If footloose traveler is eager to visit an art exhibition, he usually prefers restless cities and their squares with old towns. Being more specific, it is suitable to pick Paris, London, Berlin in this case or some other towns which are rich in their cultural resources. Local supply should be able to satisfy even the biggest enthusiasts. However, different objects in the shade of the giants also exist and these objects astonish one at the strength they have, supply they can offer and even their location. Tiny contemporary art centers. I was able to visit one this summer, and the impression left still makes me restless today. I will not be comparing scales or names, but I would love to tell you about the windy shore of the North Sea with a lighthouse and small yet amazing contemporary art centre in the Southwest of Norway.
Hå is a name of the commune in which the centre works and other words of this name literally mean “an old farm of a priest” (once a king gave this farm to a priest). It doesn‘t sound like a place related to art, does it? This impression doesn’t change after seeing the buildings which remind a neat homestead rather than an art centre. These buildings are traced back to 1637. A complex has been burnt away for a few times but it was rebuilt again and again. It was quite a big stockbreeding farm for many years and it also included the first library in the surroundings. Still, the most important cultural date for this place could be the 9th decade of the previous century when the buildings were bought by the Hå commune. Then they were renewed and revived for a new life as a symbol of local history and culture.
Actually, tourists are not the only ones who are fond of this place nowadays. Local residents love to while away their Sunday afternoons walking the shore of the North Sea, visiting Obrestad lighthouse nearby or going to “Hå gamle prestegård”. Exhibitions in the centre are renewed every month, concerts, lectures, literature evenings and other events are held. It is also possible to purchase some artworks there or drink some coffee while watching a waving sea and exchanging particular impressions left by exhibitions. There are boards outside fitted especially for this purpose. Contemporary art centre is a pretty important object for the locals since there’s no need to go to metropolitan in order to satisfy cultural needs. However, this is not the only point of culture in an unusual location. A small concert hall is nearby, somewhere between forests, cabbage fields and the sea, some events are held in surrounding lighthouses which people reach by their own boats. Eventually, similar initiatives may be found in Lithuania, at least in the buildings which used to be the centre of culture for a long time.
We’ve visited “Hå gamle prestegård” on a windy Sunday to see a new exhibition which gained plenty of good reviews in a local press. The main topic of the exhibition was collecting stuff but not in a luxurious way as it may seem at first. Walking through low ceiling rooms we reach an accommodation full of hardly related things. Shoes, two old petrol station apparatus, framed artworks of famous Banksy, old candy boxes, vinyl records or works of Philippe Starck. Despite being so dissimilar, those things somehow managed to find their own position and gave sense to collecting as a very multipurpose hobby. Hobby, containing almost everything: from expensive jewelry to buttons or paper postcards. We couldn’t argue with that statement.
It’s almost like an endless fairytale as long as that end is not a wooden roof which already started to peel off. Some kind of anarchistic kid could easily disrupt this fairytale by barely one kick. All that fragile stuff functioned as an entity in the attic of the farm where the primary background was logs supporting the construction of the roof instead of ascetic white walls. As Mona Nordaas herself states, it was an installation where separate elements take an absolutely new implication. And I took it for granted.
There was also a chance to take a look at Norwegian abstractionist Terje Uhrn artworks. He is one of the most famous Norwegian artists whose works are displayed at various galleries in Norway. At the end of the 8th decade Terje Uhrn was linked to a group of artists called The Lambretta which performed miscellaneous experimental installations. Clear forms of his artworks stood out from the general context of an exhibition and it was the most intense part of it. After leaving this exhibition I realized what a great difference there is between the ways in which art reaches its audience. Or maybe it’s due to a lasting attitude of people. Elderly farmers taking care of hundreds of cattle day by day manage to find a few hours on Sundays and instead of feeding cows they dress in their best trousers and head to a contemporary art exhibition. Families with children come to “Hå gamle prestegård” where they can be confident that kids won’t be bored in a special playground. After opening the exhibition you are warmly welcomed to a picnic right here, just on the corner. No posh costumes or exaggerated luxury. The key aspect here is the unexpected. Place which brings ordinary people closer to culture. Maybe it’s the location, premise, history or simply an attitude. If one day you are accidentally driving the 44th road by a coastline of the North Sea, it might turn to be your story of the unexpected.
We are grateful to Milda Lukoseviciute for the photographs.