BERGEN 1 BERGEN 2 BERGEN 3 BERGEN 4 BERGEN 5
GREETINGS FROM BERGEN
This isn't just something you scribble on a postcard. It's the title of the Graduation Show by the School's Fine Art students at one of the galleries clustered around the Lille Lungegardsvana, a lake at the centre of the city.
The evening opens with a performance piece by Morten Holmefjord: the Grand Coronation of the Prince of Fusa on the red-carpeted steps of the gallery. Fusa is a little town nearby but Holmefjord has decided to declare it an independent Kingdom, rather in the style of the wily old book dealer King Richard Booth who turned Hay-on-Wye into his personal monarchy and thereby made it the capital Book Town of the western world. So there are earnest speeches by (real) local dignitaries about the Prince's "plucky fight against the forces of globalisation" , and a jaunty triumphal march (specially commissioned) by a uniformed brass band. The Prince wears full dress military uniform, plumed hat and sabre.
As we stream into the private view Prince Morten gives everyone the royal handshake. When I salute him as a former subject of King Richard of Hay, he smiles a little nervously, as if his surrogate Virtual Monarchy has suddenly started to enfold him, but seems pleased with this unexpected homage.
Other pieces aren't so reassuring. " I have been shot in the head by a penis... So long since anyone sprinkled fresh promises along the leaves of my intestines.." You don't need the catalogue translation to see that Marit Wulf Andressen's graphics have auto-morphed genitalia into symmetrical patterns, snowflake geometries of cocks, rectums and vaginas. The Mayor of Bergen and his party nod, sip their wine and look the other way.
In the adjoining room, the perennial white cube of exhibition spaces the world over, there's a less explicit but more obliquely disturbing work, a sculpture by Michael Nygren. Two white plaster figures, men in boxer shorts, naturalistically moulded. One stands bowed and submissive, the other stands and dominates, his fist in the mouth of the submissive. The dominant figure dangles a long dog lead, which hooks to the neck of a nursery rocking horse. Yet us liggers stroll around it, busily meeting and greeting, apparently blind to these ghostly presences, charged with so many bleak narratives.
Elsewhere, a video'd model of a dove flaps mournfully over a toy countryside. Like a pilotless drone over Iraq. On another screen, a cartoon Pop Eye clone flies over cityscapes. Yet another screen scans the wastes of Khazakstan where a couple engage in intimate dialogue. A whole room is dedicated to Morten Kvamme's flat grid of fluorescent tubes. At intervals a tube glows, then flickers out. The catalogue note is a medical text about the aging process and specifically the aetiology of heart failure.
Later in the bar there's a full-screen presentation of Christian Boen's Return of September 11 a disaster movie constructed from stills and animation incorporating a surreal Fox-TV style newscast about a mysterious nuclear attack on the USA. It's executed with great flair, pushing all the right paranoid buttons. We seem to be enjoying this paranoiac rush, just as Jez enjoys the novels of Don De Lillo. Or, as John Cale sang, "fear is a man's best friend.." Welcome to Bergen, post-millennium stylee..
Outside among the little knots of people on the steps, I'm looking across the lake to the flaring lights of a funfair, where James, having voted for roller coasters against conceptual art, is now spinning gleefully on some freaking dodgem car or octopus ride. Over there the artwork is all lurid and figurative , giant day-glo icons of Britney Spiers and Tom Cruise, and the rides churn around to the throb of singalong Eurotrash partybeat.
Over here in the art house , we are the artwork, glasses and catalogues at our fingertips, as we murmur in the dusk, artfully composed in the frame. Miles Davis ought to be playing for us. Or Nino Rota. At eighteen, I saw La Dolce Vita and 8 1/2 and decided this was a good way to go, just become a star in a Fellini movie, surrounded by elegant women, cool wine, summer nights in a cosmopolitan city. Now here I am. Right there in the script. Except I'm an extra.
I try to explain this to Jackie, who's looking very chic this evening (black slacks, op-art top). "I am the intellectual in Fellini movies who always gets everything slightly wrong." She smiles, having heard monologues like this many times in the tatty staffrooms of the urban sump school where we both worked in the eighties. I'm obviously worrying too much about time, mutability, the evanescence of those moments when quantum fluctuations in the sub-strate of the universe are suddenly stilled.
THE ART SCHOOL DANCE GOES ON FOR EVER
Cathy and Jackie have decided it's time to go home but Jez and I are going on to the Post-Show Rave at the Art School, accompanied by daughter Alice. The streets are full of Friday night crowds packing the bars. The faux-Irish theme pubs ("Paddy O'Grady's") are a pan-European franchise. "There's more work for ceilidh bands touring this circuit than there is in Dublin," says Jez.
