ART'S NEW NATURES
ÆSA BJÖRK and
“Shield” (2015-ongoing) for glass, electronics, brainwaves, video projections, transducer speakers
A series of collaborative works between the visual artist Æsa Björk and musician / performer Tinna Thorsteinsdóttir
By mapping their brain activity with EEG recordings, Æsa and Tinna set out to interpret the border between an intangible emotional state and the physical manifestation of brain activity. The EEG recordings were transformed into sound waves. The fragile glass shields serve both as canvases depicting the physical movements that took place, as well as soundboards for brain activity triggered by emotional responses and movement. The sound manifests itself as vibrations created by the conductive speakers attached to the glass. By forming a chamber of human proportions the glass shields can be seen as a membrane separating the self from the outside while reflecting an inner human reality which often remains invisible.
"Shield" is a collaborative series of work made with the musician and performer Tinna Thorsteinsdóttir that has taken many years to develop. It started as a conversation about mental states and how certain disruptive factors affect the brain. We then started looking into and recording our own brainwaves while going through physical and mental movements so to speak. After recording a sequence of brainwaves we then got help from a sleep analyst from Iceland to convert them into sound waves that correlated with the video we took while performing the same movements we went through while recording them. By using the glass as both screens and soundboards through the use of transducer speakers attached to its surface the work becomes a whole. Everything is an integral part of the whole and the glass itself is in a sense the skin or membrane in many layers separating the figure and its thoughts from the outside world. The emotional quality this combination creates engages the viewer on a personal level which I hope gives them the space to interpret the work from their own perspective. - Æsa Björk
Certain events behave like disruptances and expose what we, or our situation are made of, like our Corona situation right now.
Looking deep into our thoughts and brain activity we looked at ways to manifest the feeling of isolation and from that developed the shields of glass.
I am reminded of the essay “What is it like to be a bat? (1974)* where the philosopher Thomas Nagel wrote about our limited ability to perceive the world around us as conscious beings other than subjectively from a single point of view. As I see it, in order for human beings to strive towards peace we need to remember that in essence we are bound by our own limitations and subjective views and can never really know what it is like for another person to be that person, just as we can not know what it is like for a bat to be a bat. In the work "Shield III" two figures struggle through the same motions and thoughts but the brainwaves recorded during that process are completely different from one another. Like a fingerprint, the patterns our brain creates are individual and out of reach. "Shield" reminds us of the separation between the self and the other and the fragile border between us as human beings that seem to long for connectedness and belonging but are bound by our own perception and experiences. While this may seem like a pessimistic observation I see it also as one of hope since this gives us the opportunity to recognise every human being's uniqueness regardless of gender, nationality, religion or class.
- Æsa Björk
*1974, Thomas Nagel "What Is it Like to Be a Bat?", Philosophical Review, pp. 435–50 (repr. in Mortal Questions).
Æsa Björk and Tinna Thorsteinsdóttir discuss and illustrate
the concept, technology, and process for creating "Shield"...
Through my work I often focus on the different layers of experience and meaning. Early on I described my approach to describing human existence as a long distance runner feeling the thread of his own fabric as the landscape and people he passes flicker past his field of vision, his breathing connecting his inside to his outside … from the inside out and outside in, like half drawn blinds revealing both the inside and outside at once, thus exposing a double reality, a duality inherent in existence.
I focus on the observer as well as the observed along with aspects of time and questions surrounding observations of ourselves. I often do this by either observing myself or others and then finding a material, form or context in which to express these observations.
Glass as a material with its inherent qualities of both fragility and strength as well as its ability to juxtapose inside and outside along with the many layers in between has therefore been a material I have found especially interesting to work with.
My work tends to be installation based taking active use of the area it is exhibited in, which has lead me to work with unconventional exhibition spaces and public art.
Both in my own work and while teaching I love to challenge both the technical and the expressive boundaries of the chosen material even if it results in so called “failure”. One of my favourite quotes coming from Becketts Worstward Ho:
«Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better».
Æsa Björk graduated from the Glass Department of Edinburgh College of Art with a 1st class BA (Hons) degree in 1995 and MA in 1997. In 1994 she was an exchange student at VSUP in Prague and studied with Vladímir Kopecky. This both influenced her work and encouraged her in her pursuit of working with glass as a sculptural material. She has frequented the Pilchuck Glass School as a student and TA since 1998 where in 1999 she also was an Emerging Artist in Residence as well as an instructor in 2016 and 2019. In 2006 she was an Artist in Residence at the Corning Museum of Glass. Her work has been shown internationally, and she has received numerous grants, among them a 10 year working grant from the Norwegian Government Grant for Artists administered by the Norwegian Arts Council. She has had several public art commissions in Norway where she co-founded the open access gallery and workshop S12 in 2005. From 2011-2014 She held a 3 year position as a visiting artist and faculty at the School of Art and Design, Sculpture/Dimensional Studies, Alfred University. In 2018 she won the grand prize at the Toyama International Glass Exhibition and her work Shield II made in collaboration with Tinna Thorsteinsdóttir is now part of the permanent collection of Toyama Glass Art Museum, Japan. Her work is also in the collections of the National Museum of Art and Design in Oslo and KODE Art Museums in Bergen, Norway. She currently works and lives in Bergen, Norway where she also is an artistic advisor for S12.
Tinna Thorsteinsdóttir is a concert pianist with a broad experience in new music and has premiered around 100 works especially written for her. She works on a regular basis with numerous Icelandic composers, is active in the Icelandic experimental music scene and has worked on solo works with artists such as Helmut Lachenmann, Alvin Lucier, Christian Wolff, Peter Ablinger, Morton Subotnick, Cory Arcangel and Mme Yvonne-Loriod Messiaen. Educated as a classical pianist Tinna plays all the different styles of the piano repertoire, although 21st century music is her main passion. Prepared piano, electronics, toy piano, theatre pieces and performance works …
"Shield" has been supported by
S12 Gallery and Workshop in Bergen, Norway, the Norwegian Arts Council, City of Bergen and Norwegian Crafts through MFA (UDs frakt- og reisestøtte)
"Shield II" won the grand prize at the Toyama International Glass Exhibition in 2018 and is now part of the permanent collection at the Toyama Glass Art Museum.
"Shield III" was exhibited by Karuizawa New Art Museum Venice Branch / Whitestone Art Foundation at the exhibition Diversity for Peace at The Procuratie Vecchie by San Marco Square, Venice in 2019