Catalogue text for the exhibition shown at Hå Gamle Prestegard, Norway 1991, Bohusgalleriet in Uddevalla, Sweden and Aalborg Kunstpavillon, Denmark 2000.
SCRIPT AND IMAGE – A DOUBLE HERITAGE
Script. Messages. Words on paper, on clay or stone tablets. Words as notes or as long letters.
In an ancient wall, in the remains of a renowned building thousands of small notes have been pushed into the cracks between the stones. In the remains of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem these handwritten notes carry prayers, cries and laments. Years of wind and rain have blurred the writing, wiped out the words. Their contents are a mystery to those who read them today. And yet maybe they are clearer than ever. Clear because we can read our own prayers and laments into them. Letters are usually communications from one person to another. And they are more than that. Letters can be an attempt to reach back to an earlier era, an attempt to have a dialogue with tradition and history. And a letter can be an image – graphic signs set out on a surface. A structure of patterns, of repetitions, of rhyme. As an image they become communication from a sender to a recipient.
When Barbro Raen Thomassen in this exhibition concentrates on signs, it is first and foremost as a visual artist. We do not do justice to her work if we strain to read the texts in her pictures. She is conveying images, not text, but images of text. She is the sender, we the recipients. And what do we receive? Which images does the exhibition lead us towards? The images carry a double message. Firstly they are visual works of art, as stated above. They intrigue our modern eyes as we see them as graphic works, as signs, as calligraphy. We are fascinated by the beauty in the structure of the paper or the clay. We seek the rhythms, the pulse beats, the very breath of the writing process.
Yet this distanced approach, this way of seeing, which is a true offspring of modernism, does not stand in the way of the other message, namely the feeling of age imparted by these images; infinite age, signs that have wandered through the centuries until we encounter them on a gallery wall. Maybe it is the artist’s own secrets that have been written down before our very eyes. We see it, yet do not see it. Mystery conceals mystery in the ancient writings she refers to. And the enigma of the old writings is a decisive reason why they are alive today. What do they describe? How are they to be understood? It is vital for each generation to read anew, to interpret and re-interpret in order to approach some understanding of what it means to be a human being.
Barbro Raen Thomassen’s sign images were made with deep respect for both traditions. They were made in respect for that which has been passed down to us, which it is our duty to carry into the future. And they were made with respect for the force of the image, its undying ability to amaze and fascinate, to perpetually set in motion the forces of heart and mind. Barbro Raen Thomassen has with deep commitment taken upon herself to be custodian of this double heritage, not on our behalf, but together with us who encounter her art.
Øystein Laundal, Art historian