WHAT CONCERNS ONESELF
The part of the art scene that employs art as an explicit politico-reflective instrument, presented through installations, tableaux and montages on the one hand, and activities, activism and performative events on the other, has often been referred to as socially oriented, relational or as institutional critique.
Runa Carlsen’s artistic practice plays out in this legacy, but since she distinctively incorporates autobiographical components in her work, she is an atypical candidate for the so-called socially oriented art, and straightforward categorisations become imprecise. Her oeuvre is characterised by an interest in general, so-called timeless questions, which are, paradoxically, often rooted in current or historical events that are subjective and self-experienced. That the subjective, in the sense of what concerns oneself, can in fact be deeply general, seems to form an important starting point for the artist.
If one were to be tempted onto the political aspects of the video work Where the Streets Have No Name (2012), one is reminded of the philosopher Theodor W. Adorno’s stance that politics does not primarily reveal itself in the immediate content, even though, in the case of Carlsen, the immediate thematics manifests itself as essential. In this work the artist’s striking past becomes a kind of scene on which the autobiographical unfolds. But the moments that constitute the video’s form will never be arbitrary additions by the Carslenesque artist subject, and the important question is what function these elements have in the total aesthetic production. Is it not so that documentary and subjective history appears as it does because of the questions of aesthetic form that are raised by the documentary medium?
Adorno compared works of art to so-called monads. In philosophy, monads are the indivisible entities the world is made up of. Adorno used monads to describe how the unavoidable tensions within them express unavoidable conflicts within the larger socio-historical process from which they arise and to which they belong. These tensions enter the artwork through the artist’s struggle with socio-historically laden materials. Adorno sees all of these tensions and conflicts as contradictions and ambivalences that the artist cannot necessarily resolve. A resolution of the contradictions would require a transformation in society as a whole, which, given his social theory, does not seem imminent. This is the starting point for Adorno’s famous conclusion that contradictions in society become aesthetical, formal problematics in art.
It can be argued that Carlsen's ouevre in many ways writes itself into the classical ambivalence between subjective psychologism versus objectivist philosophy of history. When Kant argued that objectivity is guaranteed by subjective forms, the individual subject manifested itself as an integrated part of the empirical world. The object is not without the subject, and if the object itself lacks subject, its objectivity would be impossible. This is given a deeper relevance in the work Det røde varpet (The Red Warp) (2014/2015), which is a reconstruction of a startling discovery at the farm Tegle at Jæren in 1921. A warp offered insight into weaving techniques from 400 AC. The history these techniques and materials have become part of are reactivated in Carlsen’s reconstruction. An interest in the conditions under which the woven fabric was produced is also present in the exhibition Coming Community (2010). The exhibition featured works including Grundrisse (Outline), which introduced a new weaving technique. A mobile loom, here an actual mobile scaffold on wheels, was moved around Bjørvika, and the materials in the finished woven fabric were found at the construction site.
The work The New Hot Spot was also part of the exhibition. The work is a photograph that documents an intervention in the public sphere, where a tall woven fabric is integrated into the scaffolding at Bjørvika. The interaction between the fabric and the large-scale public construction projects becomes striking and almost absurd, and underlines the strong conceptual impulse that runs through Carlsen’s oeuvre. Grundrisse is notoriously associated with Karl Marx's manuscript of the same name that deals with the relationship between production, distribution, exchange and consumption. It is precisely the study of the forces that drive the social organisation of humans’ structuring of their everyday lives that motivate the key productions in Carlsen's oeuvre.
Trude Schjelderup Iversen
The Norwegian word ”varp” is also used in a figurative sense to denote “a coup” or “a find”.