Voyage Pittoresque, text by Pierre Restany


Here is an artist who comes from the cold and returns willingly to it, if only to bring back picturesque landscapes of her native Norwegian west coast.

Marianne Heske thus joins realist traditon of painters working on the "motif" from nature. But the recording material that she carries with her on her travels is not traditional. It is no longer the paint box, brushes and easel, but the video camera.

Her original views recorded on magnetic tape are later translated and electronically defined. The result of this chromatic and formal manipulation is then photographed. The final negative thus obtained is enlarged and painted on canvas with the aid of a computer-operated painting machine.

The sublime views of Tafjord, of Romsdalshorn, or again, of the timbered church of Urnes amaze and move us with their stirring screen texture and the sumpters intensity of their colours ablaze like lava flows.

They are the product of an extremely elaborate technique, and constitute spearhead images of our visual modernity.

In her "voyage Pittoresque" sequence Marianne Heske has replaced traditional paint-brushes with video photography. But what she also assumes here, in relation to the entire history of painting, is the permanency of the artist's vision.

A vision both analythical and comprehensive: a phenomenon of intuitive sensibility, but also of cultural identity.

It is clearly Marianne Heske's vision that picks out the picturesque elements in her at once exploratory and introspective journey. But this vision is the expression of a culture based on her experiences in life and therefore upon the practice of existential relativity.

In 1980, on the occasion of the X1 Paris Biennale, Marianne Heske undertook the transport of a shepherd's hut from Norway to the Centre Pompidou. This wooden hut, traditionally used for storing hay and for shelter, was dismantled on the spot, reassembled in Paris and then put back on its site one year later. Interviewed by Per Hovdenakk (1) on the meaning behind this project, the artist's reply is significant: "I thought the hut would be regarded as a hut in Norway, whereas in Paris it would be seen as a manifestation of conceptual art".

Apart from the seemingly naive speculation regarding the change of scene and interpretation of an object outside its original context, the artist's attitude reveals a profound analytical capacity. Marianne Heske's gaze is the powerful creator and messenger of a vision centered on the essential relativity of perception. Her gaze is a questionmark to realism itself.

Reality changes with climate, latitude, background and culture; and it is the interaction between realism and fantasy, object and subject which constitutes the law of seeing.

For Marianne Heske this is where the essential question of art is located, as she has defined it in her earlier works: "Works & Notes", (the journey of a doll's head through different sociological situations - Maastricht, 1978) or the "Video Dialogues" of 1984 (the concept of art: a tape measure or an elastic band?).

A question without an answer, because it calls for no answer. What is art? To ask that question today is equivalent to asking about the nature of transcendency. What is God? One can make art with anything just as one can find God anywhere. Art and God are a question of faith, that is of identity and hence, finally, of relativity.

The mastery of a craft does not account for the presence of art any more than the respect for a religious rite accounts for the presence of God. That is certainly what Edvard Munch thought in his innermost self and it has given his painting the defective expression of the scream, beyond the drama of existences (2). The relative perception of reality is translated today by Marianne Heske into the poetic splendour of her paintings.

Having pitilessly proclaimed this relativity, the Norwegian artist takes it up in the definition of her own visual reality: a highly personalized image born out of the inner fusion of electronic technology and of life experience. That is the picturesque dimension of her journey. And that is also the quintessence of her vision: an active and disquieting culture.

Pierre Restany
March 15th 1986

(l) In "Project Gjerdeløa" Mariannc Heske, Univcrsitetsforlayet, Oslo, 1984.
(2) On December 6th 1985 I had the occasion of visiting a major Munch retrospective exhibition at the Palazzo Reale in Milan with Marianne Heske. That experience was a revelation to me of this Nordic and Lutheran way of looking: The realism in his dramatic personification or the figure (or landscape) exacts from the image its anti-body, its diluted identity.