Site-Specificity, Spatiality and Time
The Norwegian artist Hilde Angel Danielsen has a history of exhibiting outside art institutions. In the past few years she has created outdoor projects at Trænafestivalen (northern Norway), Sculpture by the Sea (several times in Denmark and Australia), Bergen International Wood Festival and Pure Art (Poland). Danielsen works with materials like wood, brick, rubber, textile, metal, porcelain and plastic, making spatial installation such as walls, stockfish racks and other architectural structures.
Currently she’s participating in two outdoor sculpture exhibitions: Sculpture by the Sea Aarhus 2015 in Denmark and Fresh Air 2015 in Gloucestershire UK. Norwegian Crafts Magazine asked her a few questions about her work.
«‘The wall’ is a metaphor for protection; it can also be like a masque for hiding hopes and dreams.»Hilde Angel Danielsen
André Gali: Could you tell me a little bit about your art practice?
Hilde Angel Danielsen: I work in an interdisciplinary way with arts & crafts, sculpture and architecture. For me, making art has always been about using nonverbal language to create spatial and often site-related artworks that involve constructions, contrasts, materials, non-materials, translucency, light, shadows and perceptual shifts. I use these devices to tell visual stories or to create spatial experiences that audiences can relate to and reflect on in their own way.
Viewers shouldn’t have to know my intensions or background to get something out of my works. My approach to artistic production developed through a long period of creative study in northern Norway and Bergen. I have an interdisciplinary background in music, film and video, textile art and ceramics. My interest in wood was probably sparked when I was a child, since my father is a carpenter. I witnessed the building of many wooden houses while growing up in northern Norway. And wood is one of the oldest materials in art and architecture. Bergen International Wood Festival, which was established by Petter Bergerud, inspired me to start playing with wood as a constructive element. In my research I use plastic straws as ‘3D sketching’ material before working with the actual constructive elements. These sketches become precious tools for understanding wood lengths and how to construct large-scale artwork on site. Luckily several of my family members have specialized knowledge about wood, so it’s great to have that network as I try out my ideas and gain experience in visual art and crafts.
«Clay is easy-going when you form it but less so when firing. Wood demands more precision at some stage, however.»Hilde Angel Danielsen
AG: Walls seem to recur in your works. What is it you find so interesting about walls?
HAD: ‘The wall’ is a metaphor for protection; it can also be like a masque for hiding hopes and dreams. It can symbolize challenges in life as well as interpersonal relationships, multi-cultural life, crossing national borders, global political themes, processes of control and current ecological issues.
I make these walls with wood or perforated bricks that allow light to pass through. They’re not meant for hiding anything, or for protection, or to support anything other than themselves.
The most recent spatial artwork containing walls, Time Goes By (2015), is an expansion on ideas I worked with in Three Is One Too Many… It has the shape of a simplified hourglass when viewed from the side, and from above it looks like a hexagon. I built and exhibited Three Is One Too Many… at Bergen International Wood Festival in 2008, but I ran out of time and couldn’t finish it. Surprisingly, it won 3rd prize at BIWF2008. It was a kick-start in working with wood. Time Goes By fulfills ideas from the earlier work. The structure has an inner room but there’s no entrance to it. It’s as if time is there but you can’t possess it. Time is relative. But the translucent wood walls show the spatial centre of the artwork. The light and shadows keep moving as the day progresses. The sky is the ceiling, if you like, and it’s as if it wants to peek inside and under the work.
Time Goes By and Upside Down Again (2010) are in one sense developments on the theme of spatiality or walls, since they’re built with fragments or elements from the housing industry, in particular, standard doorframes and support materials used inside walls. For my contribution to the group show Material Information (at KODE Art Museums of Bergen, 2012), I used roof trusses in the installation High They Hang... In the past I’ve made several installations with perforated brick walls, but working with wooden elements has, I think, been more successful as far as fulfilling my goals. These have interesting forms that are less encumbered by gravity. Clay is easy-going when you form it but less so when firing. Wood demands more precision at some stage, however. I now want to experiment more with clay elements. I would love to combine wood and bricks. That’s one of my future dreams. Denmark has many inspiring combinations of wood and brick in old traditional architecture, not least in Aarhus.
