ sound accompanying the images makes one think of life emerging from chaos. The film additionally possesses a kind of botanical appeal, making the viewer familiar with the construction of the organic world. The determinism of natural phenomena is most evident in the black-and-white film showing a ribbon floating in water and forming all kinds of figures a it is pushed and pulled by the current. The film’s helicopter soundtrack, interrupted with pauses lasting a dozen or so seconds, creates a pervasive sense of dread, especially in juxtaposition with the delicateness of the white cloth.
Functioning on many levels, the eponymous Horizon remains open to interpretations, in the context of both nature and man’s place in it. It is an analysis of perceptual phenomena and an attempt to ontologically fathom out the structure of reality.
A Simple Walk Through the Woods is More than a Pleasure
Contemporary civilisation has increasingly separated the big-city dweller from nature and made it ever more difficult for him to commune deeply with the natural world. In a rate-race reality, that is a luxury that people living in the countryside are more likely to be able to afford. For the urbanite, peace and quiet in the bosom of nature are becoming a long-awaited award following weeks of hard work. In the context of Hege Lønne’s work, we cannot but notice that the man-nature relationship is one of the issues central for her. Lønne tries to study man’s relationships with the natural world surrounding him, tries to remind us how they should look like, shows new – and the familiar ones too – ways of getting closer to nature, harmonising with its rhythm, finding one’s own place in it.
In one of her animated videos using modelling-clay figures, she reminds us in a tongue-in-cheek manner about the wisdom of our ancestors, who deeply respected nature, or even worshipped it. They knew that certain tree species had a special beneficial effect on our organism and were able to draw energy from them. To illustrate the ritual of drawing energy from a tree, the artist shows two birch trunks hugged tenderly and rhythmically by figures clinging to them. The soundtrack for this scene is Seweryn Krajewski’s popular song “Wielka miłość” (Great Love), which adds sensuality to the action, making it almost intimate. The benefits of such an intimate contact are mutual – presented with love, nature gives back to man the best it has – peace and good energy. Of a similar message was Lønne’s spectacular installation presented as part of the UKS Biennial in 2001 – a huge caption KOM (COME) positioned in the middle of the great Lake Mjøsa in central Norway, visible from there for the passengers of the Trondheim-Oslo train. The power of the word, used in Norway also to denote the sound of the ringing bell, further enhanced by its mirror reflection in water, seemed to be summoning the spectator: ‘don’t be afraid, come closer, trust me’.
Of a slightly different character were the artist’s consecutive interventions, placed directly in the landscape. Those were, for instance, the textual works DER ER VILDE DYR I SKOVEN (THERE ARE WILD ANIMALS IN THE FOREST) at the edge of Sophienholm park in Copenhagen (2002) or 40 KM TILL GLÖNDANDE MASSA (25 MILES BELOW EARTH IS GLOWING) at Säby Gard estate in Värmland, Sweden (2005). Those were plexiglas boards with light-reflecting inscriptions, creating the impression that an electronic alphanumeric display has been suspended between the trees, with the figures written by the sun.
To an extent, the exhibition Horizon at the Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle in Warsaw (2008) takes further the artist’s projects from about 10 years ago (such as those shown at Galeria BWA in Sandomierz in 1998), which included, for instance, minimalistic, almost synthetic-looking sculptures resembling fragments of the landscape with varied landform features ranging from hills to high mountains, placed on tall plinths. When you enter the exhibition space, your first impression is that of a pleasant harmony of light and form. In the centre of the room, on a light plinth, roughly at eye level, a multi-element sculpture has been placed, a section of a slightly ascending mountain landscape, modelled softly in a stone-like material. Its top edge seems to delineate the eponymous horizon, drawn further by the slow movement resulting from three videos shown on three different walls, which creates the impression of being inside a moving circle. This directed movement takes its beginning from a large-format projection showing an unidentified person walking through the woods. The unchanging landscape and monotonous pace of the person, which keeps walking in the same direction, create a sense of infiniteness, achieved with the camera’s circular movement. This fluid movement is continued in two further black-and-white projections. One shows a minimalistic, contourdrawn mountain scenery revolving slowly like in a kaleidoscope. The other is a film showing a ribbon waving in the current of a stream. Both projections emanate a sense of peace, and the sight of the ribbon performing a graceful dance in the rapid current of a forest stream inspires feelings virtually sentimental. Nothing disturbs the show’s contemplative mood until we put on the headphones attached to the last projection. The gentle image suddenly clashes with the aggressive, growing sound of a flying helicopter. It violently disturbs the idyllic picture, tearing our nerves.
