Slept With

by Ren Powell

When Andreas told his friend in New York about the project aiPotu was planning in Norway, she said it sounded like a traveling circus.  aiPotu's Loffere/Tramps project began in Oslo and culminated with a video installation in a dilapidated brewery in Stavanger: two men, two weeks on the road relying on the kindness (and floor space) of strangers.  Is a traveling circus a bit of a leap?  Maybe not.  

aiPotu (utopia in the looking glass) is the collaborative work of Andreas Siqueland and Anders Kjellesvik, two Norwegian visual artists.  They describe it themselves as "an art project that asks existential questions regarding the interaction of art and utopias in the local context."

Thematically and philosophically related to their previous projects (, Anders and Andreas describe Loffere/Tramps as a "social and existential project about moving within society, but outside the customary framework designed for modern people."  As much performance as installation, one can't escape the pure theatricality of Loffere/Tramps.  

This fall Tou Scene invited aiPotu to create a site-specific project for the fledgling arts center in Stavanger, Norway.  Andreas and Anders received some still photos of the space—a raw, concrete building which once housed beer-brewing vats.  There is one long, narrow hall which branches into six naked rooms.  The cold space must have resonated with Andreas, who had just read the book På loffen by Thor Gotaas.  He had Anders read the book and the concept for Loffere/Tramps fell quickly into place.  

Having just completed a nomadic project of site-specific works that included driving a figure eight pattern on the European continent in a 1970s caravan, Anders and Andreas were off again.  This time on foot—Oslo to Stavanger—along a traditional vagabond route, carrying a film camera.  

The three hours of unedited footage flickering on the cement walls of the dimly lit space includes the tramps' views of the roads, passing cars and most surprisingly, the people who took them in for a night and told their own stories.  

The Norwegian word "loff" comes from the English word "loaf", as in "to loaf about". Thor Gotaas is a folklorist who has specialized in the tramps and vagabonds, the loffere of Norway during their golden era of the early 1900s.  As part of the opening of aiPotu's exhibition, Thor Gotaas gave an hour-long lecture on the lives of vagabonds—their routes, secret codes and customs.  He even demonstrated the characteristic "loafing" walk.   

Giving extra credit where it's due: Andreas and Anders walked the traditional April-May route through southern Norway in November-December.  

And putting things in a contemporary perspective: they walked most of the way.  An elderly woman gave them a bicycle when walking on the hard asphalt began to cause structural damage to one of the artists' bodies.  

Taking as little with them as possible, the two set out without a safety net of friend's couches.  No money for hotels.  A half litre of water each.  They knocked on doors and more often than not were accommodated.  When people did turn them down, they provided leads for a warm bed or even phoned friends on aiPotu's behalf.  

During the hour I talked with Andreas and Anders over coffee (well, shall we say, over the idea of coffee since it was ordered but never actually arrived) they told me about their experience.  Sort of.

While aiPotu's work is free of irony without being dreadfully earnest, it is narrative without being self-referential. It's a travelogue in the third person. Tracey Emin they are not.  Nor was this a social experiment along the lines of Barbara Ehrenreich.  When I pressed them on the obvious parallels with old-fashioned pilgrimages, Andreas conceded that he believes a person is fundamentally changed after any kind of journey.  "You think so?" said Anders.  Their subjective experience is clearly not the point.

What did they want to say with the project?  They wanted to create a new space for art.  As they put it on their website: [W]e aim to make visual statements that can inspire to a new dialogue regarding art and its use in creating new forms of local awareness…  

Remembering the lecture, I ask about how they presented themselves when they came knocking.  In the previous century real tramps came knocking with a letter from a priest (vagabond tendencies were often diagnosed as a medical condition according to Gotaas). No blessed credentials—but an internet address came in handy.  Artists with a capital (verifiable) A. Artists playing vagabond.  

I point out that traditional tramps refused to wear fine clothes.  One of them sits across from me (longing for coffee?) wearing a Norwegian military sweater. How did they dress?  I figure the grunge look is hardly going to open doors. Bearded, yes, but at the risk of emasculating anyone, these guys are wholesome.  As Norwegian as lefsa. "We were practical," said Anders.  

Hospitality?  Despite what we think, Anders says perhaps people are more welcoming now than before. In the early 1900s people allowed tramps to stay in their barns, not their living rooms.  Generous, open?  Every single person who allowed them to stay the night also allowed them to film.  Would they do it again?  Funny, the increased social mobility that cars provide for the masses restricts the mobility of tramps.  Asphalt and traffic are health hazards.  But this is me simplifying, digressing from the artwork itself.  Or is it?

I ask Anders and Andreas if they plan to continue working together.  Will they "brand" themselves like Gilbert and George or Gilbert and Grape?  "No.  They don't want to call their work collaborations.  "More like constellations."  

Norwegianloffere adapted the tricks of the trade from other travelers: coded signs from the gypsies, and a secret language from the circus people.  Are artists the tramps and circus artists of the twenty-first century?  With a language containing words like "constellations", "utopia" and all the impressive "isms", it could make one want to run away to join the circus.

Oh, yeah, if you'd been able to catch the installation you could have bought a wiener from Andreas on the way in.  Behind the tins of beans, the hotplate with boiling water, he was the one wearing the borrowed military sweater.  And the flatcap.  Not that I'd go so far as to say anything about costuming or Brecht's verfremdungseffekt


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About This Article


©2006 Ren Powell
©2006 Publication Scene4 Magazine


Ren Powell is a native Californian living on the West Coast of Norway.
Trained as an actress, she discovered she was too bossy
and began writing instead. Still bossy.Still writing.



january 2006

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