“…to undermine, in all senses of the word. Undermining, quite literally––as in pits and shafts that reflect culture, alter irreplaceable ecosystems, and generate new structures; undermining’s physical consequences, its scars on the human body politic; undermining as what we are doing to our continent and to the planet when greed and inequity triumph; undermining as a political act––subversion is one way artists can resist."

 

–– Lucy Lippard, Undermining. A Wild Ride Through Land Use, Politics, and Art in the Changing West (The New Press, 2014) 

Tanya Busse’s film The Poet’s Antidote has a hypnotic quality to all three of its main narrative components, image, text and soundtrack. We see landscapes; a black beach, an overcast sky, wind in the grass, moving water. The landscape turns dramatic and as the soundtrack lures the audience and evokes emotions and feelings, the ageless images become part of a science fiction scenery. We see a cat looking at the audience and turning its gaze at the sea, then we enter the mountain, a darkness of blacks and greys.

Long conveyor belts transporting minerals underground to a factory for iron processing where the ore is washed and separated in several steps; machines spinning, bellows reminiscent of huge, grey lungs, cylinders rolling against each other, an oversized rotating sink. The camera slowly zooms out of the mesmerizing scenery, revealing a factory hall with machines which seem to have been lifted from an old science fiction