The Waterskater

”The waterskater, that is an insect and dumb, traces the name of God on the surfaces of ponds or so the Arabians say.”

I read this a long time ago in a novel by the South African writer J.M.Coetzee. It struck me as both beautiful and precious that these words had travelled halfway around the world and perfectly described the surfaces and the erratic waterskaters in my own everyday life. I quietly thanked the Arabs and decided to develop this train of thought.

Tor-Magnus Lundeby also reminds me of the waterskater. This is not to say that he is dumb, on the contrary, he is one of the most intelligent people I have ever met. Moreover, he is obviously neither an insect nor an Arab. So wherein do the similarities lie? Well, his work, which takes the form of paintings and installations, also redefines and transforms distances and spatial relationships in ways, which resembles the waterskater’s microcosm of the universe. Perhaps I need to qualify this last statement and elaborate my theme. A quick flick of the remote control and 5000 TV-channels will soon leave you confused. All the structures, which previously seemed to support things, have effectively melted into oblivion. Places, which used to mount some kind of resistance, have become accessible and tamed. Zapping through channels under the spell of an illusory omnipotence is one option, I guess. However, I would maintain that a painting by Tor-Magnus Lundeby is a far more interesting option. Rather than telling us that we live in a world where location is a spent force, Lundeby’s paintings point in another direction. They seem to suggest that new types of localities are constantly cropping up. The movement of deterritorialisation is never static, and continuously throws up a new set of nodal points and fixtures.

As a Finno-Norwegian citizen of the world, Lundeby is what used to be known as a cosmopolitan. In conversation with the artist, I end up talking more about the notion of being “in transit” than his specific artworks:

“The positive aspect of being “in transit” or between different geographical locations is that it gives you a different vantage point as an observer or outsider. One can view various systems from a fresh perspective. One compares a system with experiences from another place and more often than not feels that these systems work equally well for most of the people involved, despite their slight nuances and differences. One example of this is the taxation of artists, which I often run into as a working artist. Finnish taxation is heavier than the Norwegian system, since visual artists in Finland do not enjoy the same kind of tax status as Norwegian visual artists. In Finland, you are an artist pure and simple, regardless of whether you write, perform or sculpt. This means that the taxation forms are more generalized and are obviously lacking in certain areas. It seems as if the term visual artist is not really taken seriously in comparison to the more generalised term. I am still not entirely clear as to whether I am an artist or a visual artist. In Norway the term artist would require further qualification since many of my fellow ‘artists’ would rather be known as authors or actors.”

Tor Magnus seems to be suggesting that the creation of new localities invariably generates new control mechanisms and apparatuses. In a world of unlimited free choice and the guiding force of the invisible hand in the markets, cause and effect seems to have lost its currency. The Market has become a law unto itself.

The unbridled movements of the financial markets and capital also affects the movements of labour and people, and most often those people who are unable to take advantage of the global market and its free flow of capital. This group of people make up the substructure of global cities, in terms of a cheap labour force in the service industry. This could actually serve as the basis for a new definition of the political subject. Globalisation invariably leads to demands for rights and citizenship, since immigration is the flipside of the free flow of capital. This holds true even though many of the proponents of globalisation feels that it is an unrelated problem and should be subject to tighter control. Our culture has also become an increasingly electronic one and a kind of dating agency, which successfully matches supply with demand. The Nordic Miracle is seen as evidence that this kind of solicitation can successfully create demand. These presumptuous claims, however, are something, which Lundeby finds difficult to embrace:

“As an artist I am actually proud that I’m not part of the Nordic Miracle on the international scene. As an artist, you choose which aspects of your community you want to reflect. I find the clash between urbanity and nature as well as the technological and anatomical intensely fascinating in visual terms. It has been important to me that my art can be interpreted regardless of the locality or nationality of the spectator. It is also exciting to view structures from a birds-eye perspective. One year in New York gave me the impression that the Nordic trend is an overblown phenomenon peddled by the lifestyle magazines and a stagnant European art scene. Would anyone else than expatriates be interested in an exclusively Danish exhibition in downtown New York?

My sojourn in Helsinki has been a trans-national rather than a Nordic experience. The differences between the Finnish and the Norwegian have become more apparent. I am more interested in immersing myself in the differences between two or three cultures than hyping up a specific locality or ethnic group. There has to be more interesting perspectives in art and life than geographical location.”

Printed in:

Cover ARSIS 3/02
Cover ARSIS 3/02