Interview with visual artist Siv Bugge Vatne
Published March 2019
Could you say something about your present work, what are you the most concerned with?
What I am the most concerned with is working on my own attitudes and ways of thinking. I'm also concerned with building up an art practice that makes me free on as many levels as possible. For example, I have found a material in cuttings from trees, as there are lots of it, actually, there's just too much of it where I live. It doesn't cost anything and I can bring it with me on my way to work or from elsewhere where I move around. People also bring them to me as gifts, like from a mess they've had lying in the garage for ten years, or parts of a tree they've cut down in their garden. It makes me, in a sense, free from property and ownership and it connects me to my surroundings and to people. It's meaningful to me to use materials that have not been transported too far and that have not been through long chemical processes or long economic chains. Trees and rocks are so essential to our existence. Short and direct. It's like peeling off layers of culture. Picking up things from my surroundings is like saying, this is what I have, this is what I am. Thematically, I am concerned with creating works without a concept or an idea, works that trigger something more than the cognitive. I'm interested in attitudes and ways to work that open up to the non-cognitive, non-figurative, non idea-oriented. As if there is an opposite that is not absurd or irrational. One that is rich, clear, sharp and that contains plentyful. So I'm concerned with how to peel off concepts and ideas, how to create works where I can find something completely different from what I in advance can imagine.
You have an extensive art practice and are known both for shows and site spesific projects. Could you say something about the way you initiate work on a site-specific project?
In the site spesific projects I start with listening to the representatives of the site. What they want to project, how do they identify themselves, what do they wish to stand for. It's really about listening to what creates identity in a place, and then that will point out a direction for me. Who are these people, what place is this. These are for me exciting things to learn at the initiation of a project. From this starting point, I commence a broad research that can be linked to geography, history, biographies, anything that makes me curious. I also build a model and analyze the building or the outdoor space itself to find good places for an art work. All this remains in the back of my mind. Then I sort of, forget it. Then I start to rotate around, working with shapes and materials until I find something I want to keep, something I can't let go of. Finally, there's time for fine grinding and at the same time I take another look at the theme in a process that is like a kind of code cracking.
Do you have a preferred medium, any preferred techniques?
Right now, when I go to my studio and work towards a show, I work mostly with sculptures in wood. Then there I use wood chippers, knives and a cutter. At the same time, stone is also a material that I enjoy working with. When I make sculptures and pictures, the techniques range from no technique at all to experimental or more classic.
Is the use of a sketchbook a part of your working process?
Not much, if you think of a classic sketchbook with pencil and eraser. I do these kind of sketches rarely, but I almost never use them afterwards and I do not particularly like looking at them later on. They don't really give me anything and only make me feel unsuccessful. But I do sketch in other ways, like in making models with cardboard, plasticine and stones. I do this for large projects that need planning. Other times, I just throw myself into it and start working directly with the material, directly in the right size, from an idea on form and direction. Most of the time the result differs from the initial idea. So sketches are for me technical drawings and models, something that belongs to works that are to be produced by others. If I am to produce a work myself, I have a very direct and bumpy working method, with lots of discoveries and surprises along the way, something I enjoy. Vague plans and sudden attractions and whims. This may sound like my working process goes fast and without much consideration, but on the contrary, I often work for a very long time with my materials, I'm very patient and the works are usually a mixture of things that take a long time and things that require a lot of effort. Following up on a sudden whim can take a long time, and it can take a long time to arrive at a good whim. I have a dream of making sculptures in stone, I wonder if I can eventually use this process then. Until now I have just chopped and chopped until there is nothing more left.
Where do you find the most inspiration at the moment?
In cropped tree stumps and stems. In old incomprehensible manuscripts. In pink and yellow wood bags made of plastic. And plant forms such as thin long stems and heavy capsules. In books such as "Through vegetal condition" and "The overstory". Other Artists.
What other artists do you like and why?
I like the artists in Mono-ha, which is a Japanese art direction from the 60s and 70s. It may remind of arte povera and also has some commonalities with American land art and minimalism from the same time period. Mono-ha means the doctrine of things and these artists had incredibly sharp minds in placing things in a way that tells something about the material itself, but also something more universal about powers and existence. They challenged whether art needed to represent something, and they felt a lack of desire to shape things themselves. I deeply admire the simple and powerful Mono-ha artist Lee Ufan's stone sculptures. And I can be stunned by land art artists such as Michael Heizer, and his megalithic rocks that hang in niches in the gallery wall. There is an incredible amount of art I admire, like Hilma of Klimt's colors and slightly recless, powerful forms, and Are Blytt's paintings that combine an expression of lightness and punk. I like Stian Ådlandsvik and Lutz Reinert's public sculptures that are absurd and funny while having a core of something meaningful. And it's not just the megalithic that stuns me, I can just as easily be taken by, for example, Else Lervik's small, thin bronze sculptures from the exhibition Apple Tree, and also Emil Westman Hertz.
Photo documentation published with permission of the artist. ©️ Siv Bugge Vatne