Christian Tony Norum
So Here We Go Again in the Labyrinth of Poetics and Planetary Soul
Vernissage Friday, 18 February, 19 - 21
Galleri K have the pleasure of inviting you to the opening of Christian Tony Norum's new solo exhibition.
In his third solo exhibition at Galleri K, Christian Tony Norum shows oil paintings and water-colours.
Franz Kafka once said that "a work must be the axe of the frozen sea within us". This can be said to be an ideal in Norum's work. Major themes such as the impossible getting possible, love, death, life, gallows humour, caricatures, differences and seriousness can be subjects for his paintings. Shadows from Oslo's bohemian life flicker over the colourful motifs. The paintings combine self-proclaimed situations and fictional stories, which together reflect the time we live in and a universal inner language.
Water-colours can be the easiest and fastest way to capture moments. Like small watchtowers with imaginative micro universes, they illuminate archaeological visualisations and lost narratives. The oil painting series are more physical and in much larger formats and much more time consuming and though.
In his practice, Norum works with a variety of media, mainly painting, sculpture, installation, video, graphics, drawing and performance.
Norum is an artist who does not always tolerate boundaries, but he is seeking to challenge them. That elevates the processes by which things happen, embracing accidents, transformations, and accretions of detail and layerings over time. He often invites nature to have its ways, by working in the outdoors in hard conditions and sometimes to the breaking point.
His studio is for the time being in Oslo and Hvitsten, but he wants it to be anywhere. Being mobile on research trips ad getting clues on the way he can record society’s stories from the present, past and into the future.
What to say about a painting, other than let the stories be freely expressed by others to make their own mind.
Norum often looks at other artistic practices and enters directly or indirectly into dialogue with others' works in order to reflect and explore his own. In this exhibition, the artist has included a work by Sigmar Polke, like a guidance, entitled: Der Teufel von Berlin (The Devil from Berlin) for contemplation. Arild Tveito has written the text “Purloined Letter” for the exhibition, and the essay “Laughing in the Devil’s Face” by Ines Rüttinger is about the work Der Teufel von Berlin by Polke.
Norum has exhibited and performed at the following institutions and galleries:
Munchmuseet (Oslo), Nasjonalgalleriet (Oslo), Galleri K (Oslo), Kunstnerforbundet (Oslo), GLStrand (København), Manifesta 11 Biennale for contemporary art (Zurich), UKS (Oslo), Papay Gyro Nights Art Festival (Papay Westray, Orkney Islands and Cattle Depot Artist Village, Hong Kong), Kunsthall Oslo, Høstutstilling (Oslo S), Kunstnernes Hus (Oslo), Munch's Ekely (Oslo), Kittelsens hus / 1857 (Hvitsten / Oslo / Roma / Zurich), Oslo Kunstforening (Oslo), Berlin Biennale, (Berlin), Nasjonalmuseet (Oslo), NoPlace (Oslo), Malmö Konsthall (Malmö), MACRO Museum / Roma Contemporary Arena, Macro Testaccio (Roma), MOMA PS1 (New York), Tidens Krav (Oslo), 18th street Art Center (LA), Kunstverein St. Pauli (Hamburg), Labor Gallery (Cologne), Frize Kunstlerhaus (Hamburg) and Gavu Cheb Museum (Prague).
Collections: Nasjonalmuseet (Oslo), Norges Bank (Oslo), Christen Sveaas Art Collection (Oslo), among others.
Laughing in the Devil!s Face by Ines Rüttinger
There are many possible descriptions of Sigmar Polke: a photographer, capitalist realist, even alchemist, definitely graphic artist, a painter without a shadow of doubt, and perhaps also a caricaturist.
Descriptions of his work are equally numerous: brightly-coloured, black and white, ironic, realistic, funny, serious, ready-made, original, unique, reproduced, enigmatic, direct, somehow weird, and yet straight to the point.
