THE WORKS OF MORTEN VISKUM MAY SEEM PROBLEMATIC, EVEN OFFENSIVE. SEVERAL OF HIS WORKS ASK EXISTENTIAL QUESTIONS ABOUT LIFE AND DEATH, RELIGION AND POLITICS. HE TESTS YOU BY SHOWING YOU DIFFERENT FORMS OF DEAD ANIMALS, HUMAN BODY PARTS AND OTHER ORGANIC MATERIALS LIKE BLOOD AND CANCER CELLS. THINK TWICE…
AT THE ART ACADEMY, MORTEN VISKUM LET HIMSELF BE INSPIRED BY YOUNG BRITISH ARTISTS (Y.B.A.) SUCH AS DAMIEN HIRST, TRACEY EMIN, MARCUS HARVEY, AND OTHERS. THEY ARE ALL GAINED ATTENTION THROUGH STRONG AND SENSATIONAL EXPRESSIONS. MORTEN SEEMS TO HAVE SOME OF THE SAME TENDENCIES
SCANDALOUS AND BOMBASTIC DEVICES MUST BE DIGESTED; ONLY THEN WE CAN ASK OURSELVES WHAT THE WORK MEANS AND WHAT IT CAN TELL US. THE GENIUS OF VISKUM FORCES US TO ANALYZE:
OUR OWN ATTITUDES
REFLECTIONS AND ETHICS
AS WELL AS TO EXPLORE THE RELATION BETWEEN ART AND SOCIETY
VISKUM’S PERSONAL HISTORY AND BACKGROUND HOLDS GREAT SIGNIFICANCE CONCERNING HIS ABILITY TO MAKE ART THAT IMPACTS THE WIDER SOCIETY. NEITHER ART FOR ART’S SAKE NOR ART FOR THE FEW IS THE RELEVANT MANTRA, RATHER AN ART FOR EVERYONE!
DT 500 MAG – Let’s start with your roots Morten, what did you play with when you were a child?
MORTEN: – I was always more interested in the process than the results. As a child I was more of a nerdy type, I kind of enjoyed my own company, building things, using my hands, making sand palaces, destroying them and creating them again. The process was the most important to me, more important than the goal. I had fun with matchbox cars, building roads, bridges, and so on.
DT 500 MAG: – Kind of like a young, creative engineer?
MORTEN: – More like an architect, I was more concerned with ideas and visions than solid results…
DT 500 MAG: – Any stories from the past that can give us some mint impressions of you?
MORTEN: – It all started so long I remember myself, nature was fascinating me, so dead birds did as well, in 5th grade me and my friends were doing bird-ringing, which was inspiring to me at the time. I also remember some impressions I got from art pieces. I remember an exhibition of Yves Klein from one time I went to a museum as a small boy. He made art using flames.
DT 500 MAG: – Morten, you studied for 6 years to become a Veterinarian – then you decided to quit for the Art Academy… Can you shed some light on why you chose to change your profile so fundamentally?
MORTEN: – I had always dreamed of being an artist. But my grandfather advised me that I should get a more serious education, and do art when I had finished instead. I started veterinary school and did very well for some years, but I was always more interested in art. I was way more interested in animal nature than in Latin names. My private art interest was still dominating. The process of making the grand switch took some time, but in the end, I just couldn’t reject myself.
DT 500 Mag: – Morten, what is about your fascination with rats?
MORTEN: – I did ”RATS / OLIVES PART I” in 1995, and when that happened, my family fully understood that I would never become a veterinarian.
” The thing with the rats is not so visual but conceptual, it is important that the rats once were alive. “
DT 500 MAG: – any other animal candidates?
MORTEN: – I also tried to work with cats and puppies, but it turned out that the concept was too intimate for the audience and it could be discussed too easily.
” So I started working mainly with rats, which would be easier for people to translate directly into their understandings. I want to question the reality that a lot of people don’t want to identify themselves with.”
DT 500 MAG: – Yes it is a dilemma…
MORTEN: – The Norwegian Embassy in India was actually interested in buying my work if I was willing to change the title, which was “Blood, Cancer Cells and Colour I .” I made 2 versions, the other one called ”Beauty .”
DT 500 MAG: – What is it about your fascination with dead body parts?
MORTEN: – As a veterinary student I got used to studying animal corpses, from horses to insects. In 1996 I made an artwork with a pig head installation specifically for the Fall exhibition.
“ The visitors got a possibility to meet me and talk to me, and a lot of people asked me why I had chosen a dead animal. I answered: because I couldn’t get a human body. From this moment on I started involving human bodies in my artworks.”
DT 500 MAG: – How did you get your first hand to collect?
MORTEN: – That is a mystery! It had to lay in formalin for six months before I could use it. For a while, I doubted the project. After six months I could finally use the hand, and I made a painting named “The hand that never stopped painting I .“ 17 years later I still use this hand in some projects.
” I even did an exhibition where my visitors could choose if they wanted to see or not when I was drawing with the hand.”
DT 500 MAG: – How many hands do you have?
