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The Prop as a Tool for Recognition
Kjetil Røed, 2018
Text from the book Old Laughter and Synonyms for Actors.

In Lars Nordby’s most recent video piece we observe a man moving through a theatre, both behind and in front of the stage. He is building up – testing out – stage sets. He is tinkering. In the voice-over we hear – probably his own – thoughts on theatre, in the broad sense. “In each man there is a dark spot that needs to be covered”, he says. This man is philosophically and poetically minded, that much we gather instantly, because the theatre is not just a theatre in this video piece. Perhaps we could best perceive the piece as a kind of interface between life, the roles we enact within it, and the world of theatre?

Throughout life we perform countless roles and participate in a series of dramas that shape human life. We may be artists or critics, or perhaps we play the role of baker, lawyer, or why not even a convinced supporter of the Ku Klux Klan or the football team, Rosenborg. But more importantly, we are father, son, mother, brother, friend; these are roles that we cannot avoid, that we cannot shy away from, if we are to live in a world directed and authored by us humans. In many of these roles we master the script so emphatically that we forgot we once had to learn the lines and receive instruction – often because it was our friends, or teachers, or parents who conveyed them and functioned as directors, stage designers or producers. It is true that this point has been made countless times before – that we play roles – but it cannot be said enough, for the simple reason that we necessarily have to forget the role-play of life in order to play those role well. The classic formula of going from ignorant to insightful doesn’t work in reality when it comes to the connection between recognition and the fundamental theatricality of life. There is for example no position from where you can deconstruct love and perceive it as theatre. Because if you really are supposed to be in love – live a life of love – you must, unless you want to be a manipulative cynic, forget such insights. You have to, in short, “play dumb,” in order for the infatuation to take hold of you and not be false. What is then the connection between insight into love, to stick to this angle, and the theory of love?

As has been pointed out by Slavoj Žižek, our view of the world and of ourselves is dependent on a parallactic gaze where opposites have a functional position in relation to one another, yet without the possibility of uniting them as either alternatives or competitors. It is not a matter of two differing perspectives on one issue, he says, but about the blind spots in viewpoints that we grow wiser from embracing, and where one viewpoint compensates for where the other fails: “We do not have two perspectives, we have a perspective and what eludes it, and the other perspective fills in this void of what we could not see from the first perspective.”

Nevertheless, it is still problematic to get too immersed in one’s character, as the sociologist, Erwing Goffman, points out. Though it is the degree of engagement that makes a character believable, the fact that we rely too heavily on a script, deprives us of the ability to critically examine how we play the role; when we immerse ourselves blindly in the drama we are a part of, there is no longer any separation between the artificial and the natural. Forgetting one’s role will in such instances become a social machine, a mechanism that plays us for ourselves through our own thoughtless performance. The act of forgetting lays the foundation for, to borrow a term from Robert Pfaller, the role-play to become an interpassive arrangement where the assigned roles live our lives for us. Even when laughing it isn’t us who do it if we have forgotten that it was once the stage directions that facilitated the laughter. This can also suppress that which could renew the role, deeds that could lead us to another drama, transforming qualities such as curiosity, hope, doubt and faith. If we lose the sensitivity for that which could disturb the role, and from that bring with it new elements to the theatre of life, we can also become arrested in an understanding of a role which isn’t just incongruous with the drama we exist within, but also with those around us and how they enact their roles. If we observe human life as both an ethical and theatrical concern, we could say that the extreme racist and nationalist – two associated roles here – has become too immersed in his character, because he is not open to the obvious perspective that “fills in this void of what we could not see from the first perspective,” when he for example observes people from a different culture or skin tone as inferior. The argument regarding the inferiority of the other is founded on a mythical, simply irrational way of thinking, which is at odds with human rights and democracy, and cannot be united with how humans perceive their roles. There is a cognitive dissonance in the existence of racism in that it suppresses the similarities that connect people in more fundamental roles as equal human beings; as fathers, sons, brother, mothers or simply as fellow human beings.

