Translation by Deborah Ann Arnfinse
The work Remnants, made specifically for the Art Centre's Keyhole Room, came into being through a dialogue between Kari Steihaug and the room's architecture. Indeed, the parameters of the particular venue, room and architecture concerned always form the starting point for her installations. It is primarily the room's lines, size and "presence" that result in a symbiosis between Steihaug's process-orientated works and the exhibition space.
Art is a secret shared between the individual and the collective. In order to be touched by a work of art, it must first refer to the person who made it, a strong personality, and it must touch the collective, everyone must find something in this order.
Annette Messager, 1995
The installation Remnants consists of around 260 steel wires with knitted sleeves. The wires bear an equal number of knitted flowers which spread out their airy, perforated, petals in different sizes and heights and together create Steihaug's "forest of flowers".
The work Remnants made specifically for the Art Centre's Keyhole Room, came into being through a dialogue between Kari Steihaug and the room's architecture. Indeed, the parameters of the particular venue, room and architecture concerned always form the starting point for her installations. It is primarily the room's lines, size and "presence" that result in a symbiosis between Steihaug's process-orientated works and the exhibition space. Steihaug carries on a continual conversation with the room: she "listens" to the room's own distinctive character. It is no coincidence that she chose the Keyhole for her dialogue this time. The gallery is shaped like a keyhole a hole that breaks up the flat wall of the main hall of the art centre. As a result of the punctured shape of the room, the observer is able to enjoy her installation from a large variety of points of view and perspectives, including looking up from below. In contrast to the latent urge to look at the work from a distance or a bird's-eye view, the observer is drawn into the mystery of the installation which surrounds the observer and appears as a forest of flowers. In this way, Steihaug sets parameters for the spectator as an observer and participant.
Steihaug searches for used, forgotten, discarded and mended clothes. These remnants constitute her "objets trouvés". They have existed for a long time and have meant "something" to their former owners - and for this reason they are pregnant with symbolism. Steihaug's work begins when she has "found" these discarded pieces of garments that once covered bodies or limbs. She unravels them and knits them up again - a meticulous and time-consuming process with intimate, ritual overtones. This time-consuming process is not immediately apparent to the observer, but is nevertheless a key aspect of the work. The time it takes to unravel a jumper creates a situation where the artist, by deconstructing a form, has time for reflection and contemplation. Subsequently, she starts creating a quite different, meaningful form. In this way, Steihaug constructs a new reality where the installation is connected to its origin. She creates an installation apart from this original reality but at the same time connected through the remnants that is spread at the floor. They are all meaningful and full of memories. Steihaug sets herself apart from the nostalgia inherent in the original objects by means of the strictly regulated composition of the installation. She creates a new situation, where the process, time and venue take over and become the key elements and where form and expression evoke an atmosphere of mystery, wonder and melancholy.
Perspectives of time and thoughts about time have always been difficult to grasp. Even though physical traces of time leave their mark on and in our bodies, time is still intangible. The time that elapses from childhood to adulthood is a visible sign of time, yet time is an abstract concept that is not always easy to measure. Man has created mechanical instruments to help him keep time in control, but in spite of these attempts, time and perspectives of time are imaginary concepts and an individual's own experience of time will always shape our perception of time. Steihaug challenges this perception by means of her ritual of unravelling and reknitting garments. In other words, she investigates time, for her own sake and for the observers, through a physical and mental exercise.
Steihaug demonstrated our experience of time in one of her most recent installations exhibited at the Vigeland Museum: a delicate, baby-pink dress hangs on a hanger with a crocheted cover. The dress is slowly unravelled by means of a mechanical device. The observer witnesses a work that is dependent on, and created by means of time - the time it takes to unravel the dress until it is transformed into shapeless threads. Something that once was, is no longer the same. By this process, Steihaug demonstrates a slice of time, a time of many parts: a future that turns into the present and then into the past; a series of events that are fundamental to this hybrid understanding of time.
Kari Steihaug's objects often have threads of wool hanging from them. These threads remind us about the perspective of time and point to the object's origin. The wool threads also act as an extra filter between the observer and the surroundings, and this can be regarded as an additional demonstration of time. In the installation Remnants, the passing of time is partly hidden from us and it is up to us to try to grasp the span of time that has elapsed in Steihaug's studio while she unravelled her objets trouvés, or castoffs, as she calls them. She diligently shapes each petal, joins them together to make a flower and knits the stem that is twined around each steel wire. With her installation, Steihaug aims to arouse emotion, wonder and reflection in the observer. She focuses on beauty too, by creating delicately coloured and finished objects that evoke an atmosphere of something unexpected and mysterious. The colour scheme is mainly earthy tones, broken up here and there with a few strong colours. Her own statements about the purpose of her various installations are revealing:
In the transfer from the body to the room, I explore visual possibilities, between remembrance and expectations, fragility and beauty. Something occurs, resolves, alters and connects. Mental and physical conditions. The left-overs, castoffs, the incomplete and unstable are all important elements in my installations.
Annette Messager in conversation with Natasha Leoff, 1995, Journal of Contemporary Art Inc.
Parts of this article are based on conversations and email correspondence with the artist.
The Keyhole Room is situated in the New Building, constructed in 1994.
The exhibition at the Vigeland Museum is entitled "Typically Norwegian?" and is on show during the Summer 2005.
Kari Steihaug, artist's statement on Typically Norwegian?, Vigeland Museum, 2005.