A new type of imprint
A new type of imprint
Our Empty Spaces
June 27, 2017
Words by Vilde Valerie Bjerke Torset
Photography by Sigrid Bjorbekkmo
Artwork by Anne Sophie Lorange
Anne Sophie Lorange's creations are bold studies of emptiness, silence, and the in-between. Her drawings, paintings and installations defend the unconscious and the undefined, playfully challenging conventions through existential meanderings. Swearing by a philosophy of openness, she turns to visual language to communicate what words cannot. She is a creature of the in-between – the two pivotal points on her creative journey are both epitomising and contrasting; one violent, the other serene. As a result, contrasts now blossom in the meadows of presence and absence that are her work.
It’s the year 1982, Boston, Massachusetts. Little Anne Sophie is five years old, part of the MTV-generation, and is filled with a juvenile curiosity that usually makes her blond pigtails twirl with excitement. During a brief, unsupervised moment, she ventures into the pen of an English Sheepdog guarding her puppies and, fearful for her babies, the mother attacks the girl.
"When I got to the hospital I was put into a kind of bag that restrained my body and face so I couldn’t move. The medics had to do that because of the difficulty of the procedure: sewing this teeny tiny face together. I wanted to scream for my parents, but I wasn’t able to open my mouth."
Shocked and scarred, but at least still alive, the young child withdraws into herself. As her healing wounds deprive her of any daylight adventures, she begins to live more and more through her drawings. When she is finally allowed to go outside after six months of quarantine, the world has changed.
"I remember looking up at a tree, then sitting down and drawing it, and seeing the small holes between the branches. They interested me as much as the tree itself. It was then that I had this strange revelation of what language meant to me – in a visual sense. It was something I couldn’t describe, but was only able to draw."
Later, years later, the family has moved to Oslo, the scars have faded, and Anne Sophie’s pigtails are a faint memory. Entering her twenties, she approaches the second turning point in her life. She still hasn’t settled on a career but ends up studying a MSc in Economics to buy some time and, in an attempt to shake the feeling that something is missing, gets a job at Gamle Aker Kirke, (the Old Aker Church).
"It’s a beautiful church, but what struck me was how empty it was. There was barely any people there – except for Christmas and baptisms and such. I had a lot of time to sit and meditate upon empty spaces, and it made me understand that there’s something more than just being empty, that there’s a beauty there. I started to draw around this theme. That was the moment that crystallised to me that what I want to do is create."
Finally, the stars have aligned, and Anne Sophie the artist was born. Ever since that day, she’s been exploring limitless emptiness, chasing freedom in silence and compassion in absence. With their strong colours and mesmerising patterns, her paintings speak to the observer with their own language of openness, as they grow like plants beyond the edge of the canvas.
"Emptiness is a space where both absence and presence resides. I understand it as an openness that leads me to an understanding of the beauty of existence. We can leave these traces behind, visible and invisible traces, and they’re all part of the vulnerability of life. Emptiness – it’s difficult to explain, but it’s nothingness with something, or something-ness with nothing. Structures and chaos and creations all exist together and the borders disappear."
Throughout her search for the in-between, Anne Sophie’s work remains natural, spontaneous and raw. Whether she’s creating from within Munch’s renowned atelier Ekely, with its heavy brick walls and huge green doors, or from a small farm on the outskirts of Nordmarka, surrounded by waiving crops and evergreen forests, the process is always the same.
"The process follows me from when I wake up in the morning to the moment I fall asleep at night. It’s not something I can define, it’s a way of being. It’s like walking in the woods, feeling the shared silence – when I get to the studio I feel the same way. It’s not me that’s in focus, it’s the painting itself. Like American artist Corita Kent said “start with looks, not content”. It’s about being inside the artwork instead of on the outside of the structures. I just lose the feeling of time and space. It’s transcendental."
Like any true artist, Anne Sophie finds inspiration in a plethora of things: the stillness of the nature she often escapes into, or the love of the people that surround her. When looking to other artists, however, she’s drawn to the rule breakers and the pioneers, like John Cage's 4’33”, Ewa Partum throwing letters on the streets, or Yoko Ono’s ‘Cut Piece’. Nevertheless, the things that stand out to her the most are things others tend to dismiss.
"I’m initially inspired by what’s unseen, or overseen, maybe something off-centre or accidental, the in-between or a contradiction, a hesitation or something missing, or alone. The unspoken or an insignificant detail. It can be something as banal as putting down a glass of water and watching the water slosh back and forth."
Our need to fill our empty spaces with information and distractions cannot be denied; just count the number of people online versus offline on any bus or train. The challenges arising from this conscious or subconscious loss of existential silence are unexplored territory. Although we know the structures of the modern world do change and define us in some way, the speed at which it’s evolving makes it hard to pinpoint how.
"What’s important is we still have the option to select. We have a choice to fill our empty spaces with meaning or to let them come to us and fill us, but we’re not always conscious of it. You can still choose to see the beautiful lines on the face of a stranger sitting next to you, or look out of the window and let the landscape shine at you. It’s up to you."
It seems clear the online world, in which many of us now so frequently live, is here to stay whether we like it or not, but Anne Sophie is weary of the illusion of connectedness it brings.
