On 23 August the exhibition Arne Nordheim i kunsten. Ingen ismer for meg, takk! [tr. Arne Nordheim in the World of Art: no “-isms” for me, please!] opened at Henie Onstad Kunstsenter. KUNSTforum asked Lars Mørch Finborud, the curator, some questions on the exhibition, his curatorial practice and inspirations.
What´s the exhibition about?
The exhibition aim to show the Norwegian composer Arne Nordheim (1931–2010) not only as an icon in Norwegian avant-garde music history, but also as an important cross-artistic figure in Scandinavian post-war art.
What inspired you to choose this specific subject matter, and title?
Arne Nordheim had a close connection to Henie Onstad Kunstsenter (HOK) from the opening of the institution in 1968. Actually, he made the commissioned multimediawork, Solitaire, for the opening ceremony of HOK. Nordheim also married here, built the Norwegian Studio for Electronic Music in our basement in 1975, and altogether he made five commissioned pieces for HOK before he passed away in 2010. So if it is one institution that could produce an Arne Nordheim-exhibition, it is HOK. It also helped that we knew that Nordheim had made some hitherto unknown pioneering works in the field of television art, sound sculpture, multimedia and sound installations, and we had an urge to show these gems.
The title of the show is taken from an interview with Nordheim in 1955, when a journalist asked the up-and-coming composer: “What about the present, the future and -isms?” Arne Nordheim replied confidently: “No -isms for me, please!” This is a perfect, yet strange title for a retrospective exhibition that emphasizes how Nordheim’s 50-year long multidisciplinary career lived up to this motto.
If you had to choose, can you name any favorite artists or projects in the exhibition?
I think the composer and musician Helge Sten aka Deathprods work on reconstructing four of Nordheim’s major sound installations from the 1960s and 70s for the show is very important. The installation is played from original tapes and placed in a broader context for the first time.
Through time these installations have become just another “Nordheim-composition”, while in the original format they included lightshows, photos, kinetic sculptures, architecture etc. For example: early in the research we discovered that Nordheim had made an interactive telephone installation for kids, Sound Bar, for a show Harald Szeeman curated at HOK in 1970 called Our World of Things. We didn’t even know Szeeman had curated a show here, and little did we know Arne Nordheim was asked to create a new piece for that show as well!
Also, I have to mention that I am very proud to present Arne Nordheim and his widow Rannveig Getz’ collection of paintings, books and scores for the first time to an audience. What makes this so special is that the collection mostly consists of gifts from other artists such as Inger Sitter, Bendik Riis, Sverre Fehn, Gunnar S. Gundersen, Åse Frogner, Ferdinand Finne, Carl Nesjar etc. These personal gifts place Nordheim right in the generation of artists that he saw himself as a part of and admired.
Preparations for Deathprod & Biosphere`s Nordheim Transformed concert in the Studio. Photo: Lasse Marhaug
What do you think of the relation between art and music, as it is displayed in this exhibition?
Music is art; Nordheim always claimed that art was simply a way to express yourself and deal with eternal themes such as death, longing, love and catastrophe. In this way the themes in his music are reflected in the exhibition through Håkon Blekens paintings or Hannah Ryggens textiles. Also, I think the relation between art and music is present in the way the elements in the exhibition work together so well. Arne Nordheim always said he had this hang-up from his young days ‘to make whole buildings sing’. In the exhibition we have over 20 sound sources in the room, but since all the sounds come from Nordheims sound-library made in Studio Experymentalne, Poland in the 60s, everything melts together and makes the whole art center sing.
Nordheims music creates a beautiful soundtrack to the abstract paintings, photos and sculptures shown – the elements work and complements each other – and make the impression stronger.
I also think the relationship between art and music is evident in the way Arne Nordheim changed the role of the composer. For the first time a composer wasn’t only a person that created scores and arranged music, but a composer could also travel to Japan to make a sound piece for a World Expo, create a stunningly beautiful ballet show that toured Europe for months or work in hi-tech studios in the National Broadcasting Bureau (NRK) together with artists or directors to create musical theatres or psyched-out television-paintings.
Can you give a brief description of your curatorial practice? The process from idea to exhibition?
To be honest, I trust completely in the artists I work with, and see myself more as a producer, researcher and helper available to the artists. Somehow that always works out and creates the best exhibitions, instead of bringing my grand visions and name to the table.
Much in the same way, when I put together an exhibition on deceased artists, I am very hardcore when it comes to research. But when the hard work is done and every stone is turned, the exhibition and subject matter almost comes to you quite naturally.
I think that the most important thing for a curator is to know how to write good texts, to know the difference between a jack and a mini-jack, a hammer and a nail, contacting sponsors and journalists and stay grounded and calm. The rest comes from the artists themselves.
Can you name a writer or book, fiction or theory that has inspired your curatorial practice?
When I made the Nordheim-exhibition I read quite a few Jacques Tardi-cartoons, watched Ruben Östlunds movies and listened to Bill Fay’s new album. Somehow, artists like these, who create profound and relevant art in 2013, inspire me to work harder and set higher standards for my work. It also gives me a feeling that what I’ve dedicated my life to – art – is not completely meaningless, just slightly.
Why is art important?
Besides the importance of art for the somewhat undervalued spiritual life of the people in this world, I will emphasize how art has contributed greatly to the development of society in fields such as technology, ethics, politics and economics.