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Controlled Circumstance

Kari Steihaug and Tina Jonsbu at the Trøndelag Centre for Contemporary Art.

Kunsthåndverk no 102, 4/2006
by Henning L. Mortensen

Kari Steihaug and Tina Jonsbu’s exhibition at the Trøndelag Centre for Contemporary Art in Trondheim is meditative and unobtrusive. Though modest in size, it is exceptionally potent in expression. The works of both embody the concept of “the time it takes” to create an object; the intention being to create process-oriented, thought provoking objects that also have an aesthetic dimension. Steihaug’s material is chiefly yarn, and she presents 5 works here. The major piece is entitled “Legacies” and consists of 75 spools of yarn created from unravelled clothing and knitted sweaters. The spools are placed on the floor with the yarn symmetrically wound around the middle of each spool, so that they have a stylised pregnant appearance. They vary in size and the colours are consistently dark. The yarn leads from each spool to a half-knitted sweater that hangs from the ceiling, 2 metres up in the air. En route there these umbilical chords of yarn form graceful loops. It is interesting to note that Steihaug has incorporated a figurative detail in this work: the sweater is knitted in such a way as to create an illusion of having a pendant hanging from a gold chain around the neck. It is a brooch sporting a portrait of a woman, somewhat like a cameo. In this way, Steihaug says something about being part of a tradition, and acknowledging one’s responsibility, just as a legacy implies responsibility. There is subtle room for interpretation in Steihaug’s works, in which she demonstrates that inherited items, such as used and unravelled socks and sweaters, can be transformed and integrated into new articles of clothing, which in turn become new objects of inheritance. By recirculating old clothing to create new works, a limitation is integrated into the idiom; povera as controlled circumstance. The object becomes something else, but it can never totally remove itself from its point of departure. A work that leans rather heavily towards a Boltanski/Messager tradition is a pile of clothing arranged along a wall. The source of inspiration is perhaps a bit obvious here.

In “Labels of Remembrance” she displays 1600 labels that are sorted according to category. The labels are like the ones sewn on the inside of clothing, and Steihaug has cut them out and sorted them in a rack of drawers that stands on the floor. Each drawer constitutes a kind of family, as the labels are related: they are of the same type, have the same pattern, the same colour tone, the same type of script or the same form. The result is aesthetically pleasing, but in a rather scary way; there is something “Twin Peaks” about the welded steel rack, where one would expect something more adapted to the organic objects collected in carved wooden boxes that resemble butterfly frames from the Victorian age. The rack of drawers seems a bit lonely standing there in solitude on the floor, like a treasure chest one has overlooked at first. But when you open them one by one, each drawer has an individual expression that could have functioned very well on its own, or mounted on a wall. Many of the labels are worn, faded or washed out and thus suit the title well: they are no less than memorials, the headstone lettering of discarded clothing. Steihaug gives voice to their memory – with authority and great solemnity.

Tina Jonsbu presents drawings and projects with the main emphasis on ornamentation and pattern development. She has 32 catalogue numbers in an impressive tribute to the quiet state of the working process and the time it takes to create patterns and repetitions; experiments in the creation of a fully developed idiom. The five large drawings on the long wall in the gallery were created by a spinning top, which the artist has outfitted with a pencil placed at its axis and sets in motion. Each time it stops, she starts the spinning top again at the exact point where the line ended. The rounds of the spinning top closely resemble one another, and when the speed diminishes, the pencil skids, not quite knowing which direction to take, before it comes to a full stop. In this way countless repeated patterns are created which are nevertheless different. Jonsbu writes that each of the drawings takes 7 ½ hours to make, comprising a 40-hour week when combined. In other words, the work is subject to limitations, first of all because the pencil drawing is submitted to an automated process that is controlled by the laws of physics: a centrifugal force which is repeatedly forced to give in to the friction between the point of the pencil and the paper, and which always ends with the law of gravity winning – yet the line dies in beauty, for in the ensuing break the line becomes delicate and almost human. Secondly, the time it takes for each round to be completed is present as an organising principle; 7 ½ hours becomes a way of controlling the outcome – it controls the completed work like a metaphor for an old-fashioned assembly-line worker; “Hey, it’s 15:30, time to go home. That makes exactly 843 spins today, by golly.” The drawings are fascinating, and they are delicate and surprisingly diverse, but then one wouldn’t expect Tina Jonsrud to be the same when she arrived at Friday afternoon, as when she started on Monday morning!

Other works by Jonsbu also have this insistent quality, an unbending will to stay the course and complete the ornament. This is exemplified in “the workbooks”, where there are pattern variations within sets of variables, such as size, format, holes, colours, size of the squares. She also reveals their composition in the titles, such as “Drawing on paper, A4. Circles outside of each other, pencil. 2004 – 2006”. White gloves lie next to several of the works, so that the public can leaf through the workbooks without leaving marks on them. This creates an estranging effect that can get in the way of experiencing Jonsbu’s works – which is unfortunate.

A remarkable work is “Bus Lines, Tram Lines, Metro Lines” 2005. It consists of three books filled with ink drawings. Each book contains a graphic map drawn from the respective timetables for buses, trams and the metro. The individual lines are then outlined on tracing paper, and beneath them is a line that has been drawn during an actual trip along this same stretch, from the first to the last stop. The pen rests on the paper and follows the coach’s movements. It is interesting as an idea and concept, but that it has also resulted in a journey through an exciting and beautiful landscape is not something you would expect. This is entirely Tina Jonsbu’s accomplishment.

The works of Steihaug and Jonsbu are markedly different, yet they share a similar pulse and rhythm. The abstract forms of Jonsbu’s pencil drawings communicate visually with Steihaug’s strands of yarn. And Jonsbu’s ornamental experiments on paper remind one of knitting patterns, despite the fact that Steihaug’s works – in yarn – never elicit such associations.