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Interview with Lise Wulff

The Norwegian artist Lise Wulff, one of the partners of the MALACATE project, was challenged to think of an art installation for Mina de S. Domingos based on what she had observed and known on her previous visits. Miguel Maia was talking to the artist about her work before coming to Mina for her new creation.

Lise, from what I learned about your past projects, I feel that they are strongly influenced? by an idea of ​​connection to memories, to marks left by others. Also, you often work with specific communities to create your works. It seems to me that in the end, the traces of all these people are very present in the work, almost like an echo. You actually refer to some of the objects that result from those interactions as relational art pieces. Do you always prefer to work jointly with other people?

I enjoy very much including other people in my art works. I believe the main reason for this is a wish to spread the joy I feel about doing art, and also to give people a feeling of ownership and sometimes proudness, I think. For example, when I work with children, I see how happy they are to show others which part of an art installation they contributed to. When it comes to the joy of doing art, I believe it is connected to creating something with our hands. Creating together gives a good and positive feeling. It creates memories and “togetherness” in addition to the art piece itself.

I do a lot of art works on my own also, and it is hard to say if I prefere relational art over working on my own. Working with other people gives a different result than when I work on my own, because other people see other ways of doing things. Even though I always have a clear plan for the relational art works, I am open to what is happening as we go, and I love to include the unexpected and unplanned that fit the overall idea.

Moreover, you have another important component of your work, one which is strongly influenced by ecology, which you label as eco art. You have, for example, some works that establish a connection between environmental concerns and Edvard Munch's The Scream. In addition, many of your works are populated by organic elements and even exposed in nature. How do you feel that art can play an important role in raising awareness of environmental issues?

I believe that art can talk about ecology in a different way than facts and numbers. Art can engage the feelings in another way, and - hopefully - put attention to difficult and demanding issues in a more creative and let’s say positive way. With my environmental art projects, I aim at creating awareness through installations that are visually interesting. At the same time, the installations have in it something that is “wrong” in a way, to make people reflect on how we treat nature and what we can do about it. One example, to be more concrete, is the installation “Hesje” (fishrack) which I did in Lofoten in Norway. Some hundred people took part doing beach cleanings. The plastic garbage was then mounted on a fish rack where you normally have fish hanging to dry. Instead of fish, you could see 3.500 plastic garbage objects. This was visually interesting and colorful, at the same time, it was “wrong” - there should be fish hanging there, not plastic. Thus, the installation was drawing attention to how the plastic is taking the place of the fish in our oceans. And when the project finished, the plastic was taken to a recycling station and some hundred kilos of marine debris were removed from nature.

Lise Wulff: “Hesje”, Lofoten, Noruega 2017. © Roy Størkersen

Bringing us closer to the reality of Mina de S. Domingos, you had the opportunity to visit the place and meet several people from this community. You also visited the ancient ruins and what remains of the mining complex. What impressed you most?

The large ruins from the mining industry, both in Mina and Achada do Gamo, are very sculptural and visually interesting. Also the colors drew my attention - the brownish purple stones together with yellow ochre colors and bright turquoise. The fact that the landscape is still very affected after many years without running industry, also made quite an impression on me. It shows how much we humans are making traces in nature. Having said that, the biggest influence for my artistic idea derived from talking with some of the people in Mina. Actually, these conversations made me change the artistic idea; My first idea was strongly related to pointing towards the mining industry itself. After talking with the local people, I felt like putting emphasis on other parts of Mina than the mining industry. This led me to the Nest idea.

Yes, tell us about this idea. Since your last visit, we have often talked about what would be your proposal. Your interest for a birds related theme emerged as a clear topic. Can you talk a little about why you are attracted to this theme?

During my visit to Mina and the area around, and through talking with people in the area, I got to know that this is an area with rare bird species. For example, the white-rumped swift is known for nesting precisely in the deserted territory of the old mines. This made me think of the fact that birds can fly anywhere, but they choose to fly exactly to the Mina area. There is some kind of positivity in that, like it is a chosen area.

And can you tell us a little more about your idea?

Yes, I wanted to talk about the bird life in the art installation, which resulted in the nest idea. We will build a large nest inspired shape, pointing towards the area as a preferred area. Also, we will draw lines to the mining industry through the colors of the installation, which will be inspired by the special colors in the old mining area: the dark purple, the ochre and the turquoise. The nest will measure approximately 3 meters in diameter, and it will be placed along the main road of Mina, when you enter from Mertola. I really hope that the people of Mina welcome and would like to take part in making this new landmark.

Finally, I would like to ask you a more general question: as you have witnessed, the former mining territory is marked by these stone giants, decaying but very impressive vestiges of what the Mina must have been, a place of great agitation and effervescent life. Your sculptural work, on the other hand, is also made up of objects that are often left outdoors in nature and are, therefore, temporary objects. How do you relate to the idea of ​​the ephemeral and how does this appear in your art?

I really appreciate the comparison you are doing now, as I think the huge remains of industry buildings are like beautiful sculptures marked by weather and time. This is also how I work on many of my outdoor installations. I sort of leave my work to nature and appreciate how nature is changing the art work. Among many examples, I can mention my work “Some day, I’ll go my own way” in Slovakia. I covered a wild plum tree with a net of crocheted yarn. The tree looked really captured. But the next spring, small green leaves started appearing outside the net. Even flowers and plums grew on the outside of the net. After some years, long branches had grown out of the net, leaving the net as a strange shape inside the tree.

Lise Wulff: “Some day, I’ll go my own way”, Eslováquia, 2011-presente. © Andrej Poliak


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