Notes on Eat Norway and 20 Coastal Stations

Notes on Eat Norway and 20 Coastal Stations

Everyone must go to the Arctic circle, once. To be in awe of its nature, is to be filled with light. Nevertheless, not all is well in the paradise of the High North. On a closer look, it turned out that the Arctic paradise had not escaped environmental degradation. Polar bears develop breathing problems from London smog. Besides opening up the world, globalism also exemplifies interconnectedness in a negative way.

Throughout the journey, I drew mountains and sea scapes, visited shopping malls and collected trash. Whenever I thought I was back to paradise, a plastic bag or a melted disposable BBQ grill floated by. The Arctic Circle and its deep blue sea had become a plastic soup.

Sailing along the coastline from Bodö, hyper-reality shopping malls marred the inland. When entering the stores, a stench of plastic stuck to the walls. Shorelines and forested mountains were printed on plastic bags making the shopper carry around the nature of North Norway. In the malls the tourist bought an experience in small packages of trolls and forest scented candles. Once home, they threw away the landscape on the shopping bag. Nature is a consumable and but pretty picture on a bag. We pollute our existence, and lose ourselves.

Across the sea and under the surface float marine debris, in particular plastics from the tourism and industry composed from bags, micro-pellets in cosmetics, and food packaging. A take-away-coffee or ice-cream cup is not biodegradable as it is lined with plastics. Broken nets, made from plastic rather than natural fiber litter islands where sea eagles nest. These are the biggest threats to maritime life, and our life, which began in the sea. Plastics become a food additive that ends up in fish and game. Eventually we eat our own litter. Simultaneously as we poison marine life, we create a shared, toxic environment as the plastic spur further chemical reactions resulting in new forms of toxicity.

Paradise is an imprint on a plastic lined coffee take away cup to be thrown away in the sea.
Print wise, marine litter informs the installation ‘Eat Norway’ made up from evergreen forest paper coffee cups, cloud napkins, technicolour salmon paper plates and a fish farm table-cloth, and toilet- roll waterfalls. Its worth is what value we place on what we see, just as we behold nature. Objects from a daily consumer society is spread, nonchalantly, in the museum’s pristine rooms. Is it trash, or is it art? It’s a reminder.

Eat Norway was funded by the two yearlong 20 Coastal Stations international printmaking project consisting of a journey, an exhibition, a seminar and a catalogue.

The project and exhibition is dedicated to the Japanese woodcut technique Mokuhanga. A highly evolved and complex form of craft, this water-based technique spread from China to Japan. Mokuhanga is an interlinked process which starts from the production of long-fibre paper, carving blocks in hard wood, to the actual printing process which consists of inking up and printing by hand exactly registered plates. Distinguished by a subtle touch, images evolve by water based colour on handmade paper to let light through the printed surfaces. Japanese woodcuts profoundly influenced innovative European artists in the late 1800s, and has entered the canon of art as one of the finest of printmaking techniques ever invented.

Alas, the craft is in danger to vanish with the few remaining venerable Japanese masters. Today ultrafast digital gear replaces this archaic printing method. To halt the demise of Mokuhanga, an international network of artists, artisans and theorists seek to revive an interest in the technique by organising conferences, workshops and residencies within and outside Japan.

2011, the producers of 20 Coastal Stations, Karen Helga Maurstig and Elisabet Alsos Strand, met at the 1st International Mokuhanga-conference in Kyoto.

Japanese and Nordic art is often described to harbour similar approaches to art and aesthetics. A close relationship with a harsh nature, people living in settlements by the sea and an appreciation of the modest, honest and unaffected could be the origin of such a mutual view and expression. Creating a partnership with artists setting out on the same journey led to more than an exhibition.

Hiroshige (1797-1858) portrays the journey between Kyoto and Edo in an illustrated series titled The 53 Stations of the Tokaido. Drawing on Hiroshige’s legacy, 20 Coastal Stations included the following stops from Bodö summer to Bergen.

Since then each artist has retreated to their own daily lives, taking the journey with them, beginning to build a body of work around the experience of 20 Coastal Stations. These prints make the final stop along the stations. A group exhibition opened at Sogn and Fjordane Art Museum 2016 to continue onwards to Bodø Art Society in 2017. The artists in the project show a wide range of expression which includes printing on paper, installations and sculpture, video, artists’ books and relational art. It is Mokuhanga in both old and new forms. Basing the journey at sea, and a new meaning merged with the concept of “the floating world” (ukiyo-e), which was originally the name of woodcuts during the Edo-period (1603-1868) in Japan. The exhibition sets the audience on the trail of the rich Japanese Mokuhanga tradition and its printed images’ magic, and thus join a journey which started in Japan and continues in a Norwegian gallery.

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