Trollish utopias
Stina Högkvist

It’s the second day of May in 2016. The corner stone for the new National Museum in Oslo is to be ceremoniously laid down at the harbourside construction site, and Queen Sonja, Crown Princess Mette-Marit, and Tori Wrånes have been invited to preside over the occasion. Attired in simple clothing, Wrånes walks onto the site and sings “Solveig’s Song” by Edvard Grieg, a song about waiting. While she continues singing, a few construction workers step forward and help her put on the backpack the queen has placed the foundation stone in. She gets hooked to a wire, and after she has been secured, one of the construction cranes lifts her up until she is hovering forty metres over the ground. As she takes off, the bells of the nearby City Hall chime in, and Wrånes begins improvising along with the bells, creating a musical dialogue with the surroundings of the new museum.
The construction site vibrates with the sound of this song, and the remaining construction cranes reply by lifting up some of the machines. For a few minutes, a compressor, a lift, and a small excavator all dance together with Wrånes up there in the air. The choreographed crane ballet is steered by the workers sitting behind the controls. When the foundation stone lands on the construction site, all the ship horns from the pier join in for a concluding fanfare. At the other end of the site, all the construction workers stand in an orderly row and watch the festivities. This truly is a different kind of coffee break, and I wonder what they make of it all. But they’re standing too far away for me to read their facial expressions. The people whose faces I can in fact see are those I’m in the midst of: suit-clad men from the Directorate of Public Construction and Property, a few politicians, and select representatives from the National Museum. I look around and notice that I’m not the only one biting my lip in an attempt to hold back the tears. What is stirring up these emotions? There’s no easy answer to that, of course, but I think one of the reasons is the artist’s complete presence. She’s giving it her all. By that I don’t mean to say that she’s standing around and screaming at the top of her lungs. Rather, it’s about her opening herself up with great courage, and somewhere inside there you sense a wound that needs air but refuses to heal. It is this wound that sets the tone, and it is in this wound that you can recognize yourself. For when it comes down to it, we are all a little bit
wounded. I come to think of her sculpture Solo (2011), which consists of a microphone mounted to the muzzle of a flare gun, which in turn is placed on a microphone stand and aimed at the intended performer. A flare gun is something that is used in emergency situations as a way of getting help: the gun discharges a bright flare that both gives you a better overview and allows others to see you. But even as a flare gun can thus act as a visual cry for help, it can also be used for quite the opposite: if you aim the flare straight up towards the roof of your mouth, that’s probably the last thing you will do in your life. Standing on a stage is deadly serious, and the sculpture can be seen as an open
portrait of the unfettered artist who sacrifices everything and who is even willing to die to satisfy her own or the public’s desires. But as its title indicates, the sculpture also embodies an existential duality: you are all alone on the stage of life, and it’s you and you alone who knows when it is time to step away from the spotlight. The primeval forest of the mind A recurring motif in Wrånes’s recent works has been the troll. Trolls are an essential feature of Nordic mythology and folklore and can be
seen as the antithesis of civilized humanity. Primitive by nature, they prefer to be deep in the woods or down in a murky cavern, and as a rule they are dangerous, dumb, and greedy. Even though their appearance and qualities vary, everyone recognizes a troll when they see one. The troll’s conventional physiognomy builds on the idea that character and appearance go hand in hand. Their shifty and malicious nature is therefore often reflected in their repulsive appearance, which is severely at odds with the classical idea of beauty, though their large noses are probably a great asset when they’re trying to sniff their way to the blood of a Christian. Some of them have more than one head. Some have only a single eye. Their scalps are usually covered with thin, shaggy hair, while their rat-like tails show their connection to the animal world. Wrånes, by contrast, seeks to reappraise and rehabilitate the troll in an attempt to break the age-old equation of ugliness with wickedness.