Let us take a look at The Berlin Devil; the first thing we notice is a threatening figure before a garish yellow back- ground. It floats menacingly above a group of men testing their strength in a tug of war. The figure is blurred and distorted, but we see quite clearly how it is wielding a whip. Is it spurring the men on to further efforts? Does it propose to interfere and drive them apart? Its relationship to the men in the foreground is as vague as its appearance is monstrous and distorted. One could almost believe that those engaging in the tug of war do not notice the figure floating above them at all. But with its whip and grotesque dimensions, it appears to be pulling the strings here: unnoticed but whipping on relentlessly.
In this work from 2001, published by Edition Staeck in Heidelberg, Sigmar Polke again shows himself to be the alchemist among artists, skillfully combining different materials, techniques or motifs into a new, perhaps obscure but nevertheless (or perhaps for that very reason?) fascinating whole. Here, Polke brings together a 20th century photograph and an artistically adapted original image from the mid 19th century and unites them in a serigraphic work. And so here, once again, we can clearly discern the caricaturist who creates a parody by means of exaggeration and distortion.
After more careful examination, the photograph used for the lower third of the piece appears as absurd as the distorted vision. The men are struggling over the rope with all their might, but the group including the man with sunglasses and a moustache surely won some time ago? The second man from the right has stepped over the line, and so his group has lost. Is this a struggle for an already long-lost position? The losers even had fewer men, for we can only see two combatants there. The outcome of the contest was clear from the outset, therefore. It is unclear where and when exactly this occurred. Children in the background suggest a fair, and so the tug of war seems to have been a game for pleasure. But the serious- ness of the situation is obvious nevertheless – after all, every- one wants to win. And so the political charging of an amateur sport is perhaps more than coincidence here, especially when one looks very carefully at the top part of the image.
This is because the second motif originated from the title-page of the comic satirical-political magazine Satan, previously known as Berliner Charivari.1 Such comic magazines were the successors to earlier political pamphlets and always had to fight against censorship, which often led to changes of name. The Berliner Charivari appeared on a weekly basis and was known as Satan as from the issue, and Der Teufel in Berlin (The Devil in Berlin).
The motif readopted by Polke here could be found on the title page of Satan, (May 1848), and also of Der Teufel in Berlin, (mid June 1848). In the original, an oversized devil dressed as Mephistopheles in a feathered hat and cloak swishes his whip over the distraught population of Berlin, who then flee head over heels through the Tiergarten. Der Teufel in Berlin, No. 1, printed an !Open letter from Old Fritz” below this image, a parody of Prussian absolutism un- der the !Soldier King”, Friedrich Wilhelm I.2
The distortion of original historical images is a recurrent creative element in Polke"s artistic oeuvre. Although many works, like the cycle of paintings Seeing Rays (2007) or the 3-part serigraph RIGHT or LEFT SEER (2001), investigate natural scientific processes or the work, in Hermes Trismegistos (1995), of their alchemist predecessors, the choice of the devil is no surprise. This
image source in particular must have been a fascinating, attractive one for Polke. As he did, the political pamphlets commented on the events of the times, on conditions, social shortcomings or absurdities using parody, satire and grotesque humour. Often, the laughter over authority offered by comic political magazines was the only possible form of resistance, and the establishment still had opportunities to intervene via censorship, even here.
According to Michail Bachtin, laughter is also a means to break down deeper-seated resistance: !Laughter liberates not only from external censorship but first of all from the great interior censor; it liberates from the fear of the sacred, of prohibitions, of the past, of power that developed in man during thousands of years.”3
Polke combines #his$"devil in altered form with the image of men engaging in a tug of war. Like the source of the devil image, this picture also seems to be a satirical comment on political conditions, the struggle for victory, the (election) campaign, one"s own position of power. Above it, the distort- ed and horrific spectre floats, only identifiable as the devil because of the title. In a strange analogy between rope and whip, the above-mentioned image of the one pulling the strings, the puppeteer, now grows more and more obvious.
