Our Empty Spaces
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.
“There is no surer way” writes GW Goethe, “of evading the world than through art, and there is no surer way of connecting to the world than through art.” For several months Anne Sophie Lorange has retreated to the studio that once belonged to Edvard Munch. Here she has immersed herself in working with a series of paintings which, entitled collectively Passages Unknown, are the result of an intuitive process which explore the subtle space between known and unknown, seen and unseen. Lorange is interested in the space in-between and tries to capture indefinable elements of being.
During her time in the renowned Norwegian artist’s intimate studio, Lorange gave birth to a daughter, allowing the work to be informed by maternal reverie and the personal experience it entails. “From your large black eyes, invisible hands draw delicate threads through the pupils of my eyes and twine them around my heart” wrote Edvard Munch himself, and these words hold a special meaning for Lorange as a source of inspiration for her paintings.
The works in Passages Unknown are colorful and expressive, yet equally restrained and subtle, oscillating between the seeming opposites of visible and invisible. In spite of having lived and trained abroad, Anne Sophie Lorange has a distinctive Nordic sensibility geared towards nature, which is evident by the creative force her residence at Munch’s Ekely studio has brought forth.
The exhibition took place at Edvard Munch’s Winter Studio at Ekely 25 February – 01 March 2015. The studio is a listed heritage site run by the Edvard Munch Foundation at Ekely.