She wants to raise the troll’s status and show that the boundary between us and them is really only in our minds. In her view, we are all trolls – in other words, people are complex beings that are used
to highlighting their good sides only, while their troll selves are only allowed to emerge at night. Wrånes thinks it’s time we show the entire range of our being – no one should be afraid any longer of the sunlight turning them to stone and cracking them up. For her, the troll serves as a free haven where everyone can be who they want to be. But it is by no means a nostalgic, romantic look back she shows to us. Quite the contrary. Wrånes’s trolls are androgynous and do not fit into the heteronormative standard of the traditional folktales. Her variant trolls live in a contemporary, manipulated normality. She doesn’t dress them in their traditional rags but rather in entirely contemporary clothing. These are everyday trolls – these are the trolls that walk among us. While one of them wears a stylish, black pantsuit, others have been spotted in t-shirts and jeans or in pink trainers, blue sweatsuits, or patterned men’s clothing from Nigeria. Not that long ago, she
let one of them travel to New York to play a willow flute and zoom around on an electrical hoverboard. Wrånes moved around from the basement to the attic, and the entire Sculpture Center was trollified. The same day that I have a deadline for this text, the United States goes to the polls. When I wake up the next morning the unreal has become real: Donald Trump has been elected, and the media is soon buzzing with dystopian predictions. At the breakfast table my ten year-old daughter asks when World War III is going to break out. Suddenly my head is filled with a bizarre mix of Trump and Wrånes. I can’t stop thinking about what it means that the United States has elected a president that actually represents the complete opposite of what Wrånes actively fights for: diversity, inclusion, and the right to be who you are. I instinctively sense that I want to call Trump a troll, for in many ways he turned up like a troll of yore stumbling out from some underground lair – a cruel, mocking troll who hacked his way into everyone’s reality. But I don’t know if Wrånes would agree with this, because it’s probably such a one-sided view of trolls she wants to change. Wrånes’s trolls represent the authentic. According to her, what characterizes a troll is not whether it is either kind-hearted or evil, but whether it is honest or not. In essence they are nothing other than people who have had the luxury of growing up in the primeval forest of the mind, where everything is allowed to grow freely, and who therefore are in contact with their raw, primal ego. At first glance Trump may perhaps give the impression of being a troll, but when seen in this primordial perspective I’m instead inclined to think that he doesn’t deserve to be elevated to a troll. I was unable to shake off my bizarre link between Wrånes and Trump – perhaps it is in this new world order that her ambivalent,
trollish utopias are needed more than ever? When many began to doubt art’s political potency, she holds the poetical banner up high. She has a genuine belief in humanity and art, and that art can help
create a better world. But she doesn’t do so with political slogans and agitprop. Rather, she builds up total installations that are parallel universes, where everything can happen, and where everything presumably will happen. But these aren’t treacly, sugar-sweet fantasies she is promoting – rather, the dangerous and the grotesque also have a place here. She offers us snug, warm pockets we can tuck our hands into, where we are safe enough to be ourselves and create our own rules, where the guardians of morality have taken a break. A wandering, synesthetic universe One of the challenges of working with Wrånes is that she’s always on her way somewhere. Last week she was in Paris. Now she seems to be in Copenhagen. Much of her itinerant existence stems from the fact that her art is almost exclusively site specific. I have told her that now that she is participating in exhibitions all over the world, she doesn’t have to show new works each and every time. Perhaps she could save
some money, time, and energy by recycling some of her often quite elaborate performances?
But my well-intended words are to little avail, for her artistic process is often sparked off by her seeing a room and then – bam! – a performance is visualized in her head. She explains this phenomenon by referring to how she lives in a synesthetic universe, where pictures and music come to her synchronously. For her, making sound is the same as placing shapes in the air, or as drawing with her ears, as she herself explains it. When she was living in New York for a while, she couldn’t sing in her studio because of a sound sensitive neighbor. In order to find a release for her energy, she instead began to paint. She used the remains of the same materials with which she makes her masks: silicon, foam, pigments, and acrylic. Her process is reminiscent of improvised singing, which is based on colors, rhythm, and temperament. And the label she uses for these abstract paintings is in fact “singing paintings”. The clumps of colour that stuck to the canvas are like the remains of
pent-up energy. Silent melodies. Wrånes seems to be driven by a stubborn vision where everything
is possible. She succeeds in carrying out a good deal, but some things have to be modified during the process. When we were stuck in a traffic jam in a taxi in New York, we drove past something that looked like an unfinished skyscraper. The cab driver explained proudly that this was in fact where they were putting up Manhattan’s tallest residential building, with the city’s by far most expensive apartments. We feel obliged to take a peek through the car window. To my and the cab driver’s great surprise, Wrånes exclaims that she has actually been to the top of the building, and she takes out her mobile phone and shows us several of the pictures she took up there. “I was invited by Storefront
Art & Architecture to do a performance, and I wanted to do it way up there,” she explains. “I wanted to jump from the roof and crash through the glass …” She describes the disappointment of not being
given the go-ahead, “since it was a new building and everything”. I both hope and presume there was more to the denied permission than the owners not wanting to ruin their new windows, and that
there were also security regulations that “stood in the way” of her vision. But I have to confess that I am glad that others think of her safety on those occasions she doesn’t do so herself. Like Buster Keaton, Wrånes has a knack for making the physically demanding look easy. And where Keaton had a scar to show for each of the films he starred in, there is usually a breathtaking story behind every one of Wrånes’s performances. For even though it can seem like child’s play when she’s singing upside down, or hovering about in a crane, there is usually a large, invisible security apparatus backing her up. For example, no one noticed the frogman stationed at the very top of the construction crane while
she was singing the duet with the bells of the City Hall. His only (but entirely essential) task was to rappel down and rescue her should she pass out. During the dress rehearsal he reportedly sat there for seven consecutive hours. She says that the larger the institution she’s working with, the greater the demands to safety. When she began using suspension, it was apparently more a case of trial and error that was the rule. “There wasn’t anyone keeping an eye on things, so you could just throw yourself out there,” she admits. Her love of uncontrollable elements has led her on numerous occasions to eschew the established structures of the traditional art institutions and concert halls. Several of her performances have taken place in areas where neither the visible nor the aural elements are under her control, such as parking garages, copses, under the sea, and mountainsides.
