White Noise, Simplicity´s complexity

White Noise – simplicity´s complexity

Janine Magelssen and Lise Bjørne usually work separately, as individual artists. They each seek inspiration from different sources and realise projects on an independent basis.

As a result of a long acquaintance and fruitful conversations, the two artists have nevertheless discovered that their respective oeuvres have references in common and that their conceptual and philosophical line of thought leads to a similar response when it comes to the reception of their respective works. This discovery of points in common has inspired them to produce a large joint exhibition which facilitates an interplay between their works. The exhibition has been given the title white noise  and this catalogue is a documentation of their collaborative project.

It is neither materials nor media that Magelssen and Bjørne have discovered that they have in common, but themes: they are both interested in philosophical and psychological issues that raise questions about man as a sensuous being. Their investigations into human senses and psychology start with aspects of form, traces, time, movement and sound and converge in parameters such as “the power of emptiness” and “the noise of silence”.

Magelssen works within a tactile and minimalist idiom; her contribution to this exhibition is a series of white, monochromic reliefs. These wall objects are in essence geometric and have a stylised formal language in which  volumes protrude as shadow-generating reliefs onto the surfaces. The theme of the works has a spiritual aspect rooted in abstract human feelings. In White Noise, Magelssen’s works interact with Bjørne’s, whose theme focuses on the body’s relation to its environment and surrounding space. Bjørne’s room-based needle installation and her series of large format black-and-white photographs investigate themes such as bodily traces and touch.

Both employ an artistic language that can best be described as subtle. They use few artistic effects and this simplicity is the result of a deliberately reductive process; both Magelssen and Bjørne are searching for a kind of point zero or a concentrated core which empties the works of content and at the same time invites new levels of reflection.

The exhibition hall becomes an arena in which to explore the energy that arises between the works of the two artists. For example, Magelssen’s work circle in circel is placed so that it interacts with Bjørne’s needle installation Twentytwothousandeighthundredandsixtyseven. The title of the latter refers to the 22867 acupuncture needles hanging from ceiling to floor on thin, mobile fishing lines. These needles, that have been in contact with human bodies during treatment sessions, form a transparent, yet nevertheless impenetrable network, where the gaps between the needles have an equally important symbolic function as the needles themselves. The work has a clearly narrative form and evokes thoughts about illness, suffering and pain. Its relatively strong expressivity contrasts with Magelssen’s white and neutral circle, which can be perceived as a discreet and anonymous pendant compared with the sharpness of the needles. In the tension that lies between the two works, various potential associations can arise; the circle can in this context be seen as a metaphor for freedom and the relief of suffering, or, on the contrary, as a sign of death and eternity.

In addition to these relatively concrete interpretations, the works can also be perceived in a more abstract and sensuous way through the concepts of sound and movement. In Magelssen’s white objects, “sound” is expressed through the gently undulating volumes of the surfaces. The reliefs are often formed by means of vertically and horizontally positioned dots or straight lines that have references to a musical or sound-based score. By using our senses to the full, we can interpret and perceive the works as images of sound. The sound in this case is “silent” and is primarily experienced through our sense of sight and touch, and not through our sense of hearing.

Sound and movement are key aspects of Bjørne’s works too. This comes to the fore in her photographs, or “breath works”, in which she examines the connection between emotions and breathing. The works are an expression of the force of her voice and breath and are produced by ash being blown over paper by means of the artist’s own breath, voice and body. Sound and movement are also variables in the needle installation mentioned above: the needles hang freely and almost imperceptibly turn on their own axis – a slight draught in the room or even the breath of a nearby observer will affect the way the installation moves, both as a formal expression and as a perceptible image of sound.

Sound and movement are therefore an important pair of concepts in Magelssen’s and Bjørne’s works and are present in two different ways: firstly as a technical means of creating the works and secondly as an immanent feature of the finished works.

The works of Magelssen and Bjørne have points in common particularly when it comes to the concept of sensuousness. In order to clarify this relatively abstract and complex aspect of their works, the artists have invited the pictorial and audio artist Nils Olav Bøe and the choreographer and dancer Øyvind Jørgensen to participate in the project. Bøe contributes with a self-composed sound track and Jørgensen with a dance in the form of a performance. In this way, sound and movement are further highlighted as key features of the profile of the exhibition.

Nils Olav Bøe’s audio works consist of simple structures, sounds and rhythms which he processes digitally to produce a musical idiom that could be described as electronic noise frequencies. For the collaborative project “White Noise”, Bøe has created two sound structures that complement Magelssen’s and Bjørne’s artistic idioms. One of the sound tracks has a horizontal auditive or spatial character, while the other has a dry, clinical texture. These two sound elements echo the minimalist and spatial anatomy of the visual works in the exhibition. The sound elements are mixed so that they converge and diverge in an unending loop. The audio works are presented separately by means of headphones so that the observer can experience the sound in a concentrated and distinct way or not at all, according to choice. The observer can therefore either choose to look at Magelssen’s and Bjørne’s works in a silent room, in which only the third above-mentioned level of perception arises, or with the headphones, so that a fourth level of perception is introduced into the interplay between the works.

