Art and cold water swimming

ico Ingrid Pasmans

It is early in the morning, I am walking through the long corridors in the large silent building of Kunstnarhuset Messen. In the kitchen, I grab my empty jam jar, fill it with tea, step outside and stand in the Norwegian countryside. I walk across the small grass field, through the trees, then clamber over a slippery flat rock and stand on a small pebble beach on the edge of the immense fjord. Breathtaking, overwhelming, majestic and different every morning.

In the kitchen, I grab my empty jam jar, fill it with tea.

Mountain ridges slide behind each other in shades of blue and grey. An atmospheric perspective from top to bottom. I take a sip of hot tea to warm my stomach, take off my sweater and walk in water shoes and bathing suit into the ice-cold water in one go. Breathe through! I swim eight times from rock to rock and after ten minutes I get out of the water, super awake and fresh, bright red from the cold, delicious! I drink the rest of my hot tea, send a selfie of my happy head home and my studio day begins.

Kunstnarhuset Messen, Alvik

Kunstnarhuset Messen, AlvikIn late summer 2018, I spent two months at Kunstnarhuset Messen in Alvik, Norway. The artist's house is a stone's throw from the Hardangerfjord, a one hundred and eighty kilometre long fjord off Bergen. The house, from the beginning of the last century, is a large, bright red and stately building, the former administration building of the nearby factory. There are long corridors, empty rooms, mysterious cellars full of inspiring stuff and a beautiful wooden attic for laundry! On the ground floor there are studios for the artists-in-residence and for the Norwegian artists. There is also a graphics workshop and a common room on the ground floor. On the top floor live Hans Pulles and Simone Hooymans, artists and enthusiastic managers of this artist-in-residence.

There are long corridors, empty rooms, mysterious cellars full of inspiring stuff and a beautiful wooden attic for laundry!

working on the rocks at Kunstnarhuset Messen

On the other floors there are more studios, empty rooms, a communal kitchen and a space for the women's association of the village. "Do your own thing", says Hans during the first acquaintance round through the building, "always leave a message when you go into the mountains, don't underestimate it" and "if you can use anything of the stuff in the basement you can take it...". I feel very welcome. In the second week in Kunstnarhuset Messen, I find an old Norwegian encyclopaedia from the 1950s which I still use.

old Norwegian encyclopedia as a herbarium

In the large building everyone has their own rhythm. Some start the day with cold water swimming, others jog along the fjord roads or go for a hike into the mountains. We have tea breaks in the kitchen. I meet visual artists, writers and poets from all over the world. Everyone is always up for a light-hearted chat or an unexpectedly deep conversation about art or life. We often end the day late with herbal tea or wine in one of the studios. Those with access to a car are king, as there are only a few buses a day from Alvik. The nearest town is an hour's cycling on the loan bike from Kunstnarhuset Messen. We make trips to beautiful waterfalls, high glaciers, an ancient oak tree, the impressive Kode museums in Bergen and the brukt-butikk in Oystese.

presentation in a shop window in Odda, watercolour on paper, 300×100 cm

I meet visual artists, writers and poets from all over the world.

Apart from reading a stack of art and plant books, my plan was to work with watercolors at Kunstnarhuset Messen and to further explore my painted porcelain work. Staying in the heart of the overwhelming fjord, living amidst nature so much larger than ever experienced, working on the rocks overlooking the fjord, discovering cold water swimming, these were all new experiences for me. My work there in Norway ended up being about what was in front of me: earth, plants and the place itself. I painted the view of the fjord through my studio window every day and started to build a Hardanger herbarium. Plants and algae I took with me to my studio and translated into drawings, watercolours and a thirty-part installation of small porcelain tiles and blocks.

