Vanishing Identities: On the Deconstructive Aura of Lars Nordby's Conceptual Art
Rossen Roussev, 2018
Text from the exhibition catalog Abstract Frontline of Identity at Hamar Kunstforening

Lars Nordby describes his artistic work as "visual art," but the power of its message is essentially conceptual. Like his previous openings, notably the art shows The Silence Under the Lamp and the Tragedy of Doors (Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria, 2017), There is Always Another Home to Empty (Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria, 2017), To Tole (fruit flies) (Poznan, Poland and Berlin, Germany, 2015), and The Abstract Frontline of Identity (Hamar Kunstforening, Hamar, Norway) exhibit plays on the lose notion of identity that is spectacularly unraveling in our time. Nordby's prototype of "identity" appears to be what is typically meant by "personal identity," or "human self." But OVERIDENTIFIKASJON, (Oslo, Norway 2016), Highway Furnitures, (Oslo, Norway and Venice, Italy, 2014), City Furnitures (Poznan, Poland, 2011), and Work in Translation (Skoki Palace, Poland, 2013), suggest that his gaze is actually on "all identities" whatsoever.

There is a keen philosophical link here. The central cultural position usurped by the modern human self that enabled it to confer identities to itself and the rest of the world evolved with time to become a point of divergence and questioning. This was the upshot of the self's increasing awareness of its own incapacity to capture its putative identity that kept showing an inexorable lack of essential fixity. In the intellectual culture of the West, this was first felt as a crisis of existence, most vividly conveyed in the books of Søren Kierkegaard, but it was quickly rediscovered as an opportunity by Friedrich Nietzsche, still within the span of the 19th century. Then, in the next century, it was recognized as the irrevocable condition of humanity by thinkers like Martin Heidegger and Jean-Paul Sartre, with far-reaching consequences for the rest of culture that were pushed ahead not least with the help of deconstructive thinkers like Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida amongst others. It should not be surprising, then, that the unstable identity of a divergent cultural self would be subsequently passed on all its dependents within the rest of the world, including art. The philosopher Jürgen Habermas has thus described the contemporary art as reflecting "the increasing decentration of subjectivity."

The intrinsic relation between the identity of the self and the rest of identities is perhaps most straightforwardly explored in Nordby's People Behind Gallery Wall (Oslo, Norway, 2016). The absence of other exhibits within the showroom except for a bare wall, coupled with the stipulation that there are people behind it, points to the dependence of identities on the human presence. Even if not immediately obvious, the human subject is here presupposed from the very outset. Whereas the visitors heeding to its message appear to anticipate it stepping forward as a revelation.

For its part, The Abstract Frontline of Identity (Hamar, Norway, 2018), appears to address the ephemeral essence of identity, which solicits its deconstruction. Here the character in focus is the fruit fly taken as "the very contemporary symbol of identity" conveying the sense of "self-realization, disappearance, loss, death and absurdity." It is clear that in this sense the fruit fly's putative identity is not fixed but is instead taken over by the dynamics of all that it is not, by its other. This is indeed a dynamics that encompasses both the nature of the self and its other, while remaining refractory to the "mechanisms of identity." Here kicks in Nordby's notion of the "irrelational," which is suggestive of the impossible identification of the self as differentiated from its other. Particularly, for him, the "combination of identity and abstraction" is "irrelational." It is a forced, unfitting combination -- a libidinal twist, begging its collapse. An "identity" thus reappears as being merely an "abstract frontline" without substantive filling - like a chimney without smoke amidst the wilderness of nature. The smoke itself is let loose without a chimney as "irrelational" -- like a disintegrating fruit amidst dysfunctional technology. Indeed, the "irrelational" could be seen at play also in the alleged human conquest of nature with a functioning technology, but there it could only point to the human nature's indefinite suspension between its putative self and its refractory other. Thus, the self remains only on the book shelves. -- as "the abstract" essence that can only serve as a "frontline" of its ever evasive nature that refuses to be compromised into an anticipated "identity." It is a self-identical self, a self identical with itself, as it is the beginning and the end of the abstract proceedings. It is the "fruit fly trap" attempting a "natural catch" but in the end just playing a part on a display.

As promoting silent admiration and quiet protest, Nordby's art is not exactly apolitical. His focus on the abstract misfits of identity also dispels primitive topocentric tendencies. The dystopian experience of a denied voice by being re-positioned as Other, which has begun of late to threaten the integrity of our civilization and the global peace, has aroused in him a profound artistic aversion. He has put it forward in its "claustrophobic, staged, and ambivalent" dimensions, as that which the fruit fly unwittingly opposes. For, as "the fruit fly flies everywhere," it evades the fixities of a conferred identity. Beyond "genesis" and "death," it remains "superfluous" and "irrelational." True to its Peer Gynt dream, it "simply convolutes the matter of who it is." Its paradoxic nature is thus only artistically evocable. Like the voiced silence of the invisible interior of a distant hospitable home... Like, the unfitting presence of "vinenki" ("drozophili") in an ecologically self-conscious civilization... This, however, is not an obstacle of staying "aware of the stage it is on and its surrounding pretensions." Whereas the fruit fly's putative "identity" remains just an "abstract frontline" of its evasive nature -- always doomed to misfit it, always bound for deconstruction -- its life impulse has burst into creativity following the light, the warmth, the taste, the silence of its relentless self-assertion.

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