Catalogue text for the installation “As a feather through cosmos – like a stone”, Inselgalerie, Berlin 2005. Seed objects and a circular object in limestone. Text by Paal-Helge Haugen on stone tablet.
FROM SEED TO OBJECT
Silence – living in the grass underneath each straw and in the blue space between the stones.
A seed is – as expressed in this art project, “lighter than air, stronger than death”, but the seeds we see in this exhibition are both large and heavy, not likely to be carried away by any wind. This is a paradox, and a significant paradox, because it tells us something about the nature of art itself. If a seed as light as air is to be given permanence as a work of art, it must be incarnated in a physical body, in this case in heavy white limestone.
The great American poet Wallace Stevens spoke of “ideas, but in things”. And that is precisely what this is all about. Barbro Raen Thomassen’s installation is an example of an idea-based art form where what we see - a square base with a number of different seed-objects, a circular object and a stone tablet – points beyond itself towards something else that cannot be seen. This distinguishes this art form from modernist works where the meaning was more or less given in the texture – in its very surface, open to the senses (aesthetic). That is not the case here, although the surfaces themselves clearly deserve to be looked at. Raen Thomassen’s seed-objects are more closely related to medieval pictures and sculptures that always referred to something other than themselves.
This is one of the reasons why the post-modern period of the last thirty years has seen a much greater interest in the Middle Ages than previously. In the modernist period it was important to cultivate the art forms – in sculpture it was the purely sculptural qualities that were to be emphasised. Above all one had to avoid literariness, so central to nineteenth century art. For literature was literature and had nothing to do with sculpture. John Cage and his circle started to tear down these high barriers between art forms in the 1950s - visual art and theatre were fused in performance and happenings, while Cage read poems in a way that turned them into music. Raen Thomassen’s installation is an example of this, though here it is the barriers between poetry and visual art that are transcended.
For as we try to connect the words of a poem to arrive at a meaning, so will we, when faced with this installation, try to make connections and find meaning in a series of heavy stones, formed as seeds, that more or less by chance have landed close to one another in a large square in the centre of a gallery. By chance? Is it not a characteristic of our relation to art that we tacitly assume that it conveys some kind of meaning? The question is which? One possibility is to regard the installation as a kind of artefact-poem, an interpretation backed up by the tablet of stone. Seeds are small, often very small (Matthew 13, 31-32), and not many people have been given the chance to study their forms as we now can.
Yet they are, in the right conditions, capable of being transformed into something quite different, such as “a great tree where the birds of heaven come to nest”. It is this change or metamorphosis that can come about if we are willing to sacrifice what we have got, in this case, lovely and alluring seed-objects, for something we cannot and will not know anything about – at some point in the future. Such are the existential problems laid before us by Raen Thomassen, problems dealing with our lives in a limited and unforeseeable dimension of time, and with the faith and courage demanded of us if we are to risk an unknown transformation, with a justifiable doubt holding us back. And yet this is only one interpretation of many – the installation challenges us to find more. And that is what makes it so fruitful.
Professor Gunnar Danbolt, Art Historian