Issue 48

Don't Fence Me In

Don’t Fence Me In
by Håkon Traaseth Lillegraven
For the exhibition Gærde, initiated by Viktoria Wendel Skousen
Copenhagen, April 2022

The Danish word “gærde” translates into “gjerde” in Norwegian and in English, “fence”. A Dic-
tionary definition of “fence” is “a barrier, railing, or other upright structure, typically of wood
or wire, enclosing an area of ground to prevent or control access or escape.”

Hence, fences typically denote a form of architecture or design, official or makeshift, to distin-
guish between areas of ownership, function, and habitation. For farmers, for example, fences
can play the role of protecting and herding the animals they are responsible for. In cities,
fences most often appear to separate pedestrian movement from that of vehicle traffic.

However, for all that can be said about fences as a form of separation, a form of “non-space” to
arbiter the definition of “spaces”, they can also be reconstrued or reimagined as places of en-
counter — namely between different functions, species, and of colloquial conversation be-
tween neighbours with different livelihoods and interests.

As increasingly urban-dwelling humans, we have over the past centuries become so accustomed
to lines defining our sense of space and place that even as we attempt to articulate the ultimate
form of "non-productive” view to rest our eyes on we refer to it as “the horizon”. Horizontality
has increasingly become the leisurely alternative to verticality, aspiration, upward movement.
Just think about laying down a flattened sun-bed. (Ah, aspirational.) Fences, with their con-
crete and inescapable relationship to the ground, become vehicles for our mind to imagine the
landscape which exists on, or beyond, the horizon, and by way of metaphor, ourselves.

One could argue that the horizon is a line with infinite aspirational qualities, to which our hu-
man ambition to conquer verticality, which in its least visible but most consequential form
makes itself known to us as gravity, is attached.

Due to our natural human frustration with what does not make itself immediately known or
identifiable to us, we tend to construct and read our lives in lines, along a Y and an X axis: The
X illustrating the forward movement of time over which we hold no power, and Y a sense of
(sometimes misplaced, more often manipulated and exploited) cohesion and self-determina-
tion. We illustrate and interpret our mood swings, our calendars, our sense of fulfilment, our
shared histories, and our health, most notably our heartbeats, along this axis. When the heart
stops beating, it stops being illustrated as a wave along a Y axis and flattens, disappearing into
the X axis, merging with the horizon.

In life as in art, a simple line can carry devastating amounts of meaning.

After the isolation and atomisation most of us experienced during the first two years of the
pandemic, our collective understanding (and appreciation) of the social forms and ways of
looking that connect us has in different ways been heightened. Photos exist of people walking
together holding a 1–1,5 metre wooden stick between them to observe recommended safety
measures. In the same timeframe, home took on a different meaning and we all became mini-
experts and curators of makeshift social settings. As we were asked to distance our bodies to
those of others and to !stay at home", surfaces like walls and windows which used to offer us
repose in their opacity or translucency transformed into rigid vertical structures, lines brought
into three-dimensions, which didn"t so much comfort as as contain us.

The sticks people were holding between each other in these images recall the type of wood
which has historically been used to construct fences around different properties in Norwegian
mountains and rural environments and their utility in the definition of a ‘home’ or a territory.
Constructed using tightly wound sticks, angled diagonally, this wood often makes up metres of
fence to keep animals (or people) out or in (one side’s in is of course another’s out, just ask a
sheep). And here it was, the same object, in isolation, being used in the midst of a global health
crisis as an instrument to tether people to each other, to produce a functional metaphor for
physical connection when the concept of physical intimacy had become potentially fatal.

The images of people holding a wooden stick to keep each other safe yet to feel somehow con-
nected, still lingers in my mind as artist and initiator of Gærde Viktoria Wendel Skousen sends
me the invited artists’ works by e-mail from Copenhagen. Viktoria often sends the works with
a text by the artist or a note by herself, and sometimes with no text except the artist name,
work title, and work measurements. Through many different methods and material practices
several of them refer to grids, by now an art historical palimpsest, both utilising, weaving and
speaking to our optical relationship with the ability of a line to not just denote separation but
to produce dimensional space and negotiate with what could otherwise be perceived as a
threshold. (Have you ever thought about how a sheep reads a fence? As a surface or a line?)

