Silje Figenschou Thoresen

there are as many features pointing forward as backwards

«We work like this. We save sticks and wood and tarp and wire. Then we make things. Then we don’t need those things anymore, and we take them apart. Sometimes sticks and wire go directly into new constructions, sometimes they are stored for later use. Sometimes they are left to rot. And if you don’t absolutely have to, you don’t change. If a stick is too long for this construction, perhaps a shorter stick can be found. You never know when you need that long stick. All your constructions are stored for later constructions.»
Silje Figenschou Thoresen

Silje likes sticks. She also likes straps, ropes, clamps, copper pipping, lead strips, black rubber sheeting and much else that goes into her sculptures. ‘We’ in the quote above refers to her own rural Sámi background. The method she has adopted for her artistic practice involves letting the materials lead the way; she lets a stick just be as it is. The materials that are available help determine the outcome. And the outcome is always changeable.

In the crafting tradition in which Silje was raised, improvisation is a natural and central part of getting everything in one’s surroundings to function. Her sculptures lack a function but nevertheless have strong references to functionality and to solutions based on just whatever is available in terms of materials, skills and other variables. One could therefore say that her sculptures allude to a survival strategy and self-reliance, which are on the wane in our affluent society. Many of us are poorly trained in pragmatic repair, but perhaps it is precisely this type of knowledge that we will soon need when our affluence ends.

Silje has for many years been inspired by her own people’s ability to make the best out of whatever is in their environment. For the art project Kløkt! / Indigenuity (2010–2013), she collaborated with Joar Nango to document hundreds of homemade solutions in homes and cabins in Sapmí. Since then, she has worked with sculpture and tried find some sort of inherent will in the materials she uses. The materials are allowed to participate in determining a sculptural outcome, but the result also has a temporary quality because the same materials can be used for something else in a different constellation later on. And since she never knows which context the various elements will be used in downline, there is no point in changing any individual element.

Pragmatic, yes – but the seemingly arbitrary compositions have been meticulously thought through; there is thus also a kind of underlying formalism that allows the dialogue between the materials to be decisive for the outcome. The materials usually have a history that can refer to a specific local situation. But these histories are more like latent backdrops. An analogy would be to a person whose history is not necessarily revealed to the world at large, but which is nevertheless significant and affects the person’s character. In the exhibition, the inherent will and changeability of materials also come to expression in an immediate way in a series of paintings. Between double sheets of glass, colours are allowed to move slowly throughout the exhibition period.

The exhibition’s title, there are as many features pointing forward as backwards, is a fragment of a sentence in the Danish archaeologist Povl Simonsen’s publication Varangerfunnene (The Varanger Finds) (1959–68). These finds showed that the history of Nordkalotten (the ‘Cap of the North’, comprised of what are today the parts of Norway, Sweden and Finland north of the Arctic Circle, and formerly also the Kola Peninsula) cut across the later-established national borders, and they helped clarify lines of connection between the Stone Age and today’s Sámi population. But even though Simonsen’s research was pioneering in making Sámi history visible, it represented an external view. To incorporate fragments of Simonsen’s text into her own artistic practice is a strategy that enables her to use the Varanger finds on her own terms. The title – which can be read as both a claim and a question – points simultaneously to something absolutely central in her works and which concerns time: they have been something, they are something now, but they will also become something else.

Silje Figenschou Thoresen (b. 1978) lives and works in Kirkenes. She studied furniture design and interior architecture at Bergen National Academy of the Arts and at Konstfack in Stockholm. Her previous solo exhibitions have been at venues such as Marabouparken Konsthall, Stockholm (2023), Kunstnerforbundet, Oslo (2020), Terminal B, Kirkenes (2019), the Sámi Centre for Contemporary Art, Karasjok (2015) and Trondheim Kunsthall (2014). In autumn 2024 she will have an exhibition at Astrup Fearnley Museum in Oslo. Silje has also participated in several group shows, as the Luleå Biennial (2022), ‘When You Say We Belong to the Light We Belong to the Thunder’ at Estonian Museum of Contemporary Art, Tallin (2019), the Arctic Arts Festival, Harstad (2018) and Lofoten International Art Festival (2017).

Curator Torill Østby Haaland