The challenge of playing outdoors is that both the ear and the eye bleeds: where there are no walls to narrow in your focus, you have no choice but to accept the spontaneous dialogue that is created with
the surroundings’ own background noises. The whims and fancies of the weather are similarly unpredictable and sneak themselves in as an improvised part of the experience. One of her latest productions, TRACK of HORNS (2015), took place in Bolzano in the Italian Alps. In this piece, which mobilized the entire mountainside, she tried to work with sound as architecture and create an outdoor space by moving the sound around in the Alps. As a mix of spectators and brass players sat on the chairlift making its usual round up and down the mountain, a choir moved about the mountainside
in a sort of pulsating back-and-forth close to and below the lift. On the ground, three musicians played the alphorn, while a troll snored loudly somewhere just below the lift. The local cows were also
given a role, as they grazed around in the mountains with bells tuned to the twelve-tone scale around their necks. By placing the bells, choir, and cows under the lift, the musicians on the lift itself, and the choir members at regular intervals among the trees along the auditory path, it was as though they managed to narrow down the field of concentration so that the entire séance became a
sort of aural journey, between nearby and faraway sound. Physical disorientation Flying is instinctive to Wrånes. She thinks it’s strange that we always walk on the ground, when there is so much potential in the air above us. She is driven by a pure curiosity in regard to the body’s outer limits,
and in her eagerness to seek out physical resistance she brings to mind extreme athletes. On more than one occasion she’s had her head in the clouds in an almost literal sense. When she first began with suspension (in Grounded Organ, 2007), the intent was to examine what happens with your voice when your body is no longer in direct contact with the ground. The balance of terror between the mental and the physical induces a kind of tense, meditative state, a state where she is entirely present. She says that before she goes into a studio to sing, it sometimes happens that she puts on uncomfortable shoes just to get enough bodily contact to make her focus. It’s not uncommon for her works to provoke a sense of physical disorientation, both in herself and in the audience. The Opposite is Also True 2, for example, features her sitting and playing a piano mounted to the wall. The keys have been painted in a host of shades from white to black, with white indicating the lowest note and black the highest. Her clothes are on backwards, her shirt is unbuttoned, and a penis is hanging out. She has a gender, but it is the opposite of her usual one. She sings from the highest to the lowest notes, while she simultaneously plays from the lowest to the highest notes, which in itself creates
a chiastic, X-like composition. Wrånes shows that when the opposite is also true, then everything is true! A similar outlook informs Drastic Pants (2015) as well. Wrånes herself says the piece is about the dilemma of having two legs that want to go in different directions. Striking a balance between these legs does seem perfectly frustrating, and I can well imagine the wild, inner battle that may break out before you manage to figure out how to move a single inch when both your legs insist on being right. The body’s transformational powers Wrånes plays with realities outside the standard. In her understanding of reality everything is interconnected, and she goes to extremes to extend the limits of what is possible. Her utopian orientation is on display in a series of sculptures of morphed bodies. In When My Bones Melted I Could No Longer See the Difference Between Right and Wrong (2011) two pairs of legs have been fused into one. In the piece Tennis Cat (2015) the lower part of a body lies on the floor clad in blue sweatpants, red shoes, and tennis socks featuring the text “I ? Pussy”. There is no corresponding upper body, and since there is thus no head, a brown men’s hat has been placed directly on the figure’s hips, from where a braid of hair emerges, as though originating from a hidden inner organ we didn’t know existed. Wrånes’s deformed, fragmented bodies can be seen as a continuation of surrealist sculptures, and it would be interesting to compare her sculptures with Hans Bellmer’s (1902–1975) warped, surrealistic dolls. Even though there are outward similarities, the two narratives being told are highly dissimilar. Where Bellmer truncates, deconstructs, and isolates, Wrånes does the opposite. Her sculptures are neither revolting or destructive: as I see