MORTEN: – I have 7 different hands, 2 women’s hands and 5 men’s.
” I did a painting named ”Rest In Peace” made by the hand of 22-year-old man, who took his own life.”
DT 500 MAG: – What is it like to use the hand of a person who is actually dead?
MORTEN: – First, I want to say that I treat all my human and animal parts with the utmost respect.
“I have been contacted by a few new-age groups as well, asking me if I am falling into a trance-like a shaman, and I have to say that no, I do not.”
DT 500 MAG: – I wonder, where your inspiration coming from?
MORTEN: – I let the history inspire me, Yes.
“I had an exhibition in Venice once, and the local police officer was really destructed by my hands, I am a Protestant, and we have a bit of a different view on things than Catholics, so I don’t see this as a requiem, it has a whole other status for me. I use 50/50 human or animal organs.”
DT 500 MAG: – In your work, apparently, you use quite controversial characters like Breivik, hands, coffins, rats, etc… A kind of rebellious for a banal mind… Morten, do you feel possessed in a way?
MORTEN: – I have a work named “SELF-PORTRAITS.” It’s a series of myself in various stages. Every year on my birthday, I ordered a silicon cast specially made for me in a particular pose.
DT 500 MAG: –YES, we really admire it. Readers -you have to see it in Vestfossen. Highly recommended! Morten, pls tell us more about that artistry…
MORTEN: – The cast then becomes a part of an even more massive installation in which I present myself in various contexts. I once posed as Jesus, and NRK was following me around on my exhibition in Paris at the time. I have also represented as a Scientist, which reflects more of my science background, a “Perfect Sculpture,” where I visualized the body-fixation in our society, a Financier – I made myself into a man crushed by the financial crisis of 2008. I named it ”NO WAY.” I made my own Breivik after the tragedy of July 22nd, 2011. I was thinking for a while and decided to present him as a clown in his typical clothing style. Actually, the Breivik-figure has only the hair and beard a la Breivik, the rest is actually mine. In 2010 I even performed myself as a Transvestite.
DT 500 MAG: – Morten, any newcomers this year?
MORTEN: – This year I had my Jubilee of 50 years and I made myself as Charlie Chaplin, I was inspired by “Charlie Hebdo.” This work is exhibiting in England today. My next exhibition will show all the copies together in the Haugar Art Museum.
“I am not a rebel. I want to show the reality, and that reality, not every person can manage.”
DT 500 MAG: – I read somewhere, someone called you for a neo-dadaist?
Morten: – I would not choose a neo-dada as a denotation. I have been called a maximalist. Actually, I do not care about names and brands. Well, this is your job… I want to inspire and whatever name comes out of that is up to the audience!
DT 500 MAG: – Any gigs in town these days?
MORTEN: – These are fascinating times for Oslo and Norway. Today you can experience whatever you wish. Like, on the 29th of February 2014, I became a member of the Norwegian Freemasonry. It gave me a sense of peace that helped me sort out my thoughts, and it supported me to be a better, more compassionate person. It is a closed community and not just anybody can be part of it. Both my father and grandfather were members.
DT 500 MAG: – You have some pieces in your personal collection of art, can you name some faves?
MORTEN: – There is a woman named ROSE WYLIE, she is English, I have always been fascinated by her works. I met her, and we had a stimulating dialogue. I bought a few art pieces of hers which hang over my bed today. She presents a kind of Primitive Art with very unique romanticism. Her work is candid, she makes things we already know, feel new. Rose demonstrates an organic approach to the materiality of paintings, her playful virtuosity matching with great power.
DT 500 MAG: – Compared to the 80-is, there is a lot of technology boosts at times today, technology vs. humans?
MORTEN: – I remember when the first mobile phone came out, I paid 15 000 kroner for it and it was huge! Today we use iPhones….but I don’t think we can go ahead forever with technology.
” It will bring more possibilities, sure, you can do whatever you want at any time, our phones bring us closer to ourselves, but sometimes it can go wrong when we use technological devices rather than talking to people in person. A smartphone is a convenient tool in everyday life, but sometimes turning it off can be extremely liberating.”
DT 500 MAG: – How is Oslo these days?
MORTEN: – The Astrup Fearnley Museum doing some exciting events these days, it is essential for Oslo. Otherwise, I thrive well in “Dagligstuen” with my dear friend Unni Askeland…
DT 500 MAG: – What are your plans next?
MORTEN: – I have a project going on at Pere Lachaise In Paris, where I look after graves of the dead and take photo portraits of the pictures on the graves. This is a project I will never end. There is always a new grave. I am also a General Manager at VESTFOSSEN ARTLAB. My studio, my office, and my gallery are there. It’s where my whole job takes place. I will probably work there for 5 or max 10 years until I find a strong leader to take over. After that, I can go all the way being a full-time artist.
DT 500 MAG: – WATCH OUT! There is an exhibition of Morten at FINE ART GALLERY is coming.
ABSOLUT VISKUM III
RETROSPEKTIV 1993-2016, 7-17 APRIL 2016
© interview by Arthur Sopin n photography by Andreas Rod