We are about to enter the mountains. Yet the first thing we encounter are not mountains.
It is not a full blown national romantic illusion where all traces of the painterly process are hidden. What we are entering is not going to be a depiction of the landscape which appears as a window into another world. We are going to find ourselves in the middle of such a world. Yet, the first thing we encounter is still the untreated backside of the painting panel, the stand that holds it erect, and sacks of sand that prevents it from falling over. We are met by tableau curtains and intense spot lights. The painterly illusion is broken and revealed before it is even presented to us. And then we may enter into the realm of the painting. Into the mountain. Or the painting as a mountain. Into a story about how humans have approached the mountain, and how the art of painting has been a contributing factor in this.
“Via norske fjell” (“Through Norwegian mountains”) is a several year long project of Maiken Stene, where she connects a personal understanding of landscape to that of art history and to geological relations. The project consists of an exhibition series entailing “total installations” where the painting is central. Here, she examines how historical ideas about landscape continue to influence our relationship to nature today.
The exhibition at the North Norwegian Artist Centre is the fourth in the series, and uses as its starting point Maiken Stene’s personal encounter with the mountains of Lofoten. After a two month long residency in Svolvær, she has produced a comprehensive painterly reaction to the landscape. The pyramid shaped Lofoten mountains that tower up from the ocean, have over the years gone from being considered ugly and impossible to traverse to beautiful and alluring. The formations have for ages imprinted themselves in people’s minds. In her process, Stene has consistently worked from memory, without using any other aids. Her painterly depiction is, in other words, a personal transformation of the landscape, marked by fragments much like those that are present in our conscience as memories. At times, they are clear and defined, at other times, they are vague and difficult to grasp.
The landscape painting has a prestigious place in the history of art. When at the dawn of the 1800s artists started painting pictures of steep mountains and long fjords they helped open our eyes up to see, experience and appreciate Norwegian nature. The painting has played a part in shaping our perception of the landscape. It has also been a way of understanding and documenting the landscape, and as such giving an illusion of exact representation. Today, we no longer need the painting to document, but it can still be a way of exploring and approaching the surroundings. In Maiken Stene’s installation, the exploration spans dark, saturated, and intricate embellishments as well as loose, quick sketches that hint towards artists as disparate as Peder Balke and Jackson Pollock. As spectators, or mountain hikers, we are given the opportunity to walk in the midst of this painterly landscape exploration, and allow the perspective to change as we move through the room. As we do, we are constantly reminded of the painterly representation as a stage scenery, and perhaps how we ourselves use the actual landscape as a backdrop.
Maiken Stene (b. 1983) lives and works in Sokndal in Southern Norway. She is educated at Nordland kunst- og filmskole, Malmö Art Academy, and The Cooper Union School of Art in New York. She has previously had exhibitions at, among other places, Akershus Kunstsenter, Stavanger Art Muesum, LNM, Oslo Kunstforening, Hå Gamle Prestegard, and Uppsala Art Museum. Her work has been purchased by, among others, Stavanger Art Museum, REV-Ocean, Kulturetaten, UD, Equinor, Statens Konstråd, and several private collections. As a central part of Stene’s practice, she also runs Velferden Sokndals Scene for Samtidskunst together with Hans Edward Hammonds and Ingeborg Kvame. Here, a social and inter-artistic program for producing improved disciplinary knowledge and consciousness about human kind’s relationship to nature.