it, the amalgamated bodies are rather about belonging and inclusion than deconstruction. Regardless of whether the images depict several people in a single body, or whether they show several people morphed together in a new totality, I believe that they signal a harmonious unity rather than inner turmoil. Several of the sculptures can be understood as an encounter between different people who help and support one another so as to advance and carry out new, transformative deeds together. In the sculpture Traveller (2016), for example, one of the figures is upside down, with its head beneath the ground and in contact with whatever is down there. On one of its protruding legs, we see another figure balancing. Two geese fly out from her face in different directions, and she is also carrying a large backpack. We don’t know what it contains, but it shows that she is on a journey. We understand she is on her way, carrying something we don’t know what. Wrånes constructs new bodies in order to make us think bigger and broaden our classical anatomical ideals. She consistently embraces the body’s transformational powers and reveals the freedom that stems from no longer having your identity set in stone. In the sculpture Mom, don’t you miss the real me? (2015), she demonstrates that there’s nothing wrong with having an extra body part. It is after all not the body parts that are supposed to define the individual, and as I see it there may well be an amazing potential in having a third arm. But ultimately it may not be about the fantastic new things you can do with your body, but rather about an underlying yearning for approval and for being accepted as you are. Finn and Ragnhild Jeremiassen Wrånes’s art believes in the potential of humanity. She sees divergence as a quality. If things are too perfect, she loses interest, and in her
productions she often works with a mix of professionals and amateurs. Several of her collaborators are people she has seen on the street, heard singing on the metro, or otherwise been captivated by in some way. She says she is entirely dependent on having professionals around her, but the addition of lay people means she can believe what is happening. For her piece at the Biennale of Sydney she was asked what kind of musician she wanted to have – classical or more rhythmical? She replied that she wanted the musicians who were the least afraid of heights. Before her audition for the Oslo National Academy of the Arts, Wrånes had worked for days on drilling a large hole in a wall. One day she was sitting at a café and started thinking about what it was she was actually doing. Was it really a good idea to jump up out of that hole? Suddenly she saw an elderly couple walking hand in hand on the other side of the street. The man was leaning forwards as the wind blew through his mass of grey, curly hair. Wrånes was completely enchanted by this couple, and without thinking twice she ran over to them and asked the woman if she would act like a sculpture as part of the audition. The couple, Ragnhild and Finn Jeremiassen, said they would be glad to help. They met again the following day. Wrånes had spent the previous night sewing the clothes Ragnhild was to wear. She also managed to
find some matching boots and an old exercise machine. At the academy they went down to one of the graffiti-covered lavatories, where Ragnhild put on the costume. In one of the trees at the Palace Park, where the audition was to take place, Wrånes hung the exercise machine up high on a branch,
with a rope with a handle dangling down from the machine. Wrånes’s instruction to Ragnhild was to just stand and be herself and hold on to the handle. Finn stood next to her and looked after his wife’s
belongings, as though it was the most natural thing in the world. The admissions jury stood a bit farther away and evaluated the work. Wrånes and Ragnhild had agreed upon a secret signal in advance, and when Wrånes gave the signal, Ragnhild let go of the handle. What remained was an old exercise machine bobbing a bit up and down. Wrånes says that what hadn’t been planned, but that turned out so wonderfully, was that after a while Finn spontaneously stepped forward and took his wife’s hand. It was time for some coffee, and they disappeared up the hill at a gentle pace. Wrånes recalls that Finn was so proud of his wife afterwards. “You see,” he beamed, “she used to work in a shoe store.” When she finishes telling me all this, Wrånes becomes emotional. “The exhibition should really be dedicated to Finn and Ragnhild,” she says. “The couple who lived at Mellombølgen. I thought it was so nice that you could live at a place called Mellombølgen” [Medium (frequency radio) Wave]. “I wish I could live in a long fat soundwave”.