In Nordby’s video work we are situated in an environment where there is no apparent role being acted; on the contrary, we find ourselves in the midst of fragments of absent dramas – or to come, perhaps, as the play that is about to be put on – except for the reality of the venue. We could say that a lingering contemplation regarding this place could also be a conjuror for reflection about our own character comprehension, because the visual room, the theatre in this context, acquires a cognitive value as a backdrop for a possible parallactic view. Here, the idea of the memory palace could be an indicator, because even though mnemonic techniques often formed the incentive for these constructions, they also had an essential connection to both life and thought. The technique is designed so that one memorizes the details of a selected place – for example a house with rooms that you know well – with as much accuracy, so that when envisioning this place you are able to wander through it and know exactly where everything is located. In order to remember something you would then “place” the thing to remember at different places within this imaginary room. In order to remember it again, you would repeat this walk through the internalized room and decipher that which needed remembering based on the placement of mnemonic objects. “In order to form a series of places in memory, he says, a building is to be remembered, as spacious and varied a one as possible, the forecourt, the living room, bedrooms, and parlours, not omitting statues and other ornaments with which the rooms are decorated,” as formulated by the Roman rhetorician Quintilian (35-96 CE) in Institutio Oratoria. But we don’t need to imagine internalized memory palaces purely as sets for mnemonic techniques; they could also be a mental architecture in which exterior and interior rooms are adjusted according to each other. In the case of Nordby, we can imagine the theatre as a visual field that can place our role-plays in a location where suppressed aspects of life’s theatricality returns to an experience of “not being able to act the part”, and thereby also a return of the void in the symbolic drama we are usually so wrapped up in.

In the video-piece we see the protagonist placing a door, or rather a door prop, upstage. But there is no drama for it to become included in, no one walks in and out of the door, neither is there a story that could create an illusion of life, of chronology, of fates, a prelude the viewer could become engrossed in and forget that this is a stage, that the door is a prop. As such, there is also no narrative for us to lose ourselves in, because the door is standing there alone, as an image of a door, not an actual door, and is therefore deprived of its most basic function, its usefulness. The use here, in Nordby’s memory palace, is that it reflects us and the props in our lives; something we also see in this exhibition, where paintings repeat the gesture within the film, but this time as doubly artificial: paintings as doors, useless as something we can walk through, but very useful as mirrors for understanding our own roles. Because the exhibition space is also a stage, as much as the theatre is stagey, and the whole exhibition functions as a double exposure of props deprived of a story, a narrative connection, a failure to remember or an omission, so that we get the opportunity to remember ourselves as actors on our own.

Couldn’t we, with Nordby, therefore say that art’s function isn’t about bringing us through to a position where we have come to a worthy recognition of something, but rather that it is a field where we can experience fragments torn from the narrative that we are otherwise so blindly absorbed in? The parallax view isn’t a matter of maintaining an interaction between remaining insight and complete immersion in the character, but rather an openness to that which evades your concept of the world and yourself. This exhibition is in that regard not about understanding, but about parallel preambles that become interconnected in a way that ties together how you live and how you view art. There is something disturbing about props without a story, especially when they are doubled up as paintings, because they remind us of something we know well, but have lost contact with. This can be both an interesting, touching or terrifying experience. Such an uncanny experience - to borrow an expression form Sigmund Freud – is disconcerting; not because it is something unfamiliar you feel threatened by, but because you experience something you once had – and maybe still, unconsciously have – an intimate relationship with, but that you have suppressed. From this point of view Nordby turns the uncanny into an acknowledging tool intimately connected with art as form and life as form. Because even where a complete understanding has not yet taken root, the appreciation of that which escapes you can capture you, at least in the interim, on a different stage, in a different drama, than the one you find yourself in now. In this snare, this place where you have one foot in a different memory palace, you see the outline of a different role than the one you are already acting.


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Old Laughter and Synonyms for Actors
Hanna Gjelten Hattrem, 2018
Text from the book Old Laughter and Synonyms for Actors.

Since graduating from the Oslo National Academy of Arts, Lars Nordby has been dividing his time and exhibiting his works between Norway and Bulgaria. Whilst being guided by a theoretical and conceptual basis for artistic expression, his work often expresses a distinctly local flavour through the use of objects that relate to specific events and recognizable locations. The use of found objects to construct some of his pieces has the dual effect of grounding and localising a theoretically dense work, whilst simultaneously opening the floodgates of political meaning that follows an object containing its own history. Coupled with the use of concepts related to theatricality, identity and ideology, these works lend themselves to a host of divergent conversations. The occasion of this analysis then, is not only to discuss the exhibition that this text accompanies, but also to relate it to Nordby’s practice as a whole.

The solo exhibition, Old Laughter and Synonyms for Actors at Rafael Mihaylov Exhibition Halls, can be seen as something of a synthesis of Nordby’s artistry to this point, where he combines theoretical and methodological elements from previous works. Taking the notion of theatricality as his overarching theme, Nordby employs a range of strategies to investigate the intersection of identity with performance, within a visual language borrowed from the theatre.

