Power Stations, text by Kim Levin

Power Stations
Marianne Heske discovered the dolls in 1971 in Paris, in the mar- che aux puces at Porte de Montreuil. "In Paris I found a box of dolls in the flea market, a box completely full with the same head, all lying there looking the same, looking at me. So I bought the whole box. I brought it home and started to works."

Heske, after graduating from Bergen KunsthÄndverksskole, had left Norway to live as an expatriot. All through the it's she lived away from her homeland. First she had gone to Czechoslovakia for several months, and there, behind the iron Curtain, she discovered Land Art, which was being made by Czech artists who didn't have access to ordinary art materials because they didn't conform to the dictates of Soviet society or to official artists' union, and whose motivation, social involvement, and risk, therefore, was somewhat different from that of artists doing Earthworks in the West. In Norway, the concept of Land Art did not yet exist, Remarks Heske On the irony Of an artist from a benign socialist society being initiated into a new metier by dissident artists in a malign one, ''It's also about being a provincial artist, about being on the margins of Europe."

Then she went to live in Paris, The box in the flea market contained only the doll heads: pouting papier maché heads from the Flapper Era, with baby-doll faces, pencil-thin eyebrows, and rosebud lips. Some of them had blue eyes, Others had broken eyes. Some had a painted tear rolling down a rouged cheek. Are they the heads of the legendary Kewpie dolls? It doesn't matter, Heske liked them because ''they all looked the same, all playing their role. And because dolls are a mirror of society."

The dolls entered her art, becoming familiar companions and collaborators in foreign lands. The actual flea-market heads appear in her wall boxes of the '7Os, lined up in rows, surrounded by offset or collagen images of themselves, or combined with drawings of skulls, anatomical illustrations of heads, physiognomy charts, or phrenology diagrams. The heads also appear in her prints, their images multiplied, replicated, and reduced to the point where thousands of them crowd the surface like pebbles on the ground. Conflating person and landscape as well as individual and crowd, they recede to a far horizon or tumble into the foreground like an avalanche - the human visage reduced to an object, a dot, a landscape element, a conforming mass. Heske had started out as a graphic artist, and in one of her earliest etchings, made before she discovered the dolls, the germ of all her subsequent imagery can be found: houses, rocks, machinery, and accumulations of small identical figures.

In Heske's audio, video, and photo pieces Of the '70s, the dolls come to life, enlarged into theatrical masks, used as actors. For an early work from 1973 titled False Face Society Mask, the artist traveled around Europe photographing all kinds of people - news vendors, bus driver, sailors, children, ancient woman, Sikh-holding and interacting with the doll head. The piece, which consisted of one hundred slides, was accompanied by a tape loop on which a multitude of different voices in an overlaid mix intoned a cascade of conflicting dualities (such as dominant/humble, glamorous/ugly, inspiring /tedious, equilibrium/discord). Later, the doll-head mask, worn by real people, provided unsettling imagery in photo and video installations.

Heske also created cast plaster medaillions and monumental versions of the doll heads in plaster or bronze, ''like a big serious bust", using them in installations interspersed with classical busts. And now, in 1993, after a long hiatus during which she gave the dolls a rest, 1001 identical handcast heads are being replicated in crystal, each with a small individual chunk of colored glass embedded deep within its brain. Fracture lines within these crystal heads, which will populate her newest installation, echo the divisions on the old phrenology diagrams in her earlier works.

In 1976 Heske moved from Paris to London, where she studied video at the Royal College of Art for a year After that, she lived in Holland until 1979. The last thing she did before leaving Holland was to issue a postcard to thank the dolls, acknowledging their role in her work. ''The artist owes a deeper debt to the lifeless nonentities who have honoured her with their friendship and served her with patience,'' it read. ''They couldn't play in Norway. There was no stage for them there then," she explains. In the fall of 1979, when she went back to Norway, she stopped using the doll, which had reflected her own role and identity as an artist.

