Monday, October 24, 2016

A Visit with Ann Klefstad on Themes Related to the DAI's 4North

Alison Aune piece for 4North
The Duluth Art Institute has a number of noteworthy upcoming events slated for the next few months. One of these is the 61st Arrowhead Biennial, which is the longest running biennial juried show in the upper midwest. It's a great opportunity to see some of the best work in the region. The opening reception for the Biennial is Thursday, November 10.

Also opening that same evening is an exhibition titled "4North: New Work by Alison Aune, Kirsten Aune, Ann Klefstad, and Arna Rennan."

When Prairie Home Companion's Garrison Keillor talks about Lake Woebegone's Norwegian bachelor farmers, what he's really doing is sharing the particular ethnic influence of our region, Scandinavian and Northern European. Those strains of Scandinavian culture show up in all manner of ways, from the Lutheran churches to the love of outdoors, no matter the season.

Buildings in Duluth like the Sons of Norway Building show that these Scandinavian connections a not only fresh but continually renewed. The four artists in 4North have been part of a number of arts and cultural events there, and with Christmas season approaching it will not surprise me to see more.

The 4North promotional material states that this show "explores a sense of place through four distinct voices. The artists share a Scandinavian heritage, as well as live and work in northern Minnesota. While the four create in disparate media—painting, sculpture, and textile arts—the threads connecting their work reveal a deep reverence for the natural world and the translation and transmutation of patterns and symbols."

I asked Ann Klefstad, a former DNT art critic and lifelong artist, to share some of her perspective on the work she's contributing to 4North.

* * * *
EN: To what extent is your art informed by or inspired by your Scandinavian roots?

Ann Klefstad: Norwegians have always held their land close to their hearts; only 3 percent of Norway is arable land, so wild land, forest, mountains, wildlife, the sea, IS their home. I read, years ago, a tourism-in-Norway book written by an Englishman in the mid-nineteenth-century in which he described the emotions of Norwegians on his ship who were visiting their homeland after emigrating: it was an amazingly affecting account of the way that the landscape evoked extreme emotion-- they wept for joy to see the familiar coast; they wept for sorrow, knowing they would leave it again. My own grandparents, who all grew up in Norway and left as adults, loved and missed their homeland intensely-- and the very land and sea itself was a big part of what they missed, even though Duluth was similar. My great-aunts owned "skog" -- forest land -- and in Norway skog was managed very carefully. It was never clear-cut. The forests were assumed to be entities that would exist forever, and those who owned them and logged them were very conscious of their responsibilities.

When immigrants came to this country, I think much of that fell away. It was not "their" land in the way that Norway had been. But now, it is my land. And I feel the way about this patch of the earth the way they did about Norway. And actually, my grandparents were good land stewards and loved the outdoors deeply here.

Also, Norway is the birthplace of Arne Naess's "deep ecology": a concept of the earth in which the living world has the right to exist for itself-- not merely for human use. His writings on the ethics of ecology have been immensely influential worldwide and are important to me as well.

What remains of my life and career I would like to devote to cultivating in people a consciousness that the living world around them, which was there before people began to occupy the land and which will survive us all, is what determines us, is what teaches us. The animals and the living waters and the forests have a space for us, as animals too, and if we can learn to inhabit that space, we will have a deeper life, with more grace; a consciousness of both what our limits are and what is, indeed, limitless--which we do not control. Our ability to grow out of our whims and our false needs will yield a maturity of perception that is very rich-- a gift from the living world.

EN: How did you come to choose a career in the arts?

AK: Couldn't help it! Not so much a choice as what the skalds would call "wyrd." I am stuck with trying to make things.

EN: Can you share a little about your work for this show?

AK: I am doing several carved wood sculptures of local animals that are carved from wood felled in the recent windstorm. They are finished by fire-- I'm burning the surface to coat them in carbon black. The work engages with global warming (the fire, you know, the carbon). Also, the windstorm is just one example of the extreme weather events that are driven by rapid climate change, and it delivered my materials to me. I traveled around the city in my old truck collecting wood for this project.

Another subtext is simply that animals share our world-- they have as much right to be here as we do. But we create the conditions under which they live, very often. I'm hoping to make people mindful that animals are our companions in this world. I'm not a vegetarian, nor am I against hunting. We people are predators, as are wolves and foxes and hawks. I'm just saying, we need to be mindful of living in harmony with our fellow animals and we need to learn from them. There will be large-scale line drawings of an animal world in the hallway gallery, as well as these wooden burned animals. I may also show a small selection of sketches like the one attached, of Badger being harangued by Toad.

For more details on the DAI's upcoming shows as well as the artist talks and assortment of events slated around the 4North exhibition, visit this page.

Meantime, art goes on all around you. Engage it.

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