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All Digressions Aside

All Digresstions Aside is a twofold outdoors installation connecting Neighboring towns Kirkenes(NO) to Nikel (RU). The work was shown during Barents Spektakel 2016. Concretely the project consisted of two story telling huts, that housed the live stream landscape and stories of the neighbor city. The stories were controlled by temperature sensors, measuring the heat produced by the fire inside each hut. A little booklet called ‘Karin’s little Herbbook’ was produced as part of the project.

I was invited by Pikene på Broen, since the summer of 2014 to go up North to develop a project which would deal with the neighboring cities Kirkenes in Norway and Nikel in Russia. The first time I went up was in spontaneous and trusting spirit and I wandered around and forced myself to address people and to mine for red threads or stories as it were. I notice that when in awkward or new situations I tend (like many others I suppose) to fall back on what I know and am familiar with. In this case it was the basic interaction with people and the kind of stories they would tell. I never was asked to come to a foreign place before and to start digging, and the feeling of where to start was overwhelming. But I snapped fairly quickly out of that and went along to all the people and places they had arranged for me to see. Fairly quickly I decided who I wanted to work with, this purely from a chemistry point of view.

The second time, was basically a repetition of the first time, and I tagged along doing daily life things like cooking, eating, going for walks with the people I met last time. I recorded many of the conversations, about growing up and living in the North. Tracing unspectacular stories about generations and the kind of activities and jobs they would do. The third time I went back, was very similar, much of it has to do with establishing trust and fine-tuning the questions and reflecting upon what to do with it. With Karin, a pensioner,  I would drive around Kirkenes and she would show me many herbs and tell me what to use it for, and then she mentioned she always wanted to make a herb book but don’t really have the computer skills to do so. I wanted to spend time with her, because she was full of fantastic stories which started to give me an insight in to the history of the place, so I proposed to make a herb book with and for her. It was a meeting point where an exchange was happening. With the other chosen individuals this exchange was less defined, besides the obvious that we met up and we would share stories. This necessarily implied that I have to also tell stories, otherwise that exchange would stop. I was very confounded about the idea of equal exchange and how much I should explain my project to them. The times when I tried to explain what I was doing, many of them seemed to not be interested at all. Rather they were interested in a particular shared interest, whether it were herbs, sports, food etc. : the thing that they already had an interest for from before. The question which I was occupied with, ‘if they understood my intention, that of collecting stories related to the land?’ , seemed insignificant to them. They were just happy to meet. Maybe the fact that I’m Asian made me more exotic and attractive, or maybe it’s just simply good manners to welcome foreigners. Probably all the above. Still, I was at ease with their presence as they were with mine.

I left with much material, photographs and recordings of many conversations, but was still not quite sure what I was doing. My general interest has not changed, I’m interested in the small and the anecdotal and the spaces which travel in and through stories and for those spaces to become present during the festival. I started working with Cristian, an architect who I’ve worked with before and with Sindre, an IT developer. I had the idea which followed the last project WWFHR that I wanted to connect both places quite literally through live-stream, but I wanted to exchange the stories between both cities, which means that I wanted Kirkenes’ audience to affect the story flow in Nikel and the other way around. Also I wanted the exchange to be non linear, which means that you are dependent on the other, and they are on you: I am sending the stories, but I will not automatically get stories in return. The exchange is not reciprocal or circular, rather its more dispersed and unpredictable. The tool we decided to use for this exchange was temperature sensors, because I was attracted to the idea that the fire and body would decide about story flow. Then I wanted to built a fairly neutral space, which is in essence a storytelling hut, which would almost temporarily place these stories on a heightened platform lets say. In the discussions between me and Crisian, the architect, we were talking a lot about scale, how people would move in the tent, the experience of a dome like roof structure, which would resemble church ceiling etc, I wanted the space to be both grand, spiritual and intimate. It is not an easy marriage, for what is grand is usually removed from the body. We made many models, and tested out as much as we could. For the structure this mend making mock up spaces, moving in it and discussing what the experience would be like. I suppose its sort of a simulation. And for the technology this means, putting it up and down, and having it run under different kinds of circumstance to test its stability, but also me sitting in front of the screen and watching the live stream and the narrative roll by, fine tuning the speed and so on and so on.

 

When we got up North, it took as far longer to build then we had estimated. On the eve of the opening, we were still finishing off the second tent. Then I was told that the work needed to be up from 9 til 6pm, which was not the best decision. It glows in the dark, it invites you in, and you hang out around the fire at the close of day when people’s mind are in a certain state. But the opening hours was already printed, so we tried to adapt as best as we could. The other thing important to the work was that I needed for the guards to be really well briefed and for them to get guidelines as how to interact with the audience. They needed to be ‘firekeepers’, host to the visiting audience. Due to festival heat, there was no time to make this happen. But these two seemingly small things which I decided to let pass in all exhaustion, because at the time I did not fully understand its complications, negatively affected the viewers experience of the work. The core of this project, the people and intimacy got slightly lost in the set-up which ended up giving too much emphasis on the architectural space and technology. The stories nearly lost visibility due to their humble presence and the people which would turn the hut into a  spirited ‘space’. I have thought about this many times over, and I think we were so close to achieving what I had imagined the work to be. But I also realized that two years sporadic work resulted in a four days festival, that that to me is not the work. The works is the relationships built and the stories collected, and this documentation will become another platform for the work, the stories and the people to exist. Knowing that, I feel like I can redeem quite a lot with a humble publication for example… To be continued. In case you are curious about the stories, you can read it here.

ADA is supported by Kulturrådet, Bergen Kommune and Norske Billed Kunst. Karin’s little herbbook was supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Barentskult.