''The first thing I did when I came home was to move this old house from Norway to Paris. This old wooden house, the most Norwegian thing you can imagine from up in the mountains. The house was in Tafjord, a small isolated village on the west coast of Norway where Heske had spent part of her childhood, because hydroelectric power stations were being built in the mountains there, and her father was directing the construction of the dams and tunnels. "I use this village as a kind Of source. Everything is there - nature, people, society - a microsociety in a microworld.''

The house, little more than a crude log shed - crowned by a roof of grass and bark, scarred by centuries of graffiti (the oldest is dated 1687) carved into its wood by travelers and shepherds - was a way-station between two mountain farms. It was used for shelter and for storing hay in the winter.

"I just asked the farmer to borrow it for one year. I had known him since I was a child. '1 think you are crazy,' he said. I repeated the question. 'If you peel my potatoes we can talk about it,' he said. I peeled I don't know how many kilos of potatoes. 'Why don't you paint this house if you like it so much or take a photo- graph of it,' he said. And then he agreed, '' With the help of the villagers, Heske transported it the old-fashioned way, not to be archaic but because, in 1980, there was no road to Tafjord. They dragged it piece by piece by cables, with logs and rope, and then took it by ferryboat across the fjord. ''If these people knew what Land Art was, it would have been Land art's remarks Heske. ''But they didn't so it was just moving a house. To me, some of the Land Art projects are so superficial."

She recorded the sounds of the cable. She dug turf to take along in order to re-cover the roof, and took stones to prop up one side because the house had been built on a steep slope. Then she drove to Paris with the logs, earth, and rocks packed into her van. The house was exhibited at the 1980 Bienale de Paris in a special room at the Pompidou Centre, with a gateway made of two video monitors: the real-time images on the first were of the viewers in the exhibition area as they walked around. The house, on the second monitor was the house's other reality - situated on its original slope in Tafjord, with nothing moving but the sunlight and clouds. An English newspaper compared the project in Paris to Kon-Tiki resting high and dry in an Oslo museum, Back in Norway, a headline proclaimed, ''Culture Shock in Paris." Says Heske: ''People thought it was made of plastic and they thought it was constructed especially for the exhibition. The grass was growing like mad, The roof thought the gallery light was summer's To the Minimal and Conceptual real-time systems that propelled American Land Art projects, Heske added the paradoxical confusions of a real-life object from a real place, taken out of context, decontextualized and recontextualized.

Exactly one year later the artist transported the house back to its original site and reconstructed it. The only change was that more graffiti had been added to its walls, proof of its jersey, by French, Japanese, and Arab visitors to the Pompidou Centre, and by Pontus Hulten, then director of the Pompidou Centre. Now, says Heske, people go to Tafjord to see the house. ''It's not art any more. It's only in the people's minds. You can't see that it has been to Pais." Last winter almost an avalanche destroyed the roof.

"I like moving things, bringing things, displacing things, ex- changing things,'' comments Heske. During the '8Os she focused on the mountains. In Venice in 1986 she showed huge video paintings of Norwegian mountains that looked like solarized abstractions or infra-red moonscapes, though they were actually recorded straight from nature by Heske, on skis, with a hand- held video camera. Invited to participate in an art and science expedition to Northeast Siberia in the summer of 1992, she took with her a rock from a Norwegian mountain, a rock that had come down in an avalanche, planning to leave it in Siberia. The Russian scientists in Siberia worried that the displaced rock from Norway's Caledonian mountain chain would cause scientific chaos if it was found by some scientist in Siberia. The Siberians also gave her a local crystal stone that had been brought to the scientific station by nomads. She plans to place this at the site of an avalanche in Tafjord, ''an exchange from the other side of the world, a transformation like in a fairytale.''