"The digital world is strange because it brings us together but it also drives us further apart. The more present we become in a digital sense, the more absent we are in a physical sense. But our basic human needs are still there: like the need to be touched by another person. Just look at how many people are dealing with loneliness because of a lack of human contact. We’re connected, but we’re not."
Existential topics like the importance of human openness, interpretations of identities and the epistemology of the self are woven into the structure of everything Anne Sophie creates. They, like their creator, exist beyond their physical presence.
"Home is where you are, the personal, who you are. Home is you. Finding your own borderless map of existence means understanding that a border is something on the outside, and does not have to define you as a person. A borderless existence is an opening, a passage to unoccupied space and to having the freedom to be everywhere and nowhere at the same time."
The need for freedom was also what drove her to search past the conventional forms of the written language, into the abstracts of a new, visual one. Still, she keeps referring to it as just that, a language, hinting at a need to communicate the freedom it represents.
"Language is both visible and invisible, and we can sense it, feel it, as something that pierces you from within, but you’re not able to explain it through the language you’ve been taught. For me, the visual language is an opening. I like doing something that’s the opposite to what you expect – like starting a story with the last line."
Through empty spaces and shared silence, Anne Sophie finds the freedom to create her transfixing pieces with the tools of this visible language. Although creating with absence might sound like a contradiction, to her the two are the same; intrinsic contrasts that can only exist in the presence of the other.
"Dwelling in the in-between means understanding that the absence of something can also mean the presence of something, and this leads me to create. Two people standing next to each other are not only two people, but two people including the space in-between, and creating through absence is a connection to an infiniteness within us. It’s like wanting to shout in whispers."
Just as to be alive is integrally linked to someday dying, our presence cannot exist without absence. As one of Anne Sophie’s favourite writers, Fernando Pessoa, once wrote: ‘Decadence is the total loss of unconsciousness, which is the very basis of life. Could it think, the heart would stop beating’.
First published in Volume Ten.
The Visionary projects
Born in Boston, MA, Lorange grew up in the U.S. and moved to Norway as a teenager. Moving to Norway was back then was a challenge, trying to adapt to a new culture. These experiences led to a deeper understanding of identity and also of not belonging. Through her artwork, she is constantly exploring the beauty of existence, of emptiness, silence, and of the in-between. Her paintings, outdoor drawings and installations, all convey to the observer an abstract language of relationships between the seen and unseen, presence and absence, isolation and togetherness, emptiness and presence. Her artworks balance between solid structures and intuitive lines, shaping the invisible into emotional landscapes where the observer can exist within a freedom of space.
“My current goal is to further explore the openness of language, without borders, or translations. I am concerned with the complexities of human nature. A feeling can either divide us or connect us, drawing us closer together. How can painting exist as a visible bridge into space, where we can see one another clearer? I want the observer to exist beyond words, beyond writing, beyond definitive answers, or the border of one’s own body. Painting is a sensory experience, and when I apply paint to the canvas it’s as if each color has its own feeling and becomes animated. I am constantly in the center of something fleeting, yet entirely concrete.
The surface of the paintings, become a layering of feelings, sometimes I choose to paint over, or just let them come closer to me, paint another layer with the same color, or I let the transparency of colors shine through. I use a lot of poetic fragments in my work. My titles are linked to how I understand language. I like the challenge of how words and painting can be linked together in a symbiosis, binding together the fragmentary and fleetingness of what language evokes in us. And how can I convey a feeling that goes beyond the definiteness of language? I’m interested in turning what I’ve learned upside down. Does Z necessarily have to be the last letter in the alphabet? How can art move us beyond what we understand as a given truth? Like understanding that the edges of the canvas are not necessarily the edge, but more an opening into something further out, something beyond. Or the feeling of a chaotic gesture can be something stable, and a structure in the painting can exist as the opposite. Chaos and structure can exist as a kind of paradox of representation.
