Tracing borderland identities

What happens when we dare to share? The Nordic Days in Murmansk sort of gives an answer with artists from the Nordic region.

The borders between Norway and Russia were not drawn until 1826, an under-communicated fact about the Barents region which is worth keeping in mind when entering Nordic Days in Murmansk 2012. Sure, 1826 is quite a while ago, but for a long time the geographical area around the eastern part of Finnmark were a borderland shared by the inhabitants of the Kola Peninsula. The point is: There is a tradition for cultural exchange, a tradition for sharing, a tradition for coexisting.

After arranging the Norwegian Days in Murmansk for several years, the Royal Norwegian Consulate General joined forces with Consulate General of Finland in St. Petersburg, Murmansk Office, Consulate General of Sweden in St. Petersburg and The Information Office of the Nordic Council of Ministers in St. Petersburg, and gave the annual event a Nordic profile. This year’s arrangement is the second in line as such, and Pikene på Broen, a group of Kirkenes-based curators, have orchestrated the events representing contemporary Norwegian arts and culture. You could think of Pikene på Broen as matchmakers, aligning the elements, making it happen.

How to get there

If you go by car you will encounter hours of white and grey no man’s land with a distinct smell of pollution. The industrial scent of sulphur, sulphur accompanied by black crows. And everything is covered with snow, but forget about that crispy, white December snow, this is wet snow, warm snow, April slush that will make your shoes un-wearable if you forget to impregnate, and of course you do.

In Murmansk April has come to an end, but there is no sign of spring. The air is thick with rain and the cafés are filled with sushi. Sushi has become very trendy. I navigate through this city of sushi built in former Soviet concrete. One is allowed to smoke inside. Everywhere I turn there are cigarettes – cigarettes and alcohol.

Lee Yong-Baek, Angel Soldier, (2011), single channel video, 23 min, still. Courtesy: the artist/ gallery Hakgojae.

When we dare to share

Dare to Share, an exhibition of statements on borderland aspects, is situated at the Murmansk Art Museum. A giant museum with several floors, but somehow the exhibition-rooms feels narrow. Crowded, even though we get there early in the morning when most people are still asleep. I immediately get drawn to South Korean Lee Yong-Baek’s Angel Soldier, a video performance of camouflaged soldiers slowly moving in front of a floral-printed backdrop. Everything is floral, even the soldiers clothing. Paying close attention you will be able to spot the tip of the soldiers’ machine guns, but only for a second, before they float into the mix of flowers in all shapes and colours. Within this filmed mural there is something lurking, though invisible at first. Military power obfuscated by flowers and tranquillity. Like any flower the work pleases, but it’s absolute strength lies in the contrast between the two.

Tammo Rist and Steffen Krüger exhibit 90 truck scans, x-ray images, taken by the customs office at the Norwegian-Swedish border. Rist and Krüger’s work, Metabolism, interprets an image of the Norwegian Organism. Each truck scan symbolizes the elements in an organism; its intake, transportation and transformation of matter destined to build up and maintain the organism’s substance. Metabolism also has a hypnotic effect on the spectator. Picture 90 scans covering the wall in front of you. Move up close, visualize all these trucks and cars at the Norwegian border, waiting to get in, but some of them never manage. They stay, busted in borderland.

Tammo Rist & Steffen Krüger, “Metabolism”, (2011), scans. Photo: Magnus Gorter Voie.

Handicraft meets total kitsch

At the museum’s Arts & Craft Department the travelling exhibit Gierdu – Movements in the Sami Art World recently opened. It is a mix of installations, photos, videos and paintings. The Sami people are a part of the Barents borderland, so an exhibition like this is natural at Nordic Days in Murmansk. Gierdu is well presented, the room is balanced and with interesting works in so far as the divergence between them. However, no matter how much I try to ignore it, a feeling of emptiness keeps creeping upon me. It sneaks up from behind and clings to my shoulders. Some of Gierdu’s works resemble the traditional Sami handicraft, called duodji, and become more of a comment on the handicraft heritage of the Sami people. Considering the second part of the exhibition’s title, Movements in the Sami Art World, this is slightly disappointing. But then again paraphrasing traditional handicraft could be interpreted as social commentary. In this context Bente Geving and Margitt Ellinor’s work is an exception. A photo of a gilt-edged plate with the motive of a Sami mother dressed in her traditional Sami clothing with her two Sami children in Sami surroundings, aka the woods. It is total kitsch! There are many engaging aspects to a statement like this. Perhaps the most obvious is the ironic distance created through the photo and its framing.

The white noise of Murmansk

Later in the afternoon I head off to the Transborder café at the Ledokol Club. The lighting is purple and dimmed when Amund S. Sveen shares his performance, Sound of Freedom. He reflects upon music and war, inviting us into his decibel-world of white noice – all frequencies played at the same time – drums and political context. His persistent repeating of the Barney, I love you-song will stay in my head for a long time.

The Writer’s talk with Kari Lipson (Helsinki) and Morten Strøksnes (Oslo) concentrates on cultural differences, borderland aspects, arts and literature. Borders have double identities, Mr. Strøksnes says, and he must be on to something because later that night, roaming the streets of Murmansk, I’m not able to separate our Barents identities if I try. Then I loose my wallet and my identity card is gone. Last seen in the sofa of a concert hall. And after several rounds of lost and found in Murmansk I drag my no id-self back to my room and sleep a sleepless sleep of white noise. Murmansk, davai, I shared with you this night.

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