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Trollish utopias
Stina Högkvist

It’s the second day of May in 2016. The corner stone for the new National Museum in Oslo is to be ceremoniously laid down at the harbourside construction site, and Queen Sonja, Crown Princess Mette-Marit, and Tori Wrånes have been invited to preside over the occasion. Attired in simple clothing, Wrånes walks onto the site and sings “Solveig’s Song” by Edvard Grieg, a song about waiting. While she continues singing, a few construction workers step forward and help her put on the backpack the queen has placed the foundation stone in. She gets hooked to a wire, and after she has been secured, one of the construction cranes lifts her up until she is hovering forty metres over the ground. As she takes off, the bells of the nearby City Hall chime in, and Wrånes begins improvising along with the bells, creating a musical dialogue with the surroundings of the new museum.
The construction site vibrates with the sound of this song, and the remaining construction cranes reply by lifting up some of the machines. For a few minutes, a compressor, a lift, and a small excavator all dance together with Wrånes up there in the air. The choreographed crane ballet is steered by the workers sitting behind the controls. When the foundation stone lands on the construction site, all the ship horns from the pier join in for a concluding fanfare. At the other end of the site, all the construction workers stand in an orderly row and watch the festivities. This truly is a different kind of coffee break, and I wonder what they make of it all. But they’re standing too far away for me to read their facial expressions. The people whose faces I can in fact see are those I’m in the midst of: suit-clad men from the Directorate of Public Construction and Property, a few politicians, and select representatives from the National Museum. I look around and notice that I’m not the only one biting my lip in an attempt to hold back the tears. What is stirring up these emotions? There’s no easy answer to that, of course, but I think one of the reasons is the artist’s complete presence. She’s giving it her all. By that I don’t mean to say that she’s standing around and screaming at the top of her lungs. Rather, it’s about her opening herself up with great courage, and somewhere inside there you sense a wound that needs air but refuses to heal. It is this wound that sets the tone, and it is in this wound that you can recognize yourself. For when it comes down to it, we are all a little bit
wounded. I come to think of her sculpture Solo (2011), which consists of a microphone mounted to the muzzle of a flare gun, which in turn is placed on a microphone stand and aimed at the intended performer. A flare gun is something that is used in emergency situations as a way of getting help: the gun discharges a bright flare that both gives you a better overview and allows others to see you. But even as a flare gun can thus act as a visual cry for help, it can also be used for quite the opposite: if you aim the flare straight up towards the roof of your mouth, that’s probably the last thing you will do in your life. Standing on a stage is deadly serious, and the sculpture can be seen as an open
portrait of the unfettered artist who sacrifices everything and who is even willing to die to satisfy her own or the public’s desires. But as its title indicates, the sculpture also embodies an existential duality: you are all alone on the stage of life, and it’s you and you alone who knows when it is time to step away from the spotlight. The primeval forest of the mind A recurring motif in Wrånes’s recent works has been the troll. Trolls are an essential feature of Nordic mythology and folklore and can be
seen as the antithesis of civilized humanity. Primitive by nature, they prefer to be deep in the woods or down in a murky cavern, and as a rule they are dangerous, dumb, and greedy. Even though their appearance and qualities vary, everyone recognizes a troll when they see one. The troll’s conventional physiognomy builds on the idea that character and appearance go hand in hand. Their shifty and malicious nature is therefore often reflected in their repulsive appearance, which is severely at odds with the classical idea of beauty, though their large noses are probably a great asset when they’re trying to sniff their way to the blood of a Christian. Some of them have more than one head. Some have only a single eye. Their scalps are usually covered with thin, shaggy hair, while their rat-like tails show their connection to the animal world. Wrånes, by contrast, seeks to reappraise and rehabilitate the troll in an attempt to break the age-old equation of ugliness with wickedness.
