Gunvor Nervold Antonsen’s exhibition The Adaptables presents four new series of works created for Kunstnernes Hus. Through an energetic and rough-hewn style, Nervold Antonsen takes a scrutinizing look at society, existence and identity, invariably in an interplay with the primal forces and cycles of nature. There is an underlying power in the artist’s use of materials and techniques, a form of resistance that provides an inroad into her themes. Monumental textile montages meet chainsaw-carved wood figures that bear traces of the creative process, evidence that art, like humanity, wages battle.
About the exhibition
The point of departure for The Adaptables is conversations the artist has had over time with persons who have lived vulnerable lives. From conversations about their life experiences, Nervold Antonsen has created a narrative in visual form that conveys both power and powerlessness. And while the works evoke associations with archetypal representations in, for example, the icon tradition, the imagery the artist pursues is one that describes the brutal and ordinary aspects of being human rather than idealized states. Among Nervold Antonsen’s objectives is the juxtaposition of opposites: the material and the ethereal, growth and decay. The coarseness in her techniques, materials and execution, as well as the works’ dimensions, their mass, number and weight, play a considered role.
The series of sculptures from which the exhibition takes its name consists of towering human figures. Not unlike memorial monuments, the figures occupy one of the skylight halls, austere and tender at the same time. Carved roughly with a chainsaw from whole trunks of pine and ash, they all bear visible cutmarks and cracks. The unrefined and formless aspects of their appearance intensify the idea of flexibility. For Nervold Antonsen, it is about human beings’ unique ability to extend themselves, to adapt. In addition, the sense of an ongoing process is conveyed: We are never finished.
A more direct entry into the background for “The Adaptables” can be heard in the audiork From Conversations With in which the artist reads from her prose texts based on the conversations. Here, lines of connection to the motifs intimated in the textile montages are drawn, like time capsules from the past to the present.
The works in Anna Herself and Two Others, a series of fourteen reliefs in polychromed poplar, seem more conciliatory. In them we encounter some of the eternal and universal elements with dominion over humanity: stars, crops, rays of sunlight, flames and water. Classical subjects such as mother and child are dovetailed with nature’s resolute capacity for growth and continuance.
On view in the other skylight hall is a series of textile montages in an overwhelming wealth of materials and sizes. Based on the conversations, these faces, with the collective title Iconostasis, also reference the walls of orthodox churches hung with icons that distinguish the most holy from the rest of the church. For Nervold Antonsen, the wall of images also underscores the reservation or hesitancy that lies in a face, and the impossibility of getting to the essence of another human being. The portraits are stylized and elemental in their execution, enigmatic and inquiring.
Nature abounds in the textiles as well, and seems to envelope, almost consume, the human figures. In the Morning the Shadows Rise, a field of flower sculptures carved in several types of wood with a chainsaw, practically flows from one of the portraits, spreading out across the floor.
Gunvor Nervold Antonsen has given us a visual narrative that conveys humanity’s conflicts and vulnerabilities, yet also its capacity for renewal.
That intersection between the feeling that life is at stake, and the physical and concrete we experience and create, between the material and immaterial, is, for me, where art resides.
About the artist
Gunvor Nervold Antonsen (b. 1974) was educated at the Bergen Academy of Art and Design, and lives and works in Rollag, in Numedal, Norway. She has exhibited at Trondheim kunstmuseum, Kunstnerforbundet, Kunsthall Stavanger, Lillehammer Kunstmuseum, Vigelandsmuseet and Bomuldsfabriken Kunsthall; her work is in the collections of Nasjonalmuseet, KODE, Nordenfjeldske Kunstindustrimuseum, Norges Bank and the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and she has made commissioned work for KORO, among others.
Nervold Antonsen is also actively engaged in textile art’s social and political role. As chairperson of the board of the Association of Norwegian Textile Artists (from 2006-2009), she was involved in founding SOFT galleri, and in 2017 she summarized the history of Norwegian textile art in the poem Ode til en vaskeklut, hymne til en tiger (Ode to a Washcloth, Hymn for a Tiger) in honour of the associations 40th anniversary. Nervold Antonsen has published several books in collaboration with other authors, as well as a collection of poems in 2019 entitled Vi er margen (We Are the Marrow) in connection with the Lorck Schives Kunstpris exhibition at Trondheim kunstmuseum.
The exhibition is kindly supported by Sparebankstiftelsen DNB, Bergesenstiftelsen, Billedkunstnernes Vederlagsfond, Ingrid Lindbäck Langaards Stiftelse, KiN - Kunstsentrene i Norge and Norsk kulturråd.
"Sjelden har jeg blitt så imponert og berørt som jeg er etter å ha brukt tid i Gunvor Nervolds Antonsens De fleksible. Det er en utstilling fylt av omtanke, nærhet og håp." - Lars Elton i Dagsavisen
"De fleksible er en kunstnerisk maktdemonstrasjon og et visuelt spark i solar plexus." - Arve Rød i Kunsthåndverk
"Både helt innerst, i motorsagens brutale skår i treet, og i utstillingens overordnende fortelling omsetter hun menneskelivets evige bånd til skapelse og ødeleggelse i kunst." - Carina Elisabeth Beddari i Morgenbladet
"Antonsen later snarere til å møte menneskelivets utfordringer og mysterier - og spørsmålene om dets plass i lengre historiske forløp og en større verden - med et åpent, undrende sinn." - Kåre Bulie i Klassekampen
"Gunvor Nervold Antonsen henter frem de menneskelige konsekvensene av et produksjonskrav uten unntak - med motorsag." - Ragnhild Aamås i Kunstkritikk
"Det er nybrott, sterkt og rått, det er monumentalt, ekspressivt, kraftfullt og sårbart. Det er vakkert og går rett inn i sjela." - Hilde Mørch i Kunstavisen