Unchallenged by those struggling against each other, he rises above their heads, taking on huge, misshapen dimensions. Polke has changed the title from !The Devil in Berlin” to !The Berlin Devil”. So the devil is no longer simply a visitor in Berlin, but at home there. Perhaps a direct analogy with daily politics during the period in which the work was being produced would be a little too much of a good thing. But we can definitely assume a general dig at the power structures of the Federal Republic upon their return to Berlin. Polke"s works always address a large number of themes, and in doing so, each is a true child of its time.4
The Berlin Devil gives us a smile tinged with irony. In the full spirit of the Devil in Berlin dating from 1848, Sigmar Polke brings us face to face with absurdities that we cannot always decipher but ones that seem important, nonetheless. Bice Curiger once expressed this impression in the following way: !Be- cause Polke"s laughter always goes hand in hand with a love of dilettantism, the vulgar and the sentimental, the art emanating from Polke"s direction is extremely human, warm-hearted, uninhibited, audacious and liberating – all at the same time.”5
Translated by Lucinda Renniso
On this, cf. Ursula E. Koch, Der Teufel von Berlin. Von der März-revolution bis zu Bismarcks Entlassung. Illustrierte politische Witzblätter einer Metropole 1848–1890, Cologne 1991, pp. 71ff.
Ibid., p. 73.
Quoted from Bice Curiger, !Das Lachen von Sigmar Polke ist nicht
zu töten” (1977); in: Sigmar Polke. Wir Kleinbürger!, exhib. cat. Hamburger Kunsthalle 2009, p. 196. Cf. Michail Bachtin, Literatur und Karneval, Munich 1969.
Cf. Martin Hentschel, !Printed Matter, or The Art of Communication. Sigmar Polke"s Prints, 1963–2000”; in: Jürgen Becker, Claus von Osten (eds.), Sigmar Polke. Die Editionen 1963– 2000, pp. 361–398, here
Bice Curiger, see note 3, p. 197. Cf. Kunst und Nachrichten 6, September 1977, pp. 153 f.
Purloined Letter by Arild Tveito
My voyage through the air was now ended. I lay for a long time entirely immovable, awaiting my
fate with the approach of day. I now observed that the wants and weaknesses of humanity,
which, during my passage had ceased, now returned. I was both sleepy and hungry. Fatigued in
mind and body I fell into a deep slumber. I had slept, as far as I could judge, about two hours,
when a terrible roar, which had previously disturbed my slumbers, suddenly waked me. I had
dreamed some curious dreams; in one, I thought myself to be in Norway, at the church in my
native town, listening to the singing of our clerk, whose voice was really unpleasant from its
roughness. My first impression therefore, on recovering myself was, that this man was indulging
in an extraordinarily ambitious strain. In fact, on opening my eyes, I saw a huge bull within a few
feet of me. At the same moment, a vigorous roar from this animal convinced me that I did not
listen to church music.
Many former associates had a right to expect and demand help from me, and of course they did
demand it. In the fifteen years that I have been playing Society's game, I have many times had
one foot in a jail as the result of trying to reconcile the underworld and upper world codes... I
have been asked to send pistols and explosives and narcotics into jails by men who had a right
to demand them because they had done favours for me in the past. Fortunately I had influential
friends in the upper world who understood both codes and helped me to pay my debts in a
legitimate way. The man who wanted a pistol was given instead a chance at parole or probation
- a chance to make good in the upper world. Instead of sending opium to the addict who
supplied it to me when I was locked up, my friends sent him to a hospital where he could take
the cure. Some of my debts had to be paid in kind, and no one could help me. I owe my life to a
thief who risked his life to take me out of jail. He smuggled me saws to open my cell, then came
in the night to cut the bars out of the window and lifted me out through the hole when I was so
weak from tuberculosis that I could barely walk. He sheltered me and fed me and finally sent me
away where I was safe and free to get well. Years afterward, when I had cured myself of the
dope habit, served my sentence, and won immunity from the law, and was just beginning to feel
a little secure in my respectability, my telephone rang in the small hours of the night...
