The Lorck Schive Art Prize, Norway’s biggest accolade for a contemporary artist, is uniquely funded by the trust of Trondheim landowner Christian Lorck Schive. For many decades, following their first bequeathment in 1868, the Christian Lorck Schive and Spouse Trust distributed scholarships to young artists. In 2013, the trust was adapted to follow a ‘non-political funding model’ to ensure a grant for a living artist by means of competition, inaugurating the annual art prize. Unconnected to a corporation or ministerial directives, the prize is unique in its ability to retain political and financial independence. This year’s prize was awarded on 12th November. Vanessa Baird’s ‘I Don’t Want to be Anywhere but Here I Am’ - a room full of provocative drawings draped ceiling to floor like wallpaper - afforded her the NOK 500,000 (£40,000) prize fund.
Baird’s work took her eleven months to complete and, along with works by fellow nominees Jana Winderen, Ane Hjorth Guttu, and Snorre Ytterstad, is a site specific commission for the prize. The four finalists were selected from a shortlist of ten and awarded production costs for the works on view at the Kunstmuseum Trondheim, which were subsequently judged in order to select the final winner. It is a dense exhibition - at times dark, but elaborately excellent.
Baird’s work is monumental. It fills a whole room; the drawings snake around three walls, swamping the nearby permanent relief ‘Hell’ by Norwegian great Gustav Viegland (1894). Yet in contrast to Viegland’s portrayal of military terror, Baird combines the horrific with bastardised everyday scenes such as domestic interiors and Norwegian fairytales. We are first presented with a seascape of puke-green waves adorned with floating rubber rings. As the drawing’s narrative continues, our eyes following the trajectory of the room, these rings are reconfigured into images of refugees drowning at sea; these caricatured bodies are closer to grotesque cartoons than people. This bold technique is a horrifying response to images that have become commonplace in 2015. In the corner of the room, there is a washed up body, which echoes the widely circulated image of a drowned Syrian child found on a beach in Turkey this year.
Situated within a wider personal diorama, Baird’s dehumanising distortions do not mock or belittle the issue at hand, but instead add vulnerability. They question the visual tools we use to perpetuate objectionable scenes, while highlighting our difficulty in accepting them. Placing these subjects alongside stifling domestic situations, twisted fairytales and scenes of both sexual desire and abuse gives the work a lyrical quality, processing the real and the fictional in a stream of consciousness. Baird produced the drawings at home, laid out on the floor in her children’s bedrooms; this further grounds the domestic imagery of armchairs, sofas, children, cigarettes and wine bottles found in her images. Baird’s confessional memoir elicits a vital energy, channeling horror within the everyday, and the everyday within horror.
Ane Hjort Guttu’s ‘Time Passes’, a forty-five minute film, continues the engagement with the current political landscape, as she addresses recent proposals to make begging illegal in Norway. Yet much like Baird’s approach, Guttu’s execution allows the work to speak on several plateaux. Guttu’s film focuses on an art student in Bergen, as she befriends a homeless Romanian girl and repeatedly sits with her for an academic project. It is beautifully shot in high definition and feels documentary-like, despite being intricately staged. There is a subtle and engrossing rhythm as the action cuts between art school crits, coffee-making from super-student-size jars of Nescafe, to scenes of the girl and her homeless friend on the street, walking through the city, sharing food.
The lush execution of the film and its haunting orchestral overtones are not just a pleasure to watch, the slow poetics also allow for certain moments to linger and develop. In one scene the girl helps her friend into a Salvation Army bin to steal some donated clothes. She gets stuck, and we watch a tragicomic attempt to enclose her, as she is half-in/half-out of the bin. As the narrative develops, we witness the student discovering the potential of her project through discussions with fellow students and her professor. Guttu’s work cleverly channels these on-screen debates, and questions art’s ability to influence or change political situations. She, too, touches on the interplay between the personal and the universal, magnificently meditating on the role of arts institutions in societal change.
Jana Winderen’s ‘The Wanderer’ also unfolds slowly, opening with an ominous text announcement on the wall: ‘the world’s marine populations have halved since 1970’. Continuing through a dark room, the work expands through a trickling rhythm from several ceiling mounted speakers. The sound builds and becomes physical as the room reverberates with distressed tones and odd patterns. Originally trained as a marine biologist, Winderen has spliced her sound collage with recordings of sea life. Part mixtape, part symphony, the volume of the work creates rumbling walls of sound, interrupting the architecture of the Kunstmuseum. Through this spatial impact, Winderen’s work enters into dialogue with that of finalist Snorre Yterstadd. Yterstadd’s interventions with everyday items appear to almost boobytrap the museum. His arrangement of eight umbrellas in an exploded star shape in the centre of one room initially appears gloriously simple, but is actually supported through a complex system of wires running into exact corners. This comic sculpture cuts off three quarters of the room, occupying space by delineating and dividing it, dictating where spectators are able to stand and interact with his objects.
While The Lorck Schive Art Prize exhibition can be read as a cohesive whole (difficult to achieve in an art prize exhibition) Baird’s drawings do linger in a unique way. Jonathan Watkins, Ikon Director and member of the prize jury, referred to the winning work as a refreshing alternative to coolness. Produced at home and employing ostensibly traditional materials, Baird’s juxtaposition of personal experiences with familiarly harrowing imagery results in a simultaneously beautiful and grotesque presentation of human chaos.