Lost and Found - A text about the exhibition Archive of the Forgotten by John K. Raustein
LOST AND FOUND
Throughout his whole artistic practice, John K. Raustein has explored the textile tradition as a starting point for associative objects and social commentary. He uses this understanding of materials and craft knowledge as the basis for three-dimensional and conceptually rooted textile sculptures and room installations. This situates him as clearly within the field of visual art as in the field of craft.
Raustein’s general project is to penetrate deeper into questions about personal identity. He focuses on how stories from the past, various events, relationships and emotions contribute to maintaining and reformulating our identity. A commonality amongst biographically-oriented artists such as himself is to work with one’s own history in order to shed light on what a life is and how one becomes who one becomes. For Raustein, memories play a crucial role in this attempt to create a coherent life history and thus a unified self.
With the poetic yet self-contradictory exhibition title ‘The Archive of the Forgotten’, Raustein seems to give us a hint about the status and position of memory in the work of remembrance. An archive is a place for systematising documents, where it is possible to retrieve factual information at any time and in an effective way. Our mind, however, contains memories that are arbitrary and unreliable. Every time memories are pulled out of our mental archive, they are slightly changed – they are coloured by our experiences. In contrast to a document that can be retrieved from an archival folder and then returned, we are unable to retrieve the original memory. Instead, we remember a variation of the last time we remembered the original situation.
The first encounter with an unknown place sharpens the senses, and for Raustein, opens the archive of the forgotten. The experience of Svolvær and the striking nature of Lofoten triggers strong memories of childhood and youth. It is like coming home to Jæren, in the south west of Norway, and the characteristic landscape there – to the ocean, the constantly changing weather and drifting clouds. But also of a childhood home infused with coastal culture: a home with Chinese porcelain, camphor-wood chests and other artefacts from distant harbours that seafarers in his immediate family brought home. These memories enable a unique sensitivity to the surroundings that is more concretely expressed through the formal choices Raustein makes. Visual traces of fish racks, boat fenders, fish crates and the like find their way into the works in the form of colours, patterns and sculptural constructions.
Raustein’s encounter with the place triggers memories of the past through visual impressions, fragrances and the sound of the wind. Random memories stream forth. He relives something and feels something new simultaneously.
It is like the famous ‘Madeleine moment’. In the multi-volume novel In Search of Lost Time (À la recherche du temps perdu) (1913–1927), the French author Marcel Proust (1871–1922) describes how the taste of a madeleine cake immediately triggers key childhood memories in the main protagonist. This episode has become a metaphor for sensory experiences that immediately summon memories, and it has been the genesis for the distinction between involuntary and voluntary memories. Raustein does not need to concentrate in order to recall past events through the deliberate and voluntary work of remembrance. To the contrary: random, or involuntary, memories stream forth. They create an experience of simultaneity, a continuity between past and present that is expressed in the works.
From the starting point of his own biography, Raustein illustrates how episodic memories from childhood contribute to maintaining or renegotiating our identity. The past melts together with the present in abstract, expressive textile works packed into associative and poetic titles, in line with the strong personal content. Seen as a whole, his works form an unstructured life story. He describes how the memories are stored in the body itself, but in an unknown place, in an archive that can potentially be opened. When the sleeping bird wakes, flies up and glides on the wind, it blows off the dry dust of old memories.
Janeke Meyer Utne, curator at Lillehammer Art Museum.
The exhibition is supported by Regional Project Funds for Visual Arts from the Art Centers in Norway and the Visual Artists' Remuneration Fund.