Kristin Tårnesvik

The Guest Studio at Vestfossen Kunstlaboratoriet is a resource that is offered to professional artists who might profit from a sustained period of work at Vestfossen. The studio is part of Arena Vestfossen, a studio collective that is housed in the same building as VKL. One of the purposes of the Guest Studio is to contribute to an exchange of artistic ideas among both Norwegian and foreign artists. In this series of interviews, we have invited the guest artists to share some of their experiences and thoughts about their residency at Vestfossen. The fourth artist of the series is Kristin Tårnesvik, who was guest artist at the studio in September 2017.

Kristin Tårnesvik (b. 1964) studied at the Academy of Art in Bergen, leaving with a master’s degree in photography. She has exhibited her works in many solo and group shows, and has had several art commissions for public buildings. Tårnesvik has also worked as a curator, and has published several books in conjunction with art projects. She lives and works in Bergen.

Organic line


Sunniva H. Stokken

(based on a conversation with Kristin Tårnesvik, Vestfossen September 2017)


 Kristin Tårnesvik has been working with pen and paper during her residency at the Guest Studio of VKL, and the drawn line is a principal feature of the works before us. She has spread out on the floor a series of large, detailed drawings in which countless fine penstrokes are bound together in shapes that wake associations to the organic forms of art nouveau. Other drawings are of large patchworks of geometric shapes, which have an almost material character.  She has also brought with her colourful silkscreen prints from an earlier art residency at Trykkeriet: the Centre for Contemporary Printmaking in Bergen. Tårnesvik has worked undisturbed in the Guest Studio, spending many hours alone at the work desk. She works spontaneously and freely with her drawings, her technique not dissimilar to the “automatic drawing” of the surrealists, where thoughts are allowed to run freely to the pen, which moves almost of its own volition. In this way, the artist’s lines grow into patterns and shapes on the paper. 


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What has she been working on while she has been at the studio?  


Tårnesvik: During a residency at the Nordic Artists’ Centre in Dale in 2016, I started on a project which I call “practical exercises”, and I have continued to develop it here. Previously, I’ve worked mostly in video and digital media, but the peaceful working conditions at Dale made possible a creative process that was more withdrawn, and it nurtured in me a desire to apply myself to something slower and analogue. So I began to experiment with drawings in which the process itself was the essential part, not necessarily the end result. As an artist, I had begun to get rather disheartened by commissions for finished works, for I felt a need to just be in a process – to discover what happens when you have neither expectations nor a deadline hanging over you. My education is from the Photography Department at the Academy of Art in Bergen, but my inherent appetite for experimentation means I am unable to stay loyal all the time to one medium or expression. In the Artists’ Centre in Dale, I only had pen and paper, and it was fascinating to see what would emerge from a new material and a new technique – I had actually no previous drawing skills. So I absorbed myself in a drawing process in which the hand is let free to move almost automatically, and I used only expensive, quality paper so that there was a compulsion to complete each work, not just leave it hanging if it didn’t work.

I began by drawing very fine lines with a ruler, and already then an interesting expression emerged. The lines cross each other and in this way new formations and directions arise. It’s an inspiring way to work. I don’t know how long the line will be or what it will collide with, all that emerges along the way. Eventually I began to draw on several sheets and joined these by extending a line from one sheet to the next, and in the end it was turning into a really sizeable work. There are now twenty sheets, and it looks like a gigantic wall-hanging. They will be shown at an upcoming exhibition, with the sheets mounted on a thin aluminium plate. This plate will come out of the wall at such an angle that the work will be an object in the room. With all these lines, it has become an explosive work.



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Your line has a more graphic expression in the silkscreen prints you have brought with you. What was your creative process for these?


Tårnesvik: In August 2016, I exhibited these works at the Centre for Contemporary Printmaking in Bergen, as part of a residency with a concluding exhibition. I had no experience of that graphic expression beforehand, so that too was an exciting process for me. It was an opportunity to transfer the things I was doing with pen and paper to the graphic medium, and to see what effect it had on that expression. I drew directly onto film instead of reproducing the drawing, and was in a process over which I had no control as to how the end result would look. So there were certainly some things that were unforeseen. I printed in two colours, and the result had almost the appearance of a woodcut, where the line is stronger and less disciplined, less polished. To soften the expression somewhat, I wanted to add a colour, and worked away trying to find the right nuance. In one of the works I wanted to use a shade of green that one associates with Communism and with the Soviet Union. It was also fascinating to see how well the thin pen strokes would be reproduced; not all of them were picked up, but, on the other hand, some of my fingerprints have left their mark.



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So, the creative process is an important component in these works, and sets its visible mark on the finished work?  