She wants to raise the troll’s status and show that the boundary between us and them is really only in our minds. In her view, we are all trolls – in other words, people are complex beings that are used
to highlighting their good sides only, while their troll selves are only allowed to emerge at night. Wrånes thinks it’s time we show the entire range of our being – no one should be afraid any longer of the sunlight turning them to stone and cracking them up. For her, the troll serves as a free haven where everyone can be who they want to be. But it is by no means a nostalgic, romantic look back she shows to us. Quite the contrary. Wrånes’s trolls are androgynous and do not fit into the heteronormative standard of the traditional folktales. Her variant trolls live in a contemporary, manipulated normality. She doesn’t dress them in their traditional rags but rather in entirely contemporary clothing. These are everyday trolls – these are the trolls that walk among us. While one of them wears a stylish, black pantsuit, others have been spotted in t-shirts and jeans or in pink trainers, blue sweatsuits, or patterned men’s clothing from Nigeria. Not that long ago, she
let one of them travel to New York to play a willow flute and zoom around on an electrical hoverboard. Wrånes moved around from the basement to the attic, and the entire Sculpture Center was trollified. The same day that I have a deadline for this text, the United States goes to the polls. When I wake up the next morning the unreal has become real: Donald Trump has been elected, and the media is soon buzzing with dystopian predictions. At the breakfast table my ten year-old daughter asks when World War III is going to break out. Suddenly my head is filled with a bizarre mix of Trump and Wrånes. I can’t stop thinking about what it means that the United States has elected a president that actually represents the complete opposite of what Wrånes actively fights for: diversity, inclusion, and the right to be who you are. I instinctively sense that I want to call Trump a troll, for in many ways he turned up like a troll of yore stumbling out from some underground lair – a cruel, mocking troll who hacked his way into everyone’s reality. But I don’t know if Wrånes would agree with this, because it’s probably such a one-sided view of trolls she wants to change. Wrånes’s trolls represent the authentic. According to her, what characterizes a troll is not whether it is either kind-hearted or evil, but whether it is honest or not. In essence they are nothing other than people who have had the luxury of growing up in the primeval forest of the mind, where everything is allowed to grow freely, and who therefore are in contact with their raw, primal ego. At first glance Trump may perhaps give the impression of being a troll, but when seen in this primordial perspective I’m instead inclined to think that he doesn’t deserve to be elevated to a troll. I was unable to shake off my bizarre link between Wrånes and Trump – perhaps it is in this new world order that her ambivalent,
trollish utopias are needed more than ever? When many began to doubt art’s political potency, she holds the poetical banner up high. She has a genuine belief in humanity and art, and that art can help
create a better world. But she doesn’t do so with political slogans and agitprop. Rather, she builds up total installations that are parallel universes, where everything can happen, and where everything presumably will happen. But these aren’t treacly, sugar-sweet fantasies she is promoting – rather, the dangerous and the grotesque also have a place here. She offers us snug, warm pockets we can tuck our hands into, where we are safe enough to be ourselves and create our own rules, where the guardians of morality have taken a break. A wandering, synesthetic universe One of the challenges of working with Wrånes is that she’s always on her way somewhere. Last week she was in Paris. Now she seems to be in Copenhagen. Much of her itinerant existence stems from the fact that her art is almost exclusively site specific. I have told her that now that she is participating in exhibitions all over the world, she doesn’t have to show new works each and every time. Perhaps she could save
some money, time, and energy by recycling some of her often quite elaborate performances?
But my well-intended words are to little avail, for her artistic process is often sparked off by her seeing a room and then – bam! – a performance is visualized in her head. She explains this phenomenon by referring to how she lives in a synesthetic universe, where pictures and music come to her synchronously. For her, making sound is the same as placing shapes in the air, or as drawing with her ears, as she herself explains it. When she was living in New York for a while, she couldn’t sing in her studio because of a sound sensitive neighbor. In order to find a release for her energy, she instead began to paint. She used the remains of the same materials with which she makes her masks: silicon, foam, pigments, and acrylic. Her process is reminiscent of improvised singing, which is based on colors, rhythm, and temperament. And the label she uses for these abstract paintings is in fact “singing paintings”. The clumps of colour that stuck to the canvas are like the remains of
pent-up energy. Silent melodies. Wrånes seems to be driven by a stubborn vision where everything
is possible. She succeeds in carrying out a good deal, but some things have to be modified during the process. When we were stuck in a traffic jam in a taxi in New York, we drove past something that looked like an unfinished skyscraper. The cab driver explained proudly that this was in fact where they were putting up Manhattan’s tallest residential building, with the city’s by far most expensive apartments. We feel obliged to take a peek through the car window. To my and the cab driver’s great surprise, Wrånes exclaims that she has actually been to the top of the building, and she takes out her mobile phone and shows us several of the pictures she took up there. “I was invited by Storefront
Art & Architecture to do a performance, and I wanted to do it way up there,” she explains. “I wanted to jump from the roof and crash through the glass …” She describes the disappointment of not being
given the go-ahead, “since it was a new building and everything”. I both hope and presume there was more to the denied permission than the owners not wanting to ruin their new windows, and that
there were also security regulations that “stood in the way” of her vision. But I have to confess that I am glad that others think of her safety on those occasions she doesn’t do so herself. Like Buster Keaton, Wrånes has a knack for making the physically demanding look easy. And where Keaton had a scar to show for each of the films he starred in, there is usually a breathtaking story behind every one of Wrånes’s performances. For even though it can seem like child’s play when she’s singing upside down, or hovering about in a crane, there is usually a large, invisible security apparatus backing her up. For example, no one noticed the frogman stationed at the very top of the construction crane while
she was singing the duet with the bells of the City Hall. His only (but entirely essential) task was to rappel down and rescue her should she pass out. During the dress rehearsal he reportedly sat there for seven consecutive hours. She says that the larger the institution she’s working with, the greater the demands to safety. When she began using suspension, it was apparently more a case of trial and error that was the rule. “There wasn’t anyone keeping an eye on things, so you could just throw yourself out there,” she admits. Her love of uncontrollable elements has led her on numerous occasions to eschew the established structures of the traditional art institutions and concert halls. Several of her performances have taken place in areas where neither the visible nor the aural elements are under her control, such as parking garages, copses, under the sea, and mountainsides.