Each section of the show represents a different medium and approach to the theme. First: a video-work that probes the notion of performing environment in temporal space between performances. Second: a series of photographs of actors and puppets in preparation for performance. Third: an installation-piece using theatre props as freestanding sculptural objects.

There is an emphasis on the preparatory elements that create theatre, the building blocks that support the performance. Yet, reconfigured within the gallery space, they become artworks in their own right. There is therefore a cyclical process, and a recycling that changes the nature of the objects on display. Theatre props imitating walls are presented as sculptural artworks that allow the viewer to register them as canvases with paintings. Depriving it of its original function creates a shift in the status of the object.

Bill Brown describes this process in Thing Theory, stating that: “We begin to confront the thingness of objects when they stop working for us.” Objects assert themselves as things when they lose the functionality they are initially designed to have: “when the drill breaks, when the car stalls, when the windows get filthy, when their flow within the circuits of production and distribution, consumption and exhibition, has been arrested, however momentarily.” (p.4) The wall imitations had a function as objects whilst in the theatre, where they would fit seamlessly into the backdrop of a play, or even in the storage room awaiting their next performance. Yet in the gallery, as freestanding individual sculptural – things – the functionality they were designed for becomes redundant. We are forced to consider their “thingness”. The re-contextualisation of the wall imitations makes them not only things, but new objects. As art pieces you can study them up close, and see that they are canvases, in fact they are paintings. They are still depicting walls, but they are no longer props in a play, they do not blend seamlessly into any backdrop, foregrounded and shadowed by actors and a story line.

Even beyond the utilitarian object to artistic thing trajectory of these pieces, there is another layer of cultural and historical baggage. We may also consider the pieces themselves as signifiers of the places they once belonged to: are they relics of a now abandoned village theatre? Why did the theatre shut down? Which plays were they used for?

Nordby employed a similar methodology in Overidentifikasjon (2016) at Kunstnernes Hus in Oslo. For this piece he repurposed OSB panels that had been used to board up shattered windows on buildings that were damaged after the terrorist bombing of the government district on the 22 July 2011, in Oslo. These panels were removed from their original site and function, and used to board up windows of the façade at Kunstnernes Hus. In this piece, as with the wall imitations, the artist uses objects that once had a specific purpose and containing a very specific historical weight, and uses them in a similar function, yet with a different purpose. The windows at Kunstnernes Hus did not need boarding up, just like the gallery space did not need imitation walls. For this reason, in the reconfigured installation, the OSB panels moved from object to thing. In the Norwegian context the events that unfolded on 22 July 2011 continue to have a profound affect on the national psyche. Repurposing materials that are physically connected to this event and its aftermath creates, as the title indicates, a heightened identification and forces remembrance of what unfolded on that day. By adding the prefix ‘over’ to ‘identification’, the artist also cautions the viewer about this direct association, and suggests that there may be an alternative angle to take in processing the piece.

Returning to the photographs and film that make up the other two aspects of the exhibition at Rafael Mihaylov, these pieces also employ theatricality as their most striking feature. We see an actor applying make-up and transforming her appearance to fit into the character she is soon to embody. Another series shows close-ups of puppets being prepared for performance. They are in a suspended state between two characters, and this moment is what the artist wishes us to dwell on. What more is a puppet without its master, than a heap of limb shaped wood on strings? It is a moment that anticipates action, where the person is neither one nor the other: an actor not yet acting. Nordby focuses on this moment between being in- and out of character, and arrests it through photography or extends it through film. It is the moment before the theatrical, where objects are still things.

He is invoking the notion of expectancy about a performance about to happen, a move which he also employed in an exhibition at Radikal Gallery in Veliko Tarnovo in 2018. The show, titled The Abstract Frontline of Identity: TO TOLE, was centred on the action of luring rats and flies through glue traps and lamps, in an anticipating action, yet without the objects being lured ever making an appearance. The luring devices are in fact props, but they are futile in that they are not being acted in relation to - as is the case with the wall imitations.

Through a series of events that demonstrate a displacement in the perception of what art signifies, Jacques Rancière proposes a new regime of perception in his book Aisthesis, which he describes as the “aesthetic regime of art.” In a review by Maeterlinck of a staging of Henrik Ibsen’s The Master Builder in Paris in 1894, he describes, in the most positive terms, the performance as immobile, devoid of action, and therefore immensely meaningful. Rancière interprets this method of staging as a new theatre form, one in which meaning is located in the suspended moments, and substance is to be found in moments of inactivity and pauses. The immobile theatre rejects the dichotomy of grandiose tragedy/comedy and psychological introspection. Instead it employs stage props as carriers of meaning, and lighting to enhance these, rather than to illuminate the actor.