As we walk through the squares and precincts, I notice noisy groups of adolescents in bulbous red boiler suits covered in scribbles. Many seem very drunk. I presume they're football supporters in tribal gear but Alice sets me right. "The uniforms show they're celebrating the end of their studies. Before they do their exams... It's compulsory." Compulsory? "They're all expected to get pissed, be sick over everyone, go to sleep in trees, commit minor vandalism. But they have to wear their uniforms. And then it's all right...It's their safety valve before they go on to be respectable..."
Alice, who dropped out of school to cohabit with the tattoo man, obviously isn't impressed with this collectivised repressive tolerance (although she's now looking for a way back to her studies in Literature and Philosophy).. She realises she's got her own code of subversion - Motorhead biker jacket, tartan mini, fishnets. "But for God's sake, it's ironic.!" Old Brother Paul, whom she has christened "Prunesquallor" after the avuncular eccentric doctor in Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast fantasies, tells her she has great style.
The rave is happening in a large hangar-like studio. It's a dark industrial interior - concrete, exposed pipes and ducts, with the DJ's operating on a high scaffold at maximum decibels. Bohos at scattered tables swig lager and yell at each other.
Given the avant nature of the crowd there's something odd about the music. Funfair teenypop and Eurovision anthems boom in the high space. As nobody's dancing yet we all grab a table and fistfuls of Hansa. Jez confers with his colleagues re the show while Alice and Brother P have a semi-intelligible discussion about Life, the gross behaviour of various males at nu-metal gigs and her favourite authors. This young woman likes hanging around texts as well as chat rooms. She has just started On The Road which must seem like a Assyrian clay tablet to her generation, but no, she's well into it.
And I'm still trying to understand this Nordic Goth thang. Is this the Id of the Earthmind asserting itself against the woolly sweaters of the Scandinavian welfare state? Perhaps a new post-Christian post-modern Norway is heralded by operations like The Bitchy Witch shop across the harbour , all decked out in black and red, marketing Satanism Lite for the black metal paratroops who are alleged to be behind a recent wave of arson attacks on Norway's ancient wooden churches. Local nu-metal and black metal bands have cult followings.
"You have to choose your black metal bands very carefully," warns Alice. "Some are worse than George W Bush...there are people struggling to control the Goth scene in Bergen..." she adds, cryptically. And the meaning of the tattoos? "Mum doesn't understand... it's like -" But her decoding of the tattoo cult is lost in the melee.
In an attempt to control the music scene, I start yelling at the jolly jocks on the decks - for James Brown, Captain Beefheart -anything but this electro-oompah stuff. Then Jez appears with a fast-burn CD of the Right Stuff - funk, punk, Stones, Prince and soon we're all seething away on the dance floor. Bro P has only one dance, a kind of Do the Funky Penguin Parts 1 & 2, which he has been doing ever since he saw the Stones supporting Alexis Korner, but Alice has enough style not to snigger as the Quantum Brothers execute variations on The Cool Jerk/The Camel Walk /The Hitch Hike. Other dance styles here are eclectic. Two plump intertwined lesbians waltz past, gesticulating and shouting. "Look, he is dancing with the Professor's Daughter... very interesting..." Somebody hurls a ball into the throng, all part of the carnival boogaloo.
Alice decides it's time to tour the Goth clubs and have a beer with some vampires but Brother Paul is now a slave to the rhythm. "Go, baby!" shout the plump lesbians, ironically. "You are a groove..." They seem to want to seize me as a kind of souvenir mascot, but I side-step them with a quick Afro Twist and gyrate towards Jez's colleague Paula, another Brit ex-pat. The temperature's rising and the jukebox is blowing a fuse. At least, the young blonde DJ up on the rig is ripping off his shirt.
His chest is tattooed with a large swastika. Paula is shocked out of her dance-floor euphoria into professional mode. "It's one of the first years! I must have some words with him tomorrow..." Is this display mere drunk-punk attitudinising? Or is there a deeper neo-Nazi conspiracy at work? But the moment of unease passes as the mix deepens and the beer flows. "One must have chaos within oneself to create a dancing star."
Eventually the Quantum Brothers suffer the effects of gravity. Their event horizon collapses. Time to hunt for a cab in the cobbled night. But the Art School Dance Goes on Forever - not only a track by Pete Brown's Piblokto but the ritual setting for an entire autobiography of bizarre encounters and punctured youthful romances. And for one crucial encounter all those years ago , with a lively art and design student, who now murmurs in her sleep as I collapse under the duvet.
©Paul A Green 2003
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