The challenge of playing outdoors is that both the ear and the eye bleeds: where there are no walls to narrow in your focus, you have no choice but to accept the spontaneous dialogue that is created with
the surroundings’ own background noises. The whims and fancies of the weather are similarly unpredictable and sneak themselves in as an improvised part of the experience. One of her latest productions, TRACK of HORNS (2015), took place in Bolzano in the Italian Alps. In this piece, which mobilized the entire mountainside, she tried to work with sound as architecture and create an outdoor space by moving the sound around in the Alps. As a mix of spectators and brass players sat on the chairlift making its usual round up and down the mountain, a choir moved about the mountainside
in a sort of pulsating back-and-forth close to and below the lift. On the ground, three musicians played the alphorn, while a troll snored loudly somewhere just below the lift. The local cows were also
given a role, as they grazed around in the mountains with bells tuned to the twelve-tone scale around their necks. By placing the bells, choir, and cows under the lift, the musicians on the lift itself, and the choir members at regular intervals among the trees along the auditory path, it was as though they managed to narrow down the field of concentration so that the entire séance became a
sort of aural journey, between nearby and faraway sound. Physical disorientation Flying is instinctive to Wrånes. She thinks it’s strange that we always walk on the ground, when there is so much potential in the air above us. She is driven by a pure curiosity in regard to the body’s outer limits,
and in her eagerness to seek out physical resistance she brings to mind extreme athletes. On more than one occasion she’s had her head in the clouds in an almost literal sense. When she first began with suspension (in Grounded Organ, 2007), the intent was to examine what happens with your voice when your body is no longer in direct contact with the ground. The balance of terror between the mental and the physical induces a kind of tense, meditative state, a state where she is entirely present. She says that before she goes into a studio to sing, it sometimes happens that she puts on uncomfortable shoes just to get enough bodily contact to make her focus. It’s not uncommon for her works to provoke a sense of physical disorientation, both in herself and in the audience. The Opposite is Also True 2, for example, features her sitting and playing a piano mounted to the wall. The keys have been painted in a host of shades from white to black, with white indicating the lowest note and black the highest. Her clothes are on backwards, her shirt is unbuttoned, and a penis is hanging out. She has a gender, but it is the opposite of her usual one. She sings from the highest to the lowest notes, while she simultaneously plays from the lowest to the highest notes, which in itself creates
a chiastic, X-like composition. Wrånes shows that when the opposite is also true, then everything is true! A similar outlook informs Drastic Pants (2015) as well. Wrånes herself says the piece is about the dilemma of having two legs that want to go in different directions. Striking a balance between these legs does seem perfectly frustrating, and I can well imagine the wild, inner battle that may break out before you manage to figure out how to move a single inch when both your legs insist on being right. The body’s transformational powers Wrånes plays with realities outside the standard. In her understanding of reality everything is interconnected, and she goes to extremes to extend the limits of what is possible. Her utopian orientation is on display in a series of sculptures of morphed bodies. In When My Bones Melted I Could No Longer See the Difference Between Right and Wrong (2011) two pairs of legs have been fused into one. In the piece Tennis Cat (2015) the lower part of a body lies on the floor clad in blue sweatpants, red shoes, and tennis socks featuring the text “I ? Pussy”. There is no corresponding upper body, and since there is thus no head, a brown men’s hat has been placed directly on the figure’s hips, from where a braid of hair emerges, as though originating from a hidden inner organ we didn’t know existed. Wrånes’s deformed, fragmented bodies can be seen as a continuation of surrealist sculptures, and it would be interesting to compare her sculptures with Hans Bellmer’s (1902–1975) warped, surrealistic dolls. Even though there are outward similarities, the two narratives being told are highly dissimilar. Where Bellmer truncates, deconstructs, and isolates, Wrånes does the opposite. Her sculptures are neither revolting or destructive: as I see it, the amalgamated bodies