There is a parallel to be drawn with how Nordby formulates his artworks’ relation to the theatre. In Nordby’s ‘staging’ there is an absence of plotline. Instead we are exposed to settings and objects that lead up to the theatrical moment, but that are not what one would expect as the protagonist in the play or the star of the show. There is no question that we are viewing scenes and objects associated with the theatre, but the emphasis is on the moments before or after the performance takes place. The spotlight is directed at the theatrical elements outside of the stage, and in so doing stages these passive, inactive, and suspended moments as the focal point.

The influence of Rancière’s “Immobile Theatre” is perhaps best exemplified in the 12-minute video piece displayed in the entrance hall. A man moves through the various spaces of a theatre changing, testing and arranging objects as if preparing for or tidying up after a show. Light bulbs are changed, props repaired or moved, windows closed. The actions unfolding are meant to be ‘behind the scenes’; work done by technicians, cleaners and stage designers before and after a show. Yet the video brings these actions to the foreground, making them the focus of our attention. It is a slow-paced sequence of actions where, seemingly, nothing happens. There is no storyline in the traditional sense. Yet the voiceover provides a script to this unfolding sequence that contemplates the hidden life of the theatre in the temporal space between performances.

“An object that is truly independent of an actors visible manipulation, is not a prop”, says the voice in the final sequence. It is a statement that questions the presumed agency an actor, in the sense of a person performing an act, has over an object, which tends to be seen as without agency. As such we also question our own agency, by being confronted with objects we have lost control over. The wall imitations have taken on their own agentic capacities – when you, as the viewer, step into the spaces between each piece you feel a sense of force that directs you in your movement through them. The objects force you into a state of awareness about your own performativity. In a play, actors use props as tools to help tell a story. In the objects’ decontextualized form as things, you as the actor lose that power.

Within this state of awareness induced in the viewer there is a significant concept at work, that helps elucidate a reading of several of Nordby’s works. The notion of objects as tools that we enact our agency through, is contested by reconfiguring objects as things: not yet serving the purpose they were designed for, and therefore making us aware of their “thingness”. In so doing, the objects and the art become political. Here I employ Chantal Mouffe’s (p.9) distinction between political, as the dimension where antagonism and agency can be enacted, and politics, the practices and institutions through which order and control is created in order to dampen and manage the antagonistic possibilities of the political.

When transferring this distinction to art, it is not the subject matter or theme of the art that makes it political. Therefore the argument does not rest on the fact that in Overidentifikasjon Nordby used material that related to a terrorist attack in Oslo. This connection sits within the realm of politics, and Nordby rejects this connection in favour of the political, through its title, which urges the viewer to look beyond the realm of politics, to the dimension of antagonism in which political and individual agency can actually take place.

The point of Mouffe’s distinction between political and politics, lies in the understanding that the political creates conflict in an attempt to reveal invisible power structures that direct behaviour whilst going unnoticed. Politics attempts to dampen the political in favour of maintaining these structures. Therefore, when describing Nordby’s work as political art, the intention is to point to how the artworks shed light on and antagonize power structures.

To that we may ask what the viewer’s position is in the pseudo-theatrical space of the gallery environment? Traditionally the gallery and the stage create an expectation of performance, one that separates the audience from the actors for a consensual period of time. Yet the objects and images of the exhibition obfuscate this distinction by presenting moments and things that are not prepared for the consensual actor-audience separation. We catch actors in the space between the person they are and the character they will soon embody - much like the dichotomy between private and public selves. However, in the scenario outside the theatre we do not use stage settings and gallery spaces as queues to detect performativity.

Mieke Bal, employing Mouffe to discuss political art, states: “Political art is art because it is political; it is art by virtue of its political “nature.”[…] They [the political & art] are domains of agency, where acting becomes possible and can have effects.” (p.2) Nordby’s work is political in that he employs theatre aesthetics as a metaphor for the hidden ideological power structures that direct our behaviour and induces everyday performativity according to the framework set out by politics. It takes the concept of an actor, a puppet or a theatre prop – objects and states that we feel separate from, in the knowledge that we are who we are, and they are part of a performance – and confronts you with their materiality in a manner that changes your perception of them. It is a disruption of the normalised, but ideological structures that dictate relational space and interaction. And by disrupting an expected performance through a confrontation with things, you are lured into self-reflection about what agency you actually have. It is not a cynical gesture, because it encourages action and awareness, and these belong in the antagonistic domain of the political.

