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I'm Sorry, yes I am

Text: Tor Børresen

An artist's ego is expressed in a rather succinct and effective way in Ludvig Eikaas' painting "jeg" ("I") from 1970, which must be regarded as a modern classic in Norwegian art history. His manic-depressively scratched letters j-e-g express all too well the substantial need of an artist to be "seen" and find his rightful place in Culture. An image of one's ego for all to see. In Ingwill Gjelsvik's "I'm Sorry", the title piece of this exhibition, the gaze is not turned inward, at a person's vain need of a centre of the ego, but outwards, at the conscience and potential for empathy of the human individual.

As a child, I often travelled with my family to the West of Norway to visit my grandparents. After the warm welcome on the front porch, we were welcomed into the best living room for lemonade and cookies. Everything here was a little bit different from where I grew up, in the East. The settee was upholstered in wine red velour, tables and armoires were in dark wood, bric-a-brac everywhere, and in a corner of the room the pedal organ resided, a highly polished, black jewel. On top of the organ, chandeliers stood on a lace table-cloth. The whole house had a feeling of something irresistible, something snug, safe and good, with a whiff of strange smells and colours that made its impression on my senses. Almost as if it belonged to another world.

Back to the lace table-cloth. My Grandmother had made it (tied, knit, or whatever it's called?). She always had a project involving thread going. Whatever part of the house she was in, she had a bobbin of white thread and a patch that mystically grew every second. I was fascinated to sit an watch her fingers run, As a witch, she commanded the movement of the thread until it took on the most intricate shapes and patterns of knots and loops.

Returning from a visit to the studio of Ingwill Gjelsvik, I find myself in a similar condition of fascination and amazement. Although not of the safe and comfortable kind. A torrent of black and grey patterns, landscapes, shapes and beings pour from these filigree works of myriad detail set on paper. Like an illusionist, she conjures forth, through ink and grey pencil, intricate picture surfaces that hide more information than they divulge at first glance. Like an angler digging through compost to find worms for bait, Ingwill seems to dig into the subconscious looking for mankind's darker history as subject for her images. In macro perspective, she invites us to stick our nose down into slimy, putrescent dungs of compost, where corruption,
death and decay serve as nutrition for new life. A horror cabinet of the evil deeds and pathetic stupidity of mankind. Innocent victims lie at lit de parade, for all to see. Just as bacterial cultures grow in laboratory petri dishes, beautiful patters emerge. But the patterns mutate and become grotesque, moody, and dangerous.

Her drawings where she conjures up her dystopias remind me of the montage theories of Sergei Eisentein from film's early days. Eisenstein developed the modern cutting technique by demonstrating how our brain has the ability through perception to be guided in certain directions by catching different moods and meanings through combinations of images without any immediate logical relationship or previous context.

By appropriating known motifs from history and then weaving together signs, symbols, and ornament, she open up a space for interpretation in her pictures, connotations seemingly guided wilfully by the artist's references. By juxtaposing a quaint, little dog and the sickle and hammer banner of the Soviet Union, associations are made to the early Soviet space program, and the laboratory dog Laika's never-ending mission in its space capsule. Legend has it the poor creature is out there to this day, 50 years after the launch! In other words, knowing one's recent history helps if one is to take on the decoding and interpretation of the pictorial puzzles and their underlying narratives.

Information of and reference to our modern western culture and the darker sides of civilisation are weaved together in cacophonic compositions of texts, landscapes, animals and plants. It is a long time since Charles Darwin made his studies and subsequent discoveries on the Galapagos Islands. The discovery of hitherto unknown animals and species, uncorrupted by human presence, put him on the trail to the origin of the species, wherein the theories of evolution and sexual selection was presented.

Mankind has advanced far towards its goal of reaching the very roots of the tree of knowledge since Darwin's days. But according to the artist Ingwill Gjelsvik, nothing comes for free. Suffering and death, hell on Earth, is mankind's self-inflicted swan song. Gjelsvik offers us an insight into this through minute, time-consuming and almost equilibristic drawings. Art that testifies how Nature in every instance is sacrificed on the altar of science, to enable us to go to the moon, cure cancer, or shampoo our hair.

Walt Disney gave us Mickey Mouse, a funny little creature. A
rather wild, happy and manically enthusiastic mouse whose infinite courage puts him in the most bizarre situations. With human behaviour and a stoic belief in himself and his own abilities, he ignores convention and engages life with incredible appetite. That in itself should probably infer more responsibility than he usually displays (which he usually doesn't). Consideration, empathy, a communal spirit, and suchlike, are not among the mouse's priorities, nor on his agenda. In the Wizard's apprentice (Fantasia, 1940) he manipulates the elements of nature with the virtuosity of a Leopold Sokowski, with the intention of avoiding strenuous work. The result is chaos and deluge. A wizard, in the shape of a human being, must assist him in order to re-establish harmony in the Universe. So is disharmony created by animals and not by us then? We project properties onto nature and animals as exponents of our own inadequacies. We surround ourselves with cats and dogs, goldfish, hamster, rabbits, horses, and other pets. We create environments and exhibitions, award rosettes, medals, and cups for these coiffeured poodles. As a matter of course, our furry friends are included in the part of us that we can tame and subordinate, to stem the chaos that would otherwise rule the World.

She has a message, Ingwill Gjelsvik. A message so intrusive (irritating....) that I feel somewhat shamed. Shamed, because I don't adequately consider my choices as a consumer. Shamed, because I don't stand up enough for the weak and suffering, shamed because shame becomes a present psychological condition that demands relief. Relief must come through significant change of conduct. Change that requires a type of action for which I am not very motivated. I am an animal and a predator, regarding myself a representative of the ultimate link in a food chain, and as such I take liberties with nature's assets.


As a fly fisher I constantly hunt the Salmo Trutta, the trout. I love the excitement and the sport. Exploring and challenging nature's secrets is particularly satisfying of an urbanite who trundles through the asphalt jungle the year round. The challenge of discovering the trout's daily menu and imitate it, outsmart the fish, "catch" (as it is called), tame the animal, then knock it on the head with something hard, is comparable almost to sex! A short hour later, it's in the frying pan along with some butter. I eat flesh and fish with great appetite as a matter of course. Vegetables are for garnish only. And, I use products that have been tested on animals. I smear a substance packed in the finest plastic cylinders under my arms; the better to attract the opposite sex (the smell of sweat is after all no advantage when you're out hunting). Once a predator, always a predator…

However, to each his own frame of reference regarding one's relation to Nature. Reality presses itself forward in some way or other, regardless of one's existing or anticipated preferences. To cite the same Ludvik Eikaas once more; "One need not go outside to go in for something". Gjelsvik's way of relating to the realities of Nature in art is emotional, yet she also demonstrates a pragmatic and moral-ethical point of view to every degree. All life rates the same respect independent of its place in the food chain, and reflecting on one's own habits of consumption and conduct should be as natural for us as breathing. And breathing is of course something everything does, be it bush or broad…

When the pathetically mutated creatures of Gjelsvik's animal drawings meet our gaze with their wet platter eyes, an uncomfortable sensation arises of looking straight into the historic mirror of eternity. The mirror where all is reflected and strikes back. As a reminder of all we have done, and that nothing goes away or can be undone, or cancelled by one press on the "delete" button.