The dancer Øyvind Jørgensen is a leading actor in the field of modernistic and experimental dance  in Norway. His choreography addresses the relationship between body and soul and issues surrounding a sensuous perception of human vulnerability and experience. Jørgensen often integrates elements from other dance traditions into his work, and in “White Noise” he has found inspiration in his work with Japanese butoh – a dance form that focuses on presence within a mental, physical and spiritual space. Even though butoh can have en expressive and extrovert form, its primary aim is contact with the introvert and inward-looking ego. Physically demanding movements are not performed in order to come into contact with or illustrate the space the dance is being performed in, but rather as a type of exercise that enables the performer to make contact with the power of the soul.[1]

Both abstract and concrete sound is generated in the works of Magelssen, Bjørne and Bøe, and the same applies to Jørgensen’s dance. Movements fill the body with energy that can be perceived as noise, silence or melody, depending on the frequency of the energy. Jørgensen has focused on energy generation as an artistic effect for a long time now, and in “White Noise” he cultivates this still further. His aim is to allow the kinaesthetic energy produced by movement to be transmitted from body to body as a form of recognition between spectator and performer. Just as Bøe’s sound tracks give rise to a fourth level of perception, so Jørgensen’s dance can be regarded as the fifth perception level of the exhibition. The dance will be performed at the opening of the exhibition and can be described as an exclusive performance that extends and refines the scope of the collaborative project as a whole.

Human beings are dependent on reflection and presence in order to make contact with their spiritual ego and the right modus can only be achieved by the use of time – both in terms of real “clock time” and in terms of an extended dimension of the senses. Time is a key aspect of Jørgensen’s physical and mental execution of butoh dance and is equally a key concept in Magelssen’s and Bjørne’s art. Whereas Magelssen produces her objects over a period of months as she casts, grinds and polishes, Bjørne uses similar amounts of time to perform her ritual and repetitive actions. In other words, this time-based aspect of the process of creation represents a fundamental part of the realisation of their ideas. If time had no immanent value, then Magelssen could for instance cast her relief objects in ready-made moulds, which would save her a great deal of time. But if she chose to do so, she would renounce the very foundation of her artistic objective: to be in contact with her own creativity and sensuousness. The passing of time therefore forms a basis for the presence, mental discipline and physical awareness that can be seen as decisive and meaningful “traces” in her works.

Time is also a key factor when it comes to understanding and interpreting the content of the works. Bjørne’s breath and pulse works, for instance, reveal her interest in ephemerality and cyclical themes; time must be understood here as both a concrete concept of reality and as an abstract, sensuous experience.

Finally, it should also be pointed out that the dimension of time is crucial for the way the works of the two artists communicate with the observer. Since the works communicate in a subtle way, it is up to the observer to use her own presence, willpower and time in order to open the door to a constructive dialogue.

The title of the project “White Noise” originates from  the world of music. The expression describes the sound image that arises when all types of sound frequencies are superimposed on one another, resulting in a monotonous buzzing – what started out as a huge mass of sound is reduced to a one-dimensional auditive expression. The same phenomenon exists in the theory of colours: when all colours are combined, the result is white light. The adjective “white” is adopted from the theory of colours, and white sound can be said to arise in the same way as does white light.

“White Noise” was chosen as the title of the collaborative project since it points to the dichotomy of the project in a very fitting way: a naked and reductionist formal idiom contrasts with an ambiguous and layered complexity of content. In other words, it is the one-dimensional buzzing of the “white sound”, in which all frequencies are blended into one simple resonance, that is presented both visually and audibly in the works, sounds and dance of the exhibition. But behind this apparently impenetrable simplicity, each component of the four artists’ works is firmly rooted in a meticulous examination of the elementary and universal characteristics of human sensuousness. The exhibition offers an unending source of reflection and the observer need only use her own time and sensuousness in order to decipher the art project “White Noise”.


Janicke Iversen, Art historian

Oslo, August 2006

[1] Camilla Eeg (red.), “Dans i samtiden”; Gunn Engelsrud, “The potential of self-discipline. Øyvind Jørgensen’s dance art and view of the body” (Disiplineringens muligheter. Øyvind Jørgensens dansekunst og kroppsyn), pp. 38-39, published by Scandinavian Academic Press/Spartacus forlag AS, 2006.

Janine Magelssen is a Norwegian artist, who live and work in Oslo, Norway.