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Lars Nordby, 2019
Press release from the exhibition by Kristoffer Zeiner Christiansen and Marius Mathisrud at gallery Heerz Tooya. 

Let’s take a bellyflop dive into an epic metabolic rift, where life, death, and everything in-between unfolds…

After a long ride, he made camp for the night. With thorough precision, he found a spot by a mountainside and lit up a bonfire. After eating a grilled steak, smoking a few unfiltered tobaccos, and trapped a dozen fireflies, he leaned his back against the rocky wall and stared, across the bonfire, into the black forest. Morgan Kane, the free, lonely man always has his back against a wall, revealed from the constant fear of having someone lurking behind him, yet dealing with increasing paranoiac awareness, that the antagonistic Other will confront him. The twist is that he is unwittingly already consumed by his always-already undesired violator.

The exhibition by Zeiner Christiansen and Mathisrud is a bold reminder that human contradictions in ways of survival and revival find its expression equally as much in the atomic realm as in omnipresent objects. Carbon is their voyage. An action-packed passage condensed into an anthropomorphic deity, that at the end of the day asks the question, what do we do when we know, but do not care, and what do we see, when it is already there.


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Lars Nordby, 2019
Press release from the exhibition by Radostin Sedevchev at gallery Heerz Tooya.

I can’t remember the last time I did a headshot for my modeling agency. Someone else’s photo is etched onto my retinas. Is it hatred? Guilt? Envy? Love? The memory of that photo is an ongoing burning sensation, an overexposed agenda, which exists only to conceal the true nature of who I am. Why is it that other people’s photos and their stories suddenly seem so much more real than my own? Perhaps because I am finally detAched from my own memories, like a walking dead experiencing a Nickelodeon theater. Guilty pleasures for so little effort.

There is always an “I” in a photo - isn’t there? A headshot isn’t only something stored digitally, but also something made visible and permanent by chemical treatment. Not only does it reveal the visible “I” by how, when and where the photo was taken, but also by how its secrets are brought into a contract with its spectator. Yet, that contract, the obvious exposure, starts to etch your retinas as well, with a magnitude of confusion, doubt and curiosity. Your own lens suddenly becomes a memory of its own, when etched onto your empirical data, evidence begins to speak its own language.

Memory, time and identity together situate a perfect blend that erupts as a strange tentacular growth in your mind. A familiar, yet bizarre simulacrum of existence starts to appear on the photos you are confronted by. Its semi-amnesiac trope is the secret revealed in between the exhibition and your experience of it. The memento is the scars, cuts and bruises. You could ask yourself why it seems so familiar? It seems we are tricked to think that our photographic memory has an immune system disorder. Particularly in this line of thought, we are left with something neither eternal nor transient; a perverted sense of self carried through a retinal detAchment.

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We Contain Multitudes
Emil Stefanov, 2018

From press release from the exhibtion Abstract Frontline of Identity: To Tole.

We contain multitudes…”

- Walt Whitman

The intricate matter of identity posits many a question in the late dawn of this century. Countless movements have emerged on a global scale, attempting to establish themselves and their identities and orientations as legitimate and worthy. Some by geography & nation, others by libidinal orientations; all attempting to give some solid reasoning to “the fact of being who or what a person (or thing) is”.

Lars Nordby repeatedly tackles the issue of identity, utilizing conceptual means through the visual form. In his latest contemplation over the abstract boundaries of where the factual – by definition – frontline of identity begins and where, and if, it ends, the viewer is invited to observe a stage, not unlike in a theater, which is absolved of ending or beginning. The stage props are intended pest control materials, inviting their targeted groups, i.e. fruit flies & rats, to meet their end, but in themselves devoid of them. Thus making for a state of endless perpetuity of both beginning and end.

This frozen moment in time asks the viewer to see beyond what there is to be seen. The echo of controlled environment, similar to that of the automated house in Bradbury’s short story “There Will Come Soft Rains”, requires of the audience to consider the absence of at least two main roles in this play, caught in some form of a struggle for dominance and/or survival.

This suggestive approach requires of its audience a deconstructive manner of thinking, which enables a dialogue way grander than the solitary frame.

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The Abstract Frontline of Identity: TO TOLE
Hanna Gjelten Hattrem, 2018

Posited as a continuation of previous exhibitions with interlinking themes, objects and titles, Lars Nordby returns to Radical Gallery in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria with his latest show, entitled The Abstract Frontline of Identity: TO TOLE.

