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In Norway, an artist builds worlds of his own
July 24, 2019
This three-part series celebrates craftsmanship and artistry through the eyes of unique creative minds in fashion, art and architecture. In each episode, we profile a maker who embodies the modern spirit of craft. Just as Dorchester Collection hotels dedicate themselves to creating perfect moments for guests, these creatives are devoted to crafting moments of beauty that resonate across times, places and cultures.
Whether it’s bending metal, molding wood or planting a field of grass indoors, for Per Kristian Nygård, no tool measures up to the mighty power of his own bare hands.
To create “Not Red But Green,” his most renowned work to date, Nygård cut and built a large wooden framework, then overlaid the structure with plastic sheeting and covered it with a 4,500-liter-thick layer of soil mixed with grass seed — all inside a sweltering basement. “It was the warmest summer in Norway in 100 years,” he says of the few months he spent installing the work inside the NoPlace gallery in Oslo.
Once the grass sprouted, he maintained the lawn with around 20 liters of water per day.
From the outside in
The result was a captivating installation of green undulations, filling the gallery with tall, sprawling mounds of verdant grass. The hills, rising and falling around a row of narrow windows, crept out onto the floor and spilled into the entrance.
“Nature can be both scary and welcoming at the same time. And that was a part of this project,” says the artist. Blurring the line between indoors and outdoors, the work disrupts the familiarity of an “everyday” setting, presenting viewers with the stark duality of nature. “Nature is taking over. It’s beautiful, but also will eventually destroy the house.”
Per Kristian Nygård, Artist
If the galleries bear the fruits of Nygård’s labor, his studio, on the top floor of an old school, reveals its provenance – and the often painstaking reality behind the scenes. Filled with wooden modules, ink prints, scraps of metal and books, the space carries the handprints of his unmistakable craftsmanship and artistry. Splashed across the main table are sheets of imprints, their black-ink patterns a product of Nygård’s vast array of wooden cutting boards dating from as far back as the 1960s. “You could find these cutting boards in most Norwegian homes in the past, but they are rare now,” he says of his latest creations.
While many of his works, such as these wood prints, nod to tradition, the artist says he tries to avoid nostalgia. “I didn’t want to make a strong statement for or against gentrification in this work,” he says of his latest work with imprints – an ode to the old Norwegian kitchens of his childhood that have now become a rarity with the changing fashions of the times.
Like his studio space, the city of Trondheim, says Nygård, has a strong impact on him. “It’s a very slow city and it has a strong DIY movement, which resonates with my way of doing things,” he says.
When embarking on the Experimental Housing Project, he took this DIY spirit a step further by self-building a housing complex in the city using inexpensive, recycled materials, along with other families and a few architect friends. While the Svartlamon Housing Foundation owns the houses, the self-builders rent them inexpensively after construction. “I wanted to build a house that wasn’t going to be a part of the real estate market,” he says. “Owning houses changes people. They become almost like investors.”
I think of my large installations as simple ideas that are time-consuming to make. And through physical work, I start thinking about what it all means and how the works will be received.
Since completing the house, the artist has been living there with his girlfriend and son. Made mostly of Norwegian pinewood, the cozy duplex has a high ceiling and old furnishings that he found or made himself. “It’s the wood of my childhood – what was being used in my home and in my friends’ homes,” he says.
Once again, Nygård used this wood “which has gone out of fashion,” to create “Dissolvings,” shown at the Heimdal Kunstforening gallery in Trondheim. Cut in geometric angles inside a cylindrical form, the work emulated “Not Red But Green” in its scale, engulfing an entire exhibition room. The intricately made, large-scale artwork was a technically and physically challenging labor of love. “Even friends who are skilled architects or craftsmen had a hard time helping with this work, because everything had to go exactly,” says Nygård. “During the two-month installation period, I was sleeping in the space, inside a sleeping bag, just to save time.”
It’s the friction between space, nature and the man-made that continues to fascinate Nygård. “What I really want to do is work more with sculpture as a social space,” he says, adding that his dream is to build a church. Though an atheist, the artist says that it’s the “level of craftsmanship” and the quality of religious spaces that he’s interested in. “High windows and natural light…the church is not a very economical space, and it allows for much more extravagance.”
This yearning for unconventional spaces has more recently drawn Nygård to huge factories or warehouses that he can transform into a hybrid of art venue and social space. “It could be something between an exhibition space and a club.”
No matter what the setting, however, the artist remains a maker at heart. “I want to stay close to the hands and the materials,” he says.
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