"Anyone interested in creating a project on climate change, isolation, loneliness and wellbeing can’t escape the draw of the far north."
Aidan Moesby, artist
Aidan Moesby: From Newcastle to Norway
Aidan Moesby is an artist based in Gateshead, Newcastle. He is on the board of trustees for Shape Arts, a disability led organisation which works towards the full inclusion of people in the arts. He was awarded a grant by the British Council to travel to northern Norway. Aidan spoke to the British Council about his art and his stay in Norway.
Before becoming an artist and curator I worked as an organic farmer and environmentalist. I also trained as a therapist, mainly working with traumatised children. They way in which I work today bring all of those experiences and related skills together. At the heart of my work is the art of conversation; therefore I usually work in an interdisciplinary manner. I make and exhibit art and I curate, research, write, train and participate in events around the subject of disability, creativity and curation.
I believe that the best art can be at the intersection of the visual arts, wellbeing, climate-change and, increasingly, new technology. For those unacquainted with my work, I’d describe it as being continuously underpinned by the need to generate a narrative that reaches the many rather than the few. I want it to touch on two important issues: the subject of mental health, and the problem of climate change. I am currently exploring these themes through an assessment of the external physical weather system as a way to interpret an internal, psycho-emotional state of being.
What I make is typically small in scale and text-based. This way, the viewer feels an immediate, intimate connection to the piece in question. Some my creations have evolved into larger-scale installations, especially those intended for festivals. Between Stillness and Storm, and Sagacity: Periodic Table of Emotions is one such example. It became a large-scale digital installation at the Lumiere festival in Durham. Another recent piece, which has been funded by Unlimited, is titled I was Naked, Smelling of Rain. It explores presence and loneliness, and fits within the climate and wellbeing narrative that drives much of my creativity. It was made possible through my residency at Pervasive Media Studio.
Some of this art was important for my British Council residency in Norway, which resulted in the funding application which I titled Reading the Weather in the Far North. When I applied for the grant, I was keen to travel to Norway because I feel that anyone interested in creating a project on climate change, isolation, loneliness and wellbeing can’t escape the draw of the far north. It has an environment where all of these aspects of humanity are brought into sharp relief. Moreover, the curatorial research that I was keen to undertake there, which related to the question of rural arts and trans-national working methods, corresponded to the missions of Pikene på Broen in Kirkenes. It helped that Pikene på Broen, which is a collective of curators and producers, are also part of Transfer North, a curator exchange programme.
The project that I developed during my time in Norway was two-fold. Firstly, I was interested in developing curatorial links with the most northern part of the country. Pikene på Broen are a small organisation based in Kirkenes, a town which lies about 20km from the Russian and Finnish borders. They work locally, rurally, nationally and trans-nationally, undertaking a variety of small-scale residencies and a number of large-scale festivals. They are the regional cultural hub, and part of the informal Far North Network. I’ve always found that it’s important for me, as a curator, to develop practice within a model that suits my health and access needs. Over time, I have found that meeting other professionals to research my way of working had been very successful.
Secondly, because I am very interested in climate change and wellbeing, together with the questions of presence and loneliness, Kirkenes was also an attractive destination. It seemed a perfect opportunity to experience and research whilst in situ in a particularly raw environment.
One experience that stands out is the visit to The Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomy Research (NIBIO). It was here that I was lucky enough to spend time with a meteorologist and air pollution scientist. I travelled further north on the ferry in an attempt to see more of the amazing wilderness, but also push the experience of the weather and isolation to a more extreme degree. A memorable discovery was that these places didn’t seem to expose a sense of loneliness, despite their geographic isolation. The experience of being on the edge of the world did lead me back to one question I often play with is: "Are we in the weather, or is the weather in us?"
When the snow is deeper than your waist, and the temperature is well below zero, it occurred to me that there is no alternative to being present. One is most certainly ‘in the weather’! Although I am not sure that in this instance the weather was in me.
I’m someone who needs to leave space in my research to respond, and to be led by my findings. I therefore decided to travel to Tromsø to meet other curators and, finally, make my way to Oslo to meet with Atelier Nord – a digital organisation. I also met with Per Gunnar Eeg-Tverbakk, the co-curator of Oslo Biennial, which will open in May 2019.
It is interesting to me that many Norwegian curators, and artists, appear to have trans-national working habits. Many seems to have spent time living in Berlin, before coming back to Norway to work and engage in the local scene. This common experience is, it seems, is often based on the ease of this working method but also by the fact that artists are well-subsidised in Norway through financial backing and even state grants. Compared to many other places around the world, there are more sources of funding which allows upcoming artists to work in a transnational manner, and even focus on cross-border collaborations.
Overall, my research in this northern corner of Europe drew to the fore many issues which I still need to explore further and reflect upon. My intention is that this visit was the first of many, and now that the door has been opened and friends made, I might even return to Norway to exhibit some of my own work – such as I Was Naked Smelling of Rain, or even a more seasonal piece which features snow.