Nordby’s installation piece indicates an on-going potential action through the use of objects specifically designed to attract: UV-lamps for flies and glue traps for rats. The presentation of the objects evoke a sense that the missing subjects (flies and rats) are ready to enter the stage at any moment, and enact their prescribed traits, as unwanted insects and rodents. In this sense the piece becomes an empty stage, continuously about to happen, to be performed on.

The work centres on the toling of subjects, through the implied act of attraction. The subjects are unable to represent themselves, and force the viewer to consider meaning beyond the subject. Fruit flies and rats are presented as the desired subjects to show/attract – but what identity can these creatures actually carry for the viewer, other than associations that supersedes their own identity?

Generally unwanted due to the associations we have to the conditions these creatures tend to appear in, the objects within Nordby’s piece demonstrate the somewhat contradictory undesirability of the subjects they are meant to attract.

There is also some melancholy to the dynamics between attraction and repulsion, reminiscent of British artist, David Shrigley’s “Dead Rat” (2008), which seems to ask the viewer to consider why the death of certain creatures evoke differing responses. We may try to engage in an exercise of defiance with this message: rats are intelligent creatures, for example. Can you consider the identity and subjectivity of a fruit fly? Nevertheless, rats and fruit flies cannot escape their identification as inherently symptomatic of a greater condition that exists beyond them, and that trumps any consideration of their existence as subjects. Historically and culturally ingrained in our imaginations, fruit flies and rats are mere signs and indicators of a more real condition of rot, food, waste, decay and overpopulation. This act of simplification and precluding of a possibility for the subjects to enact and present subjectivity also speaks to our current global condition in which national, racial, social and religious stereotypes dominate our understandings of identity. The existence of these hegemonic structures that limit our agency both in thought and action is not unknown. Nevertheless we continue to live by them, failing to act, or accepting passivity.

The use of materials that represent attraction is, according to Nordby, demonstrative of a desire to unmask ideological power structures that underpin notions of identity. Building on Slavoj Žižek’s critique of ideology, Nordby strives to exemplify the third moment of ideology “in and for itself”, in which ideology affects and directs social practices by masking or remaining invisible. Within the context of the art world, Nordby’s piece can be seen as a reflexive stance on institutional, curatorial, and artistic practices that promote and claim to be interactive. Drawing on theorists that critique the trend of enforced interactivity, such as Claire Bishop and Robert Pfaller, Nordby employs the notion of “interpassivity”, coined by Pfaller, and refuses this pretension. A sense of theatricality is evoked through a suspended expectation of the rats’ and flies’ potential performance, as we await their arrival through their objects of attraction. In this sense Nordby is reaffirming the viewer’s position as a member of the audience – the performativity of the piece is enacted in and of itself, and the audience may react to, consider, or ignore the performance as they see fit.

As such Nordby rejects the inherent claim that interactive art practices are constructed through free collaboration with the audience as participant, and prefers to encourage the viewer to address the fact the ideological structures do dictate social and creative practices.

Within this positioning of the viewer, you are furthermore asked to delve into the notion of the identity of the awaited rats and flies. Are we able to transcend the simplifying ideological force, which dictates that the hidden structures we operate within can automate our response to a subject as mere symptoms of a greater condition, over individuality and identity?





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Vanishing Identities: On the Deconstructive Aura of Lars Nordby's Conceptual Art
Rossen Roussev, 2018

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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The Return of Romantic Nationalism
Lars Nordby, 2017

Text from Imago Mundi Norway exhibition catalog

One of the most profound paradoxes in our globalized era is the idealized and intensified relation between coexistence and diversity. A paradox which tends to unfold antagonistic effects. The closer we get the bigger the gap; in line of globalization, nationalism follow. We see this tendency in art as well. Its abstract form has a way of being constantly categorized and labeled.

Art travels as never before and platforms for artistic production, reception and distribution are vastly increasing in various forms around the globe. On these platforms we see that art and artists are haunted and placed by their national identity in biennales, art fairs, art contests, exhibitions, catalogues, magazines etc. Thus art has borders. As much as one should argue against it, one shouldn't ignore the fact either that there is a broad superstratum of truth in it. Borders in the art world are as much alive as the intensified relational paradox mentioned. In the time after postmodern search for community and identity we have returned to romantic nationalism with the need for orientation and substantial conformity. The antagonistic effect here unfolds a moderation of abstraction in humanity, even in art.

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