Atlantic Footprints by Anne Szefer Karlsen
Thomas Kilpper has been carving wooden floors since 1998. The first one was an indoor basketball court in a disused US military base in Germany, with a history reaching back to World War II.(1) The charged surfaces Kilpper decides to carve into become productive spaces in and of themselves when they are used as large-scale printing blocks, and is an approach has been refined for almost 20 years. By physically and imaginatively relating spaces to the stories of those who have walked across them through their floors, he engages with the architecture and its history through the creation of a narrative that is at once factual and speculative.
The development of Kilpper’s process over time has also meant that more and more often he invites other artists into the work. The sheer scale of some of the more recent pieces imply the efforts of many, such as in There Is No Apocalypse – Only Catastrophies! Contemporary Footprints for the National Gallery in Oslo, which was co-created with a group of young artists. (2) With this work, Kilpper moved his process into the museum, where subsequently another particular ‘space’ appeared. Like any other building, such buildings have their own history, but they are also ideological spaces: of instruction and education, just as much as they are spaces of oppression and of exclusion. Different to many of the other sites Kilpper has engaged with before, the museum is not a derelict or unused space; it is a space in constant re-negotiation. The collaborative process of making hints at the fact that the social aspect is formative to Kilpper’s works, and, in the case of museums, is also formative to their re-negotiation. Together, the artists destroy something in order to create something new. The works become connected to their time of creation and to the people who make them, just as much as to the site itself. Current events are equally important to the visual narratives the works present as the history that has unfolded in the spaces into which they are carved.
Grafikksalen (the printmaking hall) in Haugesund Billedgalleri will from October 2017 feature a permanent installation of Kilpper’s site-specific work, which at the time of writing this text has the working title Atlantic Footprints. To include a marked floor in a museum is a bold move. One of the museum buildings was originally a residential dwelling, which in its initial years housed figures of authority, such as directors and ship owners, who would make their mark on society by engaging in philanthropy, and by collecting art and donating it to the public. Kilpper’s new work will ‘populate’ the history of this specific museum, its archive and physical space. It will be available and visible to audiences for a long time, much longer than ordinary exhibitions, as it will be part of the permanent collection in a very different way than other works. The commission is an attempt to relate to neighbouring works in the permanent collection within the museum – possibly addressing the inclusion and omission of other artists’ works, and maybe encouraging us to take a closer look at certain pieces. The productive traces on the floor surface speak also of and from the position of a small west-coast town in Norway, where the sea and petroleum business are equally prominent, and that makes this town thus deeply connected to the rest of the world. The figures carved into the floor are placeholders that remind us of the impossibility of representation, and of the troubling undercurrents in Norway and many other societies today.
The co-creators of Atlantic Footprints – Élisé Allée, Emma Brown, Nicolai Diesen, Anna Ferking, Paul Fox, Anthony Morton and Yi Yang – are all art students from different countries and of different ages who put themselves forward to assist, provoke, produce, discuss and influence the work. The process of deciding with what to permanently mark this floor was no easy task, but through an experimental approach based on conversations, faces were brought out from the growth rings and lopping traces. They are all mapped in a visual floorplan that accompanies the work. These are faces and events that link the high-octane economy and society of Norway to particular and sometime violent events at home and in other parts of the world. Many topics and events wash over this floor, but there are also areas left untouched, that are to be carved out later. Sometime in the future there will be a continuation of the process that happened in autumn 2017, marked by the last decades of the so-called ‘pillars of society’ as well as figures who have forcefully claimed their space or those who have been given their space involuntarily in our shared consciousness through events beyond themselves.
(1) don’t look back, 1998, site-specific work in Oberursel, a suburb of Frankfurt am Main, Germany.
(2) Site-specific work as part of the exhibition Impressions. Five Centuries of Woodcuts at the National Gallery in Oslo, Norway, November 2015–January 2016. The collaborating artists were Cao Yanyi, Tobias Prytz, Tova Fransson, Olav Mathisen, Victor Guzman and Jan Hamstra, and the commission was curated by Møyfrid Tveit, Andrea Kroksnes and Bodil Sørensen.