« the works are often temporary and site-specific, and in a scale I couldn’t easily work with indoors»Hilde Angel Danielsen
AG: You’re currently showing works in two outdoor sculptures exhibitions, Fresh Air Sculpture and Sculpture by the Sea, and you’ve done so in the past as well, so much so that one might think public space is the ‘natural environment’ for you to work in. What do you find interesting about showing works outside art institutions?
HAD: After studying the use of bricks in art, installations and architecture at Bergen Academy of Art and Design, it became natural not to limit myself to indoor settings, even though my exam project Outside Inside was site specific and built in a basement room at school. I’ve participated in Sculpture by the Sea for the last four years, since 2011, and it’s like coming home. I don’t have to explain my way of working with art. The organizers and audience know the works are temporal, and they come to view, discuss and enjoy. Since my exhibition debut at Ibestad Bygdemuseum in 2005, I’ve often worked in untraditional ways, with various materials and in different venues, not least at Trænafestivalen 2008 and 2011.
Places like Træna allow freedom of expression; the works are often temporary and site-specific, and in a scale I couldn’t easily work with indoors. But sometime indoor spaces also allow for interesting spatial and site-specific projects. In 2009 I was lucky to be one of ten national and international artists invited to make site-specific indoor works at Clayarch Gimhae Museum in South Korea. And as I mentioned earlier, I also made an indoor site-specific work at Material Information, which was the Norwegian Association for Arts and Crafts’ thematic exhibition in 2012. And don’t let me forget to mention that I was in the Netherlands working on an international brick project initiated by European Ceramic Work Centre (EKWC) (2005-2009). For that project, I only exhibited indoors.
One of my latest exhibitions was at Gallery Uusikvan in Kotka, Finland, and there I worked in a way that was new for me. All of a sudden I feel more interested in presenting my art indoors. The limits of the gallery space give their own kind of freedom to experiment with artistic expressions, and when I work indoors, I don’t have to think as much about safety and anchoring the structures to the ground. But I can still work spatially.
«These materials give the youngsters the opportunity to reflect on time, space and change, and on their own background.»Hilde Angel Danielsen
AG: In the ongoing project ‘The Transparent Brick’, you work at the intersection between architecture, art and design. You seem to be very engaged in the space and the site where a work is situated, but in these latest wooden projects, you also include the element of time. Could you tell me a little bit about the project?
HAD: When exhibiting in Australia the last three years, several people started asking about my brick project. Partly for this reason, I gave some artist talks on transparent brick walls and spatial artworks at the GICB 2013 International Ceramic Biennale in Icheon, South Korea, and at CAP in Kobe, Japan that same year. This showed me that things take time, so since The Transparent Brick project started at EKWC in 2005, a lot has happened.
Time Goes By (in Sculpture by the Sea Aarhus 2015) and Upside Down Again (in Fresh Air Sculpture 2015) are both reflections on time, space and change, albeit in different ways. I visually explore these issues in abstract and concrete ways. Here wood also plays an important role as part of my culture heritage. The use of Siberian Larch particularly invites reflections on time. This tree grows very slowly in Siberia’s tundra. Arctic Russia’s short summers and long winters make the wood very strong. The mathematical principle is also related to time, since I choose 60 different wood lengths in my hourglass work Time Goes By. The same number recurs in Upside Down Again – 60 door frames. But despite that similarity, they look very different.
In the children’s workshop at SxS Aarhus, we use materials that suggest almost the exact opposite of Siberian Larch, for instance bamboo, rubber bands, mass-produced barbeque sticks and the sort of little fastening devices you might have in your office. These materials give the youngsters the opportunity to reflect on time, space and change, and on their own background. Most of all, they experience that it takes time to be creative and to develop hand skills. It starts dawning on them that to create art requires learning a wide set of disciplines; only then can they combine the knowledge in their own individual ways to express themselves. They become very involved and inspired and end up motiving me as well.