Several of them also reference and employ what we often denote as ‘the natural world’, offering
a studied, intimate, and caring glance at materials, forms and species, both invented and
evolved, as they are constructed to withstand, or are shaped by different climates, chemical re-
actions, and interspecies encounters. (Art spaces are often accused of excluding ‘the natural
world’, but this is due the objects which inhabit them too often being untethered from the
physical and tactile processes and care invested in making them, as well as a negation of the
viewer, to render them objects belonging to a canon rather than to a context, their shared lan-
guage being subdued in favour of more individualistic narratives.)

As I imagine the installation of works in the room and the viewers who will co-create the space
between them, I also can’t help but think that in this day and age a ‘group show’ must take on a
somewhat different meaning than it did before the pandemic. Artist’s works and exhibitions
appeal to our capacity to render objects, be they a wooden stick or/and a work of art, which
remind us of the relations we can forge by granting each other the attention of our gaze, our
hands, our lucidity, our movement, and our presence. Perhaps we will now move around them
with a heightened sensitivity of the relationships which forged them, and which they forge be-
tween us. If nothing else it’s a return to a much needed sense of collegiality and familiarity in
the present. And as we partake in a grander historical project of redrawing historical lines and
acknowledging the intentional and collateral severing of history and important genealogies of
both people(s) and ideas, the significance of collective forms and exercises in meaning-making
has rarely made itself more evident.

I am grateful to Viktoria and the exhibiting artists for allowing me the chance to exist in a
space and a time with these works, and both the social and art historical context around them.
They remind me of some of my most cherished encounters with a two- and three-dimensional
surfaces’ ability to conjure space, and a line’s ability to bind and assure as well as distinguish in
the same carefully observed and enacted motion.

In art as in life, a simple line can carry devastating amounts of meaning.

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Ann Sophie von Bülow
Oskar fra Venushuset
electronic ink
22 x 20 cm
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Oskar fra Venushuset, detail
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Julie Riis Andersen
Måske er man om tusinde år noget kraftigere og mere uforstyrret/ Perhaps one is, a thousand years from now, somewhat heavier and more undisturbed (Rainer Maria Rilke) 
Uv – print on non-woven reused wallpaper
237 x 126 cm
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Måske er man om tusinde år noget kraftigere og mere uforstyrret
/ Perhaps one is, a thousand years from now, somewhat heavier and more undisturbed (Rainer Maria Rilke), detail
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Daniel Askeland
Ingen tittel (time flies) 
oil and pigment on wooden panel 
73 x 47 cm
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Viktoria Wendel Skousen
Saustigen - The sheep’s trail
from the series plass-spesifikk Site-specific
inkjet print in wooden frame
49 x 55 cm
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Ulrik Heltoft 
Selfclosing gate
inkjet print
180 x 150 cm
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Håkon Traaseth Lillegraven 
Don't Fence Me In 
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Anders Hergum
plywood, plexiglass, acrylic, paint, nails, screws
115 x 37 x 51,5 cm
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Martin Sæther
Min Strie 13
Collage on handmade paper, artist frame
36,5 x 45,5 x 3,5 cm
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Min Strie 13, detail
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Lydia Hauge Sølvberg
Uden titel
plaster, armouring
55 x 36 x 37 cm
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Lydia Hauge Sølvberg
Uden titel
plaster, armouring
55 x 36 x 37 cm
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Moa Alskog
Så kallad Kålfly / So called Cabbage Moth
pencil and oil pastel on paper
48 x 65 cm
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Moa Alskog
Kan du se skallen? / Can you see the skull?
pencil and oil pastel on paper
48 x 65 cm
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Pia Eikaas
Nets and Nots
70 x 50 cm
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Nets and Nots, detail
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Eau Pernice
Excerpt from the composition ‘Sternluz’, mirrored

A4 paper on node stand
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Excerpt from the composition ‘Sternluz’, mirrored, detail
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Documentation made by Malle Madsen
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