are rather about belonging and inclusion than deconstruction. Regardless of whether the images depict several people in a single body, or whether they show several people morphed together in a new totality, I believe that they signal a harmonious unity rather than inner turmoil. Several of the sculptures can be understood as an encounter between different people who help and support one another so as to advance and carry out new, transformative deeds together. In the sculpture Traveller (2016), for example, one of the figures is upside down, with its head beneath the ground and in contact with whatever is down there. On one of its protruding legs, we see another figure balancing. Two geese fly out from her face in different directions, and she is also carrying a large backpack. We don’t know what it contains, but it shows that she is on a journey. We understand she is on her way, carrying something we don’t know what. Wrånes constructs new bodies in order to make us think bigger and broaden our classical anatomical ideals. She consistently embraces the body’s transformational powers and reveals the freedom that stems from no longer having your identity set in stone. In the sculpture Mom, don’t you miss the real me? (2015), she demonstrates that there’s nothing wrong with having an extra body part. It is after all not the body parts that are supposed to define the individual, and as I see it there may well be an amazing potential in having a third arm. But ultimately it may not be about the fantastic new things you can do with your body, but rather about an underlying yearning for approval and for being accepted as you are. Finn and Ragnhild Jeremiassen Wrånes’s art believes in the potential of humanity. She sees divergence as a quality. If things are too perfect, she loses interest, and in her
productions she often works with a mix of professionals and amateurs. Several of her collaborators are people she has seen on the street, heard singing on the metro, or otherwise been captivated by in some way. She says she is entirely dependent on having professionals around her, but the addition of lay people means she can believe what is happening. For her piece at the Biennale of Sydney she was asked what kind of musician she wanted to have – classical or more rhythmical? She replied that she wanted the musicians who were the least afraid of heights. Before her audition for the Oslo National Academy of the Arts, Wrånes had worked for days on drilling a large hole in a wall. One day she was sitting at a café and started thinking about what it was she was actually doing. Was it really a good idea to jump up out of that hole? Suddenly she saw an elderly couple walking hand in hand on the other side of the street. The man was leaning forwards as the wind blew through his mass of grey, curly hair. Wrånes was completely enchanted by this couple, and without thinking twice she ran over to them and asked the woman if she would act like a sculpture as part of the audition. The couple, Ragnhild and Finn Jeremiassen, said they would be glad to help. They met again the following day. Wrånes had spent the previous night sewing the clothes Ragnhild was to wear. She also managed to
find some matching boots and an old exercise machine. At the academy they went down to one of the graffiti-covered lavatories, where Ragnhild put on the costume. In one of the trees at the Palace Park, where the audition was to take place, Wrånes hung the exercise machine up high on a branch,
with a rope with a handle dangling down from the machine. Wrånes’s instruction to Ragnhild was to just stand and be herself and hold on to the handle. Finn stood next to her and looked after his wife’s
belongings, as though it was the most natural thing in the world. The admissions jury stood a bit farther away and evaluated the work. Wrånes and Ragnhild had agreed upon a secret signal in advance, and when Wrånes gave the signal, Ragnhild let go of the handle. What remained was an old exercise machine bobbing a bit up and down. Wrånes says that what hadn’t been planned, but that turned out so wonderfully, was that after a while Finn spontaneously stepped forward and took his wife’s hand. It was time for some coffee, and they disappeared up the hill at a gentle pace. Wrånes recalls that Finn was so proud of his wife afterwards. “You see,” he beamed, “she used to work in a shoe store.” When she finishes telling me all this, Wrånes becomes emotional. “The exhibition should really be dedicated to Finn and Ragnhild,” she says. “The couple who lived at Mellombølgen. I thought it was so nice that you could live at a place called Mellombølgen” [Medium (frequency radio) Wave]. “I wish I could live in a long fat soundwave”.
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