Recently, Heske has worked with greatly enlarged blow-ups of microcosmic details of an avalanche - a rolling chaos of stones, snow, earth, and trees, a sliding entropic mass. She burns the video computer images onto sandblasted metal or onto silk. In Paris in 1991, she exhibited a silkscreen video avalanche piece titled Tunnel.. burned onto enameled steel. It was framed with lead and backed by electrical coils that radiated infra-red heat. "So the picture is very hot inside the frame. Outside the frame, the jagged pieces are cold. People didn't understand where the heat was coming from when they entered the room." At the Porin Museum of Modern Art in Finland in August 1992, she showed multi-panel avalanches on brass, aluminium, and titanium back- ed by the warmth of fuzzy sheep wool, Despite the vast scale and huge distance, her video imagery of mountains seemed deceptively microcosmic; her microcosmic close-ups of avalanches resemble gestural abstraction, with the natural elements masquerading as brushstrokes.

Heske explains her ''petrified'' video process in terms of heat and cold, and psychology. "I record these avalanches with video. The video permits me to freeze the image, I stop it on the screen. I freeze the frozen moments. Video is thousands of points of light burnt on to magnetic tape. Points are the language of video and the language of snow. And a video still is a frozen picture. I transfer this image to metal plates via laser and computer, and the plates are also thousands of dots, Then I burn it at very high temperature which makes it very strong. If's cold, warm, cold, warm. I like this feeling of temperature, radiation, movement, besides the visual thing. There are many kinds of avalanches. The avalanche is something that happens when there's too much of something. Everything goes out of control. It starts at the top and takes everything with it. You have psychic avalanches, revolutions, people destroying things. It's in nature, in people, in psychological and political situations. If you keep too much in, you then explode. We are reflections of our environment, whether we like it or not.

And now, as I write this in the spring of 1993, Heske is planning her new installation, planning to burn frozen video images of avalanches on to ceramic tiles and to etch the doll's profile in crystal tiles, planning to cover the walls with video avalanches and the floor with the crystal doll heads. There will also be two small houses not unlike the ones she made for an installation in Atlanta at the beginning of 1993. Like them each will be just large enough for a single individual to enter. But in the Atlanta installation, Heske used Glycol coils: one house was warm inside but covered with ice outside, the other was warm outside and covered with ice inside. In the two new houses, she will put together alternating layers of organic and inorganic materials, according to the principles of the orgone box Of Wilhelm Reich, maverick Viennese psychoanalyst who came to Norway during World War II, and died outlawed and discredited in a U.S. prison. His attempts to capture natural energies coincide with her own use of materials, and she likes discredited scientific theories. Explains Heske: ''If you put together alternating organic and inorganic layers of materials, it captures energy. The Buddhists know this. Reich wanted to prove it in a western way. I'm doing it with my video. I became interested in his theories. I like materials. So among all these masses of dolls and nonentities and avalanches, I will build some orgone towers for living people. Viewers can go into the towers, have a visual experience, and maybe they will get the energy. It doesn't matter if I believe it or not. The inner layer is inorganic because the human being is organic and this energy is in the walls." Will it work? ''You never know," she says, ''but with art you never know. It's the same with art: is the energy there or isn't it there?"

Parallels can be found in her work to the work of Nam June Faik or Joseph Beuys, but they're beside the point: Heske's art is grounded in the land and society of Norway, and is basically intuitive. ''Nature here is strong and serious," she says. Her work reverberates with interconnections between nature and humanity, and between the individual and the social entity. It alludes not only to the masking of uniqueness imposed by social structures, but to natural reconstructive events. It proceeds by layerings of contradictory dualities the macrocosmic and the microcosmic, the organic and the inorganic, the natural and the technological, the individual and the anonymous, the warm and the cold. It involves a fierce sense of place as well as radical displacements. In Heske's art, there is no such thing as progress, only infinite progression dislocations, and resonances. Her father built hydroelectric power stations in the mountains. Using technology and atmospheric energy, Heske creates technological photo- thermal work that speaks of dammed-up emotions and social pressures, while relating a flood of questions about individual identity. And, at this moment of collapsing systems, the avalanches in her art function as global metaphor as well as an abstracted image.

@ 1993 Kim Levin

Kim Levin is an International Curator and Art Critic, currently living and working in New York. She is writing for Village Voice, New York and other publications.