Q&A with Ånond Versto

Last week, Lydgalleriet in Bergen opened an exhibition with Ånond Versto. KUNSTforum asked him some questions about his work and inspirations. 

Ånond Versto, Kosmos Wurlitzer III. ©Lydgalleriet

Ånond Versto, Kosmos Wurlitzer III. ©Lydgalleriet

Can tell us about your current exhibition?

It’s an installation in Lydgalleriet in Bergen showing a work that I’ve been busy with from time to time for some years. The work is a machine that plays ‘records’ made from star maps and other cosmic imagery. A system of bellows, valves and channels read the holes in these paper-discs and then puts them out as sound.  The sound is produced by organ flutes activated by the ‘records’ at different times and durations. The whole thing is pneumatic and is moved by a barrel-organ-like cranking mechanism. There is a shelf with a small collection of discs that can be mounted in the machine. I’ve been interested in creating an assembly of materials that could ‘interpret’ those images and treat them as musical scores. Sometimes the output is very chaotic, and yet other times meaningful phrases and unpredictable harmonic sequences appear.

Who, or what was Wurlitzer, how did you learn of this word?

There was a song by Joni Mitchell where she ‘put a quarter in the Wurlitzer and the thing began to whirl’.  That was the first time I heard the word. Later, as I was making the machinery, I came across pictures and technical drawings of the old Wurlitzer band organs and found that I could use some of those elements in the work.

What made you create a work based on the Wurlitzer?

A Wurlitzer can be a jukebox, a band organ or a theater organ, so it’s a thing associated with fairs, bars, tivolis and movie theaters. The name comes from the original founder of the company that made these instruments, but that has nothing to do with my project. The project is based on the simple idea of having these cosmic images (the zodiac etc.), which are already heavily loaded with projected meaning, and take on other quirky semantic functions as musical scores. It almost becomes a trivialization of the old and very grand concept of Musica Universalis; the idea that there is a kind of music in the great scheme of things in the universe. For instance the relation between the rotational frequencies of Earth and Venus around the Sun approximates the harmonic ratio of a musical fifth. The geometrical pattern that this ratio produces in the solar system is pentagonal, as was observed by early astrologers. So there is a cross-projecting going on from gravitational movement to music to visual symbol. I’ve drawn from that in my work.

Ånond Versto, Kosmos Wurlitzer III, detail. ©Lydgalleriet

Ånond Versto, Kosmos Wurlitzer III, detail. ©Lydgalleriet

How would you describe your work process from idea to work? Given the complexity of your sculptures and the fact that they make sounds.

The initial idea branches out into a chain reaction of different tasks such as reading, drawing, shopping and scavenging for materials. Then there is a period of construction, running back and forth in between workshops and studio, where the ideas manifest and new ideas pops up in the flow. Finally the whole thing comes together. It’s a process that moves from a singular state into a plethora of processes and finally back to the singular. I learn new craft and techniques as I go along, such as organ-pipe building and pneumatics in this case.

What are your main influences when creating a work of art?

One thing that intrigues me is the narrative of dreams. I’m not explicitly using dreams to make work, but I want to achieve some of that manifestation-magic that happens in there. That feeling of something potentially beautiful or captivating having been transformed from possibility to manifestation inspires me to work. So I guess my main influence is the very interesting experience of actually having or being a mind.

Can you name an artist, artwork or exhibition that has inspired you?

When I was about six years old, I climbed up the bookshelf in my mother’s studio and a book on Magritte fell down. I was completely mesmerized by those pictures. I try to preserve that pearl of fascination that I got from that book. I’m not sure if visual works can ever have such a strong impact on me again.

Can you name a writer or book, fiction or theory that has inspired your works?

Jorge Luis Borges. His short stories establish such strong and fascinating architectures that I think of his writing in sculptural terms. I admire the way they are woven by some magic capacity into the literary aspects of reality, performing wonderful ‘Copernican shifts’ on my reading of the world. There’s a lot to learn from that, and it’s great fun. To insert such possibilities into the world by way of fiction is a great achievement that I can derive some faith from in my struggle to understand what art and imagination is all about.

Ånond Versto, Kosmos Wurlitzer III. From the opening. ©Lydgalleriet

Ånond Versto, Kosmos Wurlitzer III. From the opening. ©Lydgalleriet

Why work with sound, as opposed to any other artistic media?

I don’t actually work with sound; it’s more a process of preparing and composing a jumble of materials into a structure that creates sound by itself. The work is a synthesis of sound, materials and images where every element is necessary to make the machinery work. So it’s not opposed to other artistic media; it’s a whole range of media that through an effort of thinking and craftsmanship makes a whole that is more than the sum of its parts.

What is your next project?

Curating the summer-show of Seljord Kunstforening. It will open on the 28th of July, and I’m curating it together with Ellen H. Suhrke and Øystein Wyller Odden.

Why is art important?

Beauty will save the world, said Prince Myshkin.

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