Anything can happen in life, and often order balances upon something unstable, like today’s situation of Covid-19 and social distancing, we are all scattered across the place, the music has intervals of silence, a note can repeat itself, exposed and open, too fleeting to be defined, we lose the word if we try to speak it. I need to paint it, between the hidden and almost revealed, tasting the tears, reflecting somebody else for instance who isn’t me, so I can remember tomorrow better. Am I the edge of myself? Feeling my pulse, a passion, the invisible sparkle of notes, my restlessness, or the logic of the illogical feeling I have never experienced before. A feeling can exist, as a sighing, deep and prolonged, and then immediately it escapes you. When I am drawing with charcoal on the stones alongside the shore, I know that the drawings will vanish in a day or two, but I find that intrinsically beautiful. My drawings are gone, but the stones are still there, however they change too, just we don’t notice it. The tiny small changes of the rough, hard stones, like a small crack that suddenly has a tiny stone in between it. Working with materials like charcoal, I know will vanish, yet the line is so precise and stable at the moment I draw it. I think this is the beauty of art, the artworks constantly change over time and also disappear. This fleeting aspect has always fascinated me, the constant ever-changing aspect of the living that surrounds us. Just like our feelings, they come and disappear. At the same time I must also return to the same area, my childhood playground, and continue drawing, continue to draw and paint on the familiar stones, but from a different, more experienced perspective and explore the unknown in the known. A new narrative develops from a relational context, and the understanding that there is not only one perspective develops. Continuous layers of hidden traces and connections surround us, and the simple charcoal line can act as a reductive abstraction binding the observer into a freedom of the unspeakable, erasing the distance between the world and the self. A feeling of togetherness can exist, and I’ not just a single voice anymore. The sight-specific becomes a universal. My dream is to continue my journey, creativity is a source of energy. Painting is a feeling, but when I’m finished with a specific painting, it often escapes what I feel, and I want it to continue to speak for itself and instead I start on a new one. We are fortunate to have novelty of a spirit and awareness of the fleeting moment when all of a sudden we become a stranger to ourself; I am no longer alone, the painting can smell my lost soul, I need nothing more, I can commune with an experience of eternity. In five years, I see myself developing my art even further. My dream is to collaborate with other artists on creative projects. For instance, how can we express a shared silence through painting or drawing? I dream for instance, of collaborating with someone in the space of Edvard Munch’s studio. I worked there for a few months two different years, and what struck me there was the silence of this space. It was so quiet, yet when I had worked there for a while, the space started to become animated, and silence became the opposite of what I believed silence was. An empty space was not empty. It was then I understood that the visible and invisible are the same, we need both at the same time. It could be interesting to also work with a contemporary poet where we could together further expand language, break rules and go beyond known structures. In addition, I will continue to teach others art through my post as a painting teacher at an art school in Oslo. It simply reminds me of the necessity to always be humble, curious, and open as an artist and teacher. We are all together in this journey of life and let’s fill it with meaning and develop further.”
ANNE SOPHIE LORANGE ANSWERS 5 QUESTIONS
BY THE ARTSLANT TEAM
This is 5 Questions. Each week, we send five questions to an artist featured in Under the Radar, our weekly email highlighting the best art on the ArtSlant network. This week we seek answers from Anne Sophie Lorange.
What are you trying to communicate?
I communicate the importance of human openness, which I find closely linked to the beauty of existence, through exploring the aesthetics of emptiness, silence and in-between spaces. A painting is not an absolute answer. Rather, it reaches out to viewers and invites them to take part. The traces are a silent world of one’s own existence, and meaning lies beyond the visible, beyond observation. We have to reach into ourselves, into the unseen where both absence and presence reside. The process of creating leads me into an opening, where I can identify with the sense of being in-between. It is a questioning, more than an answering, revealing light on one’s own existence, of the in-between nature of human identity as both present and fragile, but also timeless and sublime. Uncertainty—what’s unseen—creates a sense of wonder and being in the moment.
Untitled (intermittences of being), 2018, Acrylic on linen
My artwork is therefore a result of an existential meandering. I question regularity and chaos through compositional structures, patterns and forms combined with intuitive line drawings. I can feel the essence of fragility and vulnerability in the line itself, a visual sign of the transiency of life. A space implies time, but through these spaces, I am able to see and understand something further than the visible aspects of humanity. Time becomes irrelevant, and the emptiness of the space itself becomes a connection to the beauty of the moment and a connection to others’ identities.
Painting a form, and placing it “on the edge” of the canvas, makes it exist as a structure. I use elements of color to soften the form or to some degree hide it, suggesting an empty space within the form itself, in between presence and absence. The vulnerability of emptiness transports us into a meditative state beyond language and time, into a borderless intangible existence of belonging to something, like an expansion beyond ourselves. Susan Sontag has said “silence remains, inescapably, a form of speech.” The artwork becomes a visible language within the invisible, untranslatable, a pattern of an incomprehensible language encompassing the presence of the moment.
Untitled (lost without you), Acrylic & ink on wood panel
What is an artist’s responsibility?
I believe the artist’s primary responsibility is to connect. Everyone’s uniqueness shines through inevitably and perpetually—like a baby learning to speak a language from within, where the alphabet doesn’t start with the letter A. Every artist has something to tell, something that is entirely unique for them as an individual, and this uniqueness connects us to one another.
Therefore one can also say an artist’s responsibility is to connect with others, but this is almost unnecessary to say—it’s a natural consequence of being an artist. I love that about art, like the feeling of confetti in the air—it’s intense. Self identity is the ultimate connection to others, floating in ones’ own space, forming new realities, like an unstable, labyrinthine constellation. Exploding stars rearrange, and we can emotionally unite.
Believing it’s true, 2018, Acrylic on linen
Show us the greatest thing you ever made (art or not)?
My kids which are by far the greatest work of art.
Tell us about a work you want to make but never will.
Painting the sea, the totality of it, beyond dimensions. The challenges are obviously too immense. I might actually drown in the process.
Who are three artists we should know but probably don’t?
Cookie Mueller, Ewa Partum and AK Dolven
—The ArtSlant Team
ArtSlant is an open Arts community with over 200,000 free, user-generated artist profiles. The support of our community is an essential part of our mission. Follow your favorite artists to see new work and exhibitions by adding them to your watchlist.