“White Noise”, by John Devine in ArtUS Magazine May, 2007

White noise, an installation at Art League, Houston by four Norwegian Artists – Lise Bjørne, Janine Magelssen, Øyvind Jørgensen and Nils Olav Bøe – combined visual art, movement and sound to evoke a post-Kantian mood of disquieting experience. Bjørne’s twentytwothousandeighthundredandsixtyseven (all work 2006), a complex curtain made of acupuncture needles knotted along floor-to-ceiling strands of fishing line, hooked the viewer right at the doorway. Once you negotiated this intimidating apparition, you were faced with Magelssen´s equally ghostly geometric wall sculptures composed of chalk and glue built up on Plexiglas, and Bjørne´s spectral photograms of breath-blown ash. Gradually, if the gallery was quiet, you became aware of a modulating musical drone, Bøe´s White Noise #2, emanating from headphones resting atop a low bench-like box. On a taller box nearby lay a book by Bjørne titled Breath. As you continued to get your bearings, you caught sight of a monitor (in the vestibule past the needle curtain) showing a video of a slim man, dressed all in white, moving through the space you were standing in, interacting with these inexplicable objects to the accompaniment, fading in and out of Bøe´s sound piece.

In its Houston manifestation, White Noise was an austerely seductive installation. Magelssen´s sculptures (somewhat tellingly described in the project statement from the website, as simply “wallobjects”) are carefully built up and sanded down in a repetitive process that suggests meditation, while their geometric forms (square, circle, lines, angles) seem to push forward and recede at the same time – your eyes just can´t decide. Bjørne´s human-scale photograms, which are sometimes made by shouting or screaming to disperse the ash before exposing the paper to light still manage to project a stoic quietude. Her curtain of acupuncture needles shimmered in the gallery´s lights as it responded to motion around it, as well as carving out pockets of space that you somehow wanted to get into but which excluded you (significantly all the needles were used, each carrying an intimate history which, conceivably, pointed contact could transmit). Bøe´s sound piece managed to be both suggestive of industrial settings and yet oddly soothing, cold and vaguely threatening, though hypnotic, while Jørgensen, a former student of both Japanese Butoh and the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance, brought a touch of Beckett to his stranger in a strange land choreography, as if his Everyman wanted something from the art but was not sure what.

That a viewer may find artworks, or the installation they comprise initially unyielding but ultimately seductive is not a paradox. Seduction entails resistance, some act of persuasion, which in this case seeks to affirm process against the negative play of appearances. There were only neutral tones in the show, no color to satisfy the eye; the curtain of needles impeded free access to the space; the sound had no melody, no harmonics, just pitch and pulse; and the dance, repetitive by nature and in its video display, offered severe abstraction rather than the diversions of narrative in this ascetic installation, the pleasure lay in contemplating Magelssen´s patient sanding, the traces of Bjørnes´s existential performances, Bøe´s modulations in time and Jørgensen´s innocent yearnings.

John Devine

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