The unknown adventurer*

As I am sitting by the window gazing out to the flurries of white snow flakes listlessly landing onto the dark greyish pavement, it brings me to re-think about how in my previous post I declared that: "...The truth and untruth of our memories is a fascinating topic, for it never seems to reach a satisfactory resolution. For this reason, nothing in our histories nor in our memories can be recounted accurately for they are neither black nor white, but a combination of both each with its own unique ambiguity. ..."  Any narrative history is almost always written in the past tense, both relying on memories and documentations pertaining to events of the past.  In most cases the historical narratives are more likely to be a recount from the victorious side than from the losing side.  

Image from Aline Victoria Birkeland–Den ukjente eventyrer
C-Print
120 cm x 120 cm
Image courtesy the artist

This story begins in and around the early nineteenth century of a brave young woman, Aline Victoria Birkeland.  In a letter written to her grandson, she recounts her story about her ambition, determination, and experience on many of her polar expeditions.  In the most endearing terms, Aline addresses her granddaughter nostalgically and by telling the stories she hopes to reconcile some of her most difficult personal choices and sacrifices amidst of becoming an officially recognized scientist for her discoveries.  And, perhaps also in hopes to preserve and record a past of which could be easily forgotten. 

With a forward by Aurora, her granddaughter:

"We have a number of strong and proud women, both in my family and in history.  Today it is easy to take everything that Aline and other strong women have struggled for granted.  We must keep fighting for what we already have and what we want in the future.  We must fight to become - and remain - a part of history. …"

"Vi har en lang rekke sterke og stolte kvinner, både i min familie og i historien ellers. I dag er det lett å ta alt det Aline og andre sterke kvinner har kjempet for som en selvfølge. Vi må alltid fortsette å kjempe for det vi allerede har og det vi ønsker oss. Vi må kjempe for å bli – og forbli – en del av historien. ..."

- An expert from
Aline Victoria Birkeland–Den ukjente eventyrer (The unknown adventurer) written by Norwegian artist / photographer Tonje Bøe Birkeland.  I gave it a rough translation with the aid of an online dictionary.  (note: a full English translation is in the works by Tonje)
Image from Aline Victoria Birkeland–Den ukjente eventyrer
C-Print
125 cm x 190 cm
Image courtesy the artist
Image from Aline Victoria Birkeland–Den ukjente eventyrer
C-Print
120 cm x 120 cm
Image courtesy the artist
In November 2012, I met Tonje Bøe Birkeland, a young artist and photographer from Norway during an open-studio event at iscp.  In the evening gathering, we started talking about her work and about the country where she was brought up.  To me, the landscapes of Norway has always been fascinating as something of an arctic fairy tale.  Because of its high latitude, in Norway the sun never quite sets during the summer months and never quite seem to rise in the winter months.  Under this kind of climate, it must tend to drive certain people crazy while drive others to hyper creativity with introspection.  Tonje is of the latter. 

Prior to the evening gathering, I visited her studio and felt in love with her photography.  They were of vast landscapes of a faraway place that seemed utterly unknown to me.  Then upon a closer look, a small figure standing triumphantly amidst her precarious ground seemed to tell a story beyond the heart-opening landscapes.  For the figure transpired another kind of a narrative, one of a mysterious past and an ambiguous present combined.  It was a story that I would later come to appreciate when I started to read her text about the journeys once embarked by her protagonists. 

Image from Aline Victoria Birkeland–Den ukjente eventyrer
C-Print
120 cm x 120 cm
Image courtesy the artist
Image from Aline Victoria Birkeland–Den ukjente eventyrer
C-Print
120 cm x 120 cm
Image courtesy the artist
Image from Aline Victoria Birkeland–Den ukjente eventyrer
C-Print
120 cm x 120 cm
Image courtesy the artist
As with her photographs, Tonje has the gift of story-telling both of visual and literal descriptions.  There are two stories both of courageous young women embarking on journeys to the unknown that Tonje tells through her work.  The first one of which I had already gave away a little with a small introduction above. It is the story told through a series of letters from Aline Victoria Birkeland to her grandson Aurora.  The second one is called Tuva Tengel (1901-1985) / Brev fra Monglia (1927-1937) Or Letters from Mongolia (1927-1937) in English.  

