Jason Havneraas and Kjetil Berge
When Jason Havneraas and Kjetil Berge first asked if I could write a small text for this exhibition, they proposed that we could meet for dinner and then watch some of their collaborative video works afterwards. As we watched, I became aware that they were both observing me closely. On screen a man dressed in what looked like a white plastic bag ran up and down, in and out of frame, performing jumping jacks in the snow. Pure slapstick. I laughed. They grinned.
Since 2014 the two have been making distinctive video works filmed with the technique of recording the the camera obscura image of a large format camera, creating an extremely flattened depth of field. While their subject matter ranges from slushy calisthenics to confessional karaoke, the bulk of their production are videos in which two protagonists—often the artists themselves—perform parallel narratives that switch between English and Norwegian. The oscillation between languages finds a parallel in that Berge is a Norwegian-raised artist who has been a long time London resident, while Havneraas is a UK-raised artist—albeit with Norwegian heritage—who has lived for many years in Norway.
For instance, in “Dear Day”, two identically dressed characters, one female, one male, shuffle up to the camera and simultaneously read—the woman in English, the man in Norwegian—a love letter that alternates between emotional self-deprecation and exuberance in its own eloquence. The public performance of the letter plays with the tension between the private form of the letter and the lover’s desire to seek witnesses to the depth of their feelings, doubling the form of address even as its performance is doubled. The video uses the device of a split screen, mirrored along the vertical axis, to reinforce the relation between the two separate, yet woven together, images. The seam keeps the two apart, even as it lets them touch.
Berge and Havneraas cite the Futurist opera “Victory over the Sun”—in which the sun, representative of the decadent past, is torn down from the sky, locked in a concrete box, and given a funeral—as an important touchstone. The sun, and attempts to grasp victory over it, is a reoccurring motif in their work, with Berge’s squashed textile sun and Havneraas’s photographic diptych of the sun obscured by fog in Lofoten and Jharkhand, India, reinforcing the theme of complementary realities.
However, in their use of humour and interest in a self-interrogating subject, they draw just as much from Beckett and from Laurel and Hardy as they do from Kruchonykh, Khiebnikov and Malevich. And while their work uses humour and the guise of the amateur to juxtapose the minor key with the emotive, impossible and profound, it’s also the portrait of a friendship, in which two halves almost complete a whole.