We suddenly realise that it is not so easy to find peace and quiet in the bosom of nature today, the noise of contemporary civilisation can attack us at the least expected moment. As a result, the simple stroll through the woods ceases to be a nerve-soothing pleasure, the ribbon’s dance in the water loses its appeal. Hege Lønne warns us once again that by making the civilisational machine work faster and faster, man isolates himself from the benefits of the natural world around him. His interference has had an ever more destructive impact on the environment, and thus on his own condition as well. What remains is a growing sense of discomfort, cold and alienation.
The Revealing of Reality
“Space is nothing but the form of all appearances of outer sense. It is the subjective condition of sensibility”1, Immanuel Kant wrote in 1781. The next logical step was stating that space contains nothing empirical, that it is located in the subject as its formal quality. This statement had numerous ramifications. It also defined those spheres that had always been the subject of interest for artists. Such as the simple question: what is colour? Kant replied, ‘Colours are not qualities of the bodies to whose visual data they belong, but are also only modifications of the sense of vision, which is in a way stimulated by light’. This means that the viewing subject is stimulated by objects and receives their direct, that is, visual, representation, and therefore nature and the view from the window exist only as a form of external sense. One cannot help but keep returning to this classic idea contained in Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason when watching Hege Lønne’s films. The whole space of the landscape presented by the artist seems to be a form that comes into existence at the moment of being filmed. It arises in the camera lens as a result of the artist’s sensual contact with reality. Viewing is a closed process here, because the camera and the eyesight of the artist, as she walks around boldly in a circle, initiate reality. The artist knows what she will see before she has even started looking. Everything works like a disturbing mechanism.
One of the films presents someone walking through the woods, guiding the camera lens and making a circle. Trees in the background appear as the camera makes it monotonous turn left, to then disappear from the right edge of the frame. Looking at the repetitive, monotonous panning shots, we are nagged by a question that may prove crucial here: what is reality before the camera captures it? The answer the artist offers is not very consoling. Reality, with its most puzzling area – nature – is an infinitely complex and changing system, from which human eyesight selects only illusory meanings. In the film, reality seems to be a kind of order subject to deterministic repetition.
The world is governed by a logic of consequences producing an overwhelming sense of monotony: the landscape appears before the camera only to disappear a moment later.
There is still another aspect to this revealing of reality by the camera here. In the wordless talk of the simplest events, a simultaneously creative and destructive energy is present. Say, just a walk through the woods. And yet the monotonous rhythm of the steps and the camera’s panning movements make it similar to a celebratory act of creation. The woman walks with solemn dignity – as if she was leading an invisible procession. Every step and every contact of the feet with the forest floor reveal new fragments of nature. Always only fragments. Becoming fully familiar with this mysterious place will never be possible. The ‘visible’ – like the fragments of the woods revealed with the camera – disappears a moment later behind the lens. This situation of creating and destroying reality with the camera is accompanied by a sense, perceptible in the mood of the whole installation, of drama: in the film showing revolving roots, a sense of extreme anxiety and anger is created by expressive light and music.
Another film shows a ribbon floating in a stream. Its movement is chaotic, and yet subject to some repetitive rhythm. The white ribbon’s dance in the foaming current of the stream is disturbed by the sound of a helicopter. Can we interpret it as an indeterminist intervention by man, a creature that has not yielded to nature? One can hardly deny that Hege Lønne’s films show a constant struggle. A constant confrontation between chance and order.
As a result, we are looking at a reality in which some grim determinism prevails. Like the idea of Samuel Beckett’s Vico that all human activity serves a purpose different than the one motivating it; a purpose we can only guess, and which is governed by demiurgical forces. Humanity’s imprisonment in a hellish tube in Beckett’s Le Depeupleur resembles the restricted horizon in Lønne’s film. “Isn’t the same thing happening in macro-scale? Isn’t it the case with life on Earth? Does it not arise and die, and then get reborn, but in a different form? And what does it really mean? That nature is playing a game? Testing its capabilities? Practicing art for art’s sake? Or striving towards something? Perhaps all those creatures summoned into existence served as nothing but necessary chain links along the way…”, Antoni Libera2 asks in the context of Beckett’s story.
A surprising attitude towards nature was already present in Hege Lønne’s earlier work, KOM (COME), 2001, which was a verbal encouragement directed towards us by the landscape. The monument word ‘come’ was positioned on the surface of a big lake, beyond which towered monumental hills. And that is perhaps the best key to Hege Lønne’s work: even if civilisation is a source of evil and the primeval state is more perfect than anything else, the artist still attempts to remind the viewer that even in an era of global civilisational threats, they live in a world of fiction. Nature turns out here to be the Freudian ‘fundamental fantasy’, a fantasy providing the necessary coordinates for the creation of desires. However, for fantasy to work, it has to be repressed. KOM, like Hege Lønne’s other works, sends a very perverse message.
1 I. Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, transl. Norman Kemp Smith, p. 71, after:
2 A. Libera, 'Wyludniacz w Nowym Jorku’, Dialog no. 5, 2008, p. 70.