Tårnesvik: Yes, and I liked the thought of the creative process being a visible part of the print. I don’t retouch the works, the imperfections are not concealed in any way, and it was fascinating to see how the drawn lines changed in the course of the process. To begin with, I drew careful lines, but in the final works the expression is much bolder, I released the handbrake. I included in the exhibition at Trykkeriet the test sheets I had done of various colours and the notes I’d made, in this way showing even more of the creative process.

On coming to Vestfossen, I wanted to maintain this focus on process and my “practical exercises”, as I feel that there is still a lot for me to explore. Here at the Guest Studio I can work freely without an exhibition hanging over me, and that is such a wonderful privilege. It’s not so important whether or not the works would withstand public scrutiny; what’s important here is that they are allowed to develop and evolve. Over time the shapes have changed a good deal, becoming rounder, more organic, standing more apart.

A real longing had taken hold of me, not only to work with an analogue medium, but also with something organic. When I am working on these round shapes, I always start with a small stroke in the middle and then work on out from there. The work grows spontaneously, but at the same I adhere to a logical development along the way – I’m just not aware of it at the time. It’s a process that is difficult to control and, with the paper sheet being so large, I never have a full overview. I’m fully focused on the line, and thereby lose sight of the work as a whole. Sometimes I think that perhaps I should be more aware of where the lines are going, place constraints on them, but I forget it just as quickly. This way of working is, in itself, very monotone, and it’s easy for one’s thoughts to wander.


The natural and organic world has been at the core of several of your works, such as the project “Korsmos ugressarkiv” (Korsmo’s Weed Archive), on which you collaborated with Espen Sommer Eide between 2012 and 2015. Are you concerned by our attitude to nature and how we use it? Or does this spring more from a personal curiosity?


Tårnesvik: I have always felt a close affinity to nature, but also a sense of wonder – I don’t really know much about how the natural world works, I approach it through its forms. And in that meeting, anything can happen. When I approach it without any agenda, it is natural forms which attract me and appeal to my senses.


One of my projects, from 2016, was called “Popular Hours of Death”, and its point of departure was a survey done in New York in 1914 of what times of the day or night people were most likely to die. For women the most likely time was between six and seven in the evening, while men were most likely to die between five and six in the morning. Nature has its seasons, in autumn animals go into hibernation and flowers fade, but wake again with the arrival of spring. I placed this in context with human life cycles between life and death. We have a very sorrowful attitude to death, and no matter how much we try to imagine an afterlife, our attempts to prove it remain just theories. It’s something we will never be able to solve. We can register that there still is some brain activity after death has occurred, but we don’t know what that signifies. So we seek answers in a spiritual approach to death. A human life is so short, while in nature life doesn’t come to an end in the same way. In nature there is a constant movement, things appear and fade and reappear. Whereas we are all the time looking for scientific answers to why life has come to an end, we make surveys and catalogue times of death, for instance.


Humans have for most part a linear understanding of time, whereas there are more circular movements in nature. Perhaps this appeals to us on a personal plan, because it contradicts our brutal end of life?


Tårnesvik: Yes, I think so. Perhaps this circular aspect also comes through in my art in the round shapes I draw. As an artist, I don’t necessarily regard a project as finished, just because I stop working on it. Thought processes that haven’t found their way directly into a work are stored away and can reappear later, even without you being aware of it. That’s one of the reasons it is important to work as an artist full time, then these sort of connections will reappear. I’m used to being in slow and intuitive thought processes where one thing follows another. And I am constantly being surprised at my own art, suddenly I discover that there is a common thread running through works without ever having given it any thought during the creative process.


Earlier in your career you were known as an artist with a clear ideological and activist stance. Does that still influence your work, would you say?


Tårnesvik: I think my art has become more poetic in the last few years. However, that’s not to say that there isn’t activism and politics in poetry and forms. Works don’t have to be propaganda in order to be political, there can, for instance, be a political stance in insisting on the slow evolution of an artistic career. I have always been rather withdrawn, I’m not very good at promoting myself – I’m more comfortable working away on the periphery, where I have the freedom to develop my things in peace.


How was your stay in the Guest Studio, and what are your upcoming plans?


Tårnesvik: I’ve had a lot of work in the last year, and I really hoped it would peaceful here and I could sit quietly and work away at my drawings with a cup of coffee by my side. And I wasn’t disappointed. I’ve felt no compulsion to have a lot of people round me, so I have been able to work intensively. During the month, I also got into some good habits – like turning on the kettle before I go to the bathroom in the morning, and then the water is boiled ready for the coffee when I get back. It’s a way of being effective even at my own slow pace. When you’re in a place for so long, it’s nice to impose some order of your own on it – and a signal that you are thriving there, as you are bringing some domesticity to your stay.

I move on to Mustarinda in Finland, where Hilde Methi and I have been invited on an art residency. There I will really be far from the “madding crowd”, and it wouldn’t surprise me if my works there are related to trees and the deep forest. Pen and paper will certainly be coming along, so we’ll see. 



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5 VKL Gjesteatelier 2017 september