Steindahlsfossen, porcelain, 10×15.x3cm

There was plenty of time and space to make the porcelain, but it was not easy to find a place to fire it. I emailed artists in the area and eventually found a colleague with a porcelain kiln in the USF factory, the hip artists' place in Bergen, 150 kilometres away. Twice I left for Bergen with 'leather-hard' porcelain in the bus. It's incredible, making porcelain in Amsterdam and then taking the bus to Maastricht to fire it... but it worked very well. A top memory: I rode back in the bus with my freshly fired porcelain carefully on my lap, along the blue fjord in beautiful evening light, Ane Brun singing in my ear. When I arrived, I saw my fellow artists fishing on the rocks and they told me they had saved a lovely warm meal for me in the kitchen. This was coming home.

My work there in Norway was ultimately about what came before me: earth, plants and the place itself.

Every summer, the town of Odda hosts the event Oddart organized. An annual event with art, music and poetry from the Hardangerfjord region. Odda is situated at the very tip of the fjord and is one and a half hour drive and sail from Alvik. We were asked to participate in the exhibition. Everyone was assigned their own shop window and then had to make contact and appointments themselves. I had Vesker & Klaer, a clothing shop. The owner was initially not very forthcoming and there was only room for a modest work at the entrance. I hoped for more and designed a large drawing along the entire doorpost.

The necessary jump to the large watercolours proved to be interesting and lasting for me.

The source of inspiration was the forgotten weed next to the shop door. I enlarged the plant on paper three and a half metres long. They became large black detailed watercolour silhouettes, with the insignificant in the leading role. Fortunately, the owner of the shop was delighted and even agreed to a second metre-high work on the other side of the shop window. The necessary jump to large watercolours turned out to be interesting and lasting for me. Since then I regularly make large watercolour works. The excellently organised festival lasted a few days, we gave guided tours, went to concerts and attended Norwegian reading sessions. The organisation arranged a common dinner and sleeping places for all artists. There were plenty of opportunities to get acquainted, to talk and to deepen our understanding, it were very inspiring days.

view of the Hardangerfjord from swimming spot on pebble beach

Artists stay in Messen for one to three months. At the end of each month an evening is organised with studio presentations and a drink. Everyone from the area is invited, people from the village but also people from the cultural sector of Hardanger. Sometimes it is busy, sometimes not. My last presentation was seen by the curator of Museum Kabuso from Oystese, 40 km away. She was very surprised by my work and told me that they are working on an exhibition about botany and art of Hardanger with the working title Hardanger herbarium. So special, without knowing I had given the same title to my work period. The result: I was invited to participate in the exhibition at museum Kabuso.

Kabuso museum in Oystese, Norway

So in November I travelled to Norway again to show my work in the Kabuso Museum. The exhibition consisted of old botanical drawings by nineteenth-century botanists, the work of contemporary Norwegian artist Ine Harrang, and porcelain work and large watercolours by me. I stayed once more in Kunsternarshuset Messen and dived into the ice-cold fjord. In the Netherlands, my Norwegian work can be seen in a solo exhibition in Muiden and until mid-September 2020 there is a presentation in the Teekenschool of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

Hardanger Herbarium, 30 piece installation, porcelain.

Finally: what was I looking for, and what did I find in Norway? I was mainly looking for peace and concentration. My daily life in the Netherlands is busy and full. I teach a lot and life just goes on and on. I used to work in workshop-like situations and know how inspiring that can be. What I found in Norway was time for contemplation, experiment and study. In the process I experienced an intense connection with nature.

I certainly didn't expect this place to take me forever fernweh I now long to return to

I didn't expect this place by the fjord to absorb me so much. I certainly didn't expect this place to take me forever. fernweh I now long for the cold swimming mornings with a new start every day, for thousands of shades of blue and for the special contacts. My plan is to go back in the fall of 2020. For now, the corona crisis makes all plans uncertain. It is not yet clear if my month working in Hardanger in October can go ahead. But it is unreal how through corona the longing for isolation, silence and working time in my studio is suddenly already fulfilled. All the hustle and bustle of my educational work has been done away with and a concentrated but also uncertain studio period lies ahead of me. No fjord nearby, but a cold morning swim in the Amstel now and then.

presentation Museum Kabuso, Oystese Norway

Every year there is an open call and you can apply for a job in paradise.