Before getting to the second story, I would like to show you another expert from Aline.  With lyrical metaphors and enchantingly fine details, Tonje brings Aline alive from fictional to a reality of make-believe.  Upon reading her text, I remember asking her many times over, are you sure this person never existed?  But I am not interested in truth, only interested in what the story has to offer to quench the thirst of my heart's desire.


To Aurora, Aline begins again:

"I'll try to be chronological and systematic, but it is easier to resort to metaphors and poetry in the story of a long life. I begin with a metaphor:

Imagine that I stand back in the queue. I stand either in front or behind, but beside you. I hold you in my arms, and when you look at me, you see the forehead, nose and mouth as a line. But I have always believed that my profile showed me to its best advantage. Now I turn my head towards you, looking down at you and you looking back at me. I have bright blue eyes, two deep wrinkles in the forehead, and lots of tiny lines around the eyes. My skin is brown as leather. My hands have large veins, strong joints, and deep furrows. Now I turn the palms up, reaching to the mailbox. And you receive this. The palms are now empty, and you see the long lifeline, which runs in an arc down to the wrist. I have gone through just such a long arc around all that long queue.  Getting the letter was all waiting like the long standing queue to its end. You do not know why you are in this queue, which is why it is you who will get the answers. You will hopefully read it with openness. ..."


"Jeg skal prøve å være kronologisk og systematisk, men det er lettere å ty til metaforer og poesi i fortellingen om et langt liv. Jeg begynner med en metafor:

Se for deg at jeg også står bakerst i rekken. Jeg står verken foran eller bak, men ved siden av deg. Jeg holder deg i hånden, og når du ser bort på meg, kan du se pannen, nesen og munnen som en linje. Selv har jeg alltid ment at jeg tar meg best ut i profil. Nå snur jeg hodet mot deg, titter ned på deg, og du ser tilbake på meg. Jeg har lyse blå øyne, to dype rynker i pannen, og masse bittesmå linjer rundt øynene. Huden min er som brunt lær. Hånden min har store årer, kraftige ledd, dype furer. Nå snur jeg håndflaten opp, og rekker deg brevet. Du tar imot det. Håndflaten er tom, og du ser den lange livslinjen, som løper i en bue helt ned til håndleddet. Jeg har gått i en slik bue, rundt hele den lange køen, og gitt brevet alle ventet på til den som stod bakerst. Du vet ikke hvorfor du står i denne køen, og nettopp derfor er det du som skal få svarene. Du vil forhåpentligvis lese brevet med åpenhet. ..."

- An expert from Aline Victoria Birkeland–Den ukjente eventyrer (The unknown adventurer) written by Norwegian artist / photographer Tonje Bøe Birkeland.  I gave it a rough translation with the aid of an online dictionary.  (note: a full English translation is in the works by Tonje)

Image from Aline Victoria Birkeland–Den ukjente eventyrer
C-Print
120 cm x 120 cm
Image courtesy the artist
Image from Aline Victoria Birkeland–Den ukjente eventyrerC-Print
125 cm x 190 cm

Image courtesy the artist
Without giving away too much of the story, here I wish to give you a brief synopses.  Aline Victoria Birkeland begins in her letter from the very beginning recounting her life as a curious young girl with a strong ambition for natural historic discoveries in the arctic.  However, because she was born in a time when the scientific field was dominated by men, hence she first wrote a proposal under a different name following her father's instructions.  Upon finally being accepted to embark on her first expedition with Mr. Westergaard who was a renowned scientist of that time, Aline had to assume the identity of a cook for the ship.  Later as she became more established as an independent researcher, she continued to go on more challenging expeditions despite also having to take care of a baby and maintain a domestic life with her husband.  During the many years of her research, she inevitably had to abandon her small daughter and her husband from time to time.  In the story, there are moments when Aline struggles internally and begins to doubt the actual value and importance of her persistence in becoming an important scientist.  The story is redolent of nostalgic sentiments and Aline's strong will to continue the expeditions despite personal heart-breaks and thus brings forth inspirations for personal strength and perseverance in going forth with one's strong belief without waive.   


(Please see my next posting for the second half writing on artist Tonje Bøe Birkeland)

*title borrowed from the artist's original text: Aline Victoria Birkeland–Den ukjente eventyrer

Comments

Popular Posts