It was a day in springtime. Birds were uttering their chirruping song and mankind, going about
their various chores, were bathed in the sanctity of weariness. Everything was working towards
its destiny: the trees, the plants, the sharks. All—except the Creator! He was stretched out by
the wayside, his clothing in ribbons. His lower lip hung down like a sleepy cable. His teeth were
unbrushed and dust mingled with the flaxen waves of his hair. Stunned by a heavy drowsiness,
crushed against the stones, his body was making useless efforts to get up. His strength failed
him, and he lay there feeble as an earthworm, impassive as the bark of a tree. Streams of wine
filled the ruts hollowed out by the nervous jerking of his shoulders. Swine-snouted Scottishness
covered him with protective wings and cast loving eyes upon him. His slack-muscled limbs
grovelled in the dust like blind masts.
Blood flowed from his nostrils: as he fell he had struck his face against a post. . . .
He was drunk! Horribly drunk!
Drunk as a flea that has swallowed three barrels of blood during the night! He aroused the
echoes with words that I will not repeat here. If the Supreme Drunkard does not respect himself I
must respect mankind. Did you know that the Creator got drunk! Pity on that lip, befouled in the
goblets of an orgy!
A passing hedgehog stuck its spines into his back and said: !
through its orbit. Work, sluggard, and eat not the bread of others. Wait a while and you
That for you. The sun is half way
what will happen if I should summon the cockatoo with his
A woodpecker and a screech-owl, passing by, buried their beaks in his belly, saying: !
you. What are you doing here on earth? Did you come to offer this lugubrious farce to the
animals? I assure you neither the mole nor the cassowary nor the flamingo will imitate you.”
A passing ass gave him a kick in the temple, saying: !
you should have given me such long ears? All creatures down to the cricket scorn me.” A
passing toad spat in his face, saying: !
That for you. What did I ever do to you that
That for you. If you had not given me such a huge eye and
had I seen you in the state you are in now, I would have chastely concealed the beauty of your
limbs beneath a shower of buttercups, myosotis and camellias, in order that none should see
A passing lion inclined his royal visage, saying: !
appears to be momentarily eclipsed. You others, affecting haughtiness when actually you are
As for me I respect him, although his splendour
nothing but cowards since you attacked him while he was sleeping, would you be happy in his
place if you were subjected to the insults of passers-by—insults you have not spared him?”
A passing man stopped before the displaced Creator and, amid the applause of the crab-louse
and the viper, defecated for three days upon that august countenance. Woe unto mankind for
that insult! For he had no respect for an enemy laid out in a mess of filth and blood and wine,
defenceless and almost inanimate! . . .
Eventually the sovereign God, awakened at last by all these vicious insults, got himself up from
the ground as best he could and staggered over to a large stone where he sat down, his arms
pendant like a consumptive"
s testicles. He looked around him with glassy, lack-lustre eyes upon
the whole of nature, which belonged to him. O mankind! You are wicked children; but I implore
you to spare that Great Being, who has not yet slept off his disgusting liquor, and, not having the
strength to support himself erect, has fallen heavily back on to the rock where he was sitting
like a wayfarer. Notice that beggar passing by. He saw that the dervish was holding out a skinny
arm, and, without knowing upon whom he was bestowing his charity, he threw a piece of bread
into that hand beseeching pity. The Creator acknowledged the gift with an inclination of his
O, you will never know how difficult a thing, it becomes to be holding constantly the reins of the
universe! Sometimes the blood rushes to the head as one strains to wrest a new comet from
nothingness, with a new race of beings. The Intelligence, stirred to its very foundations, escapes
like one overcome in battle, and may very well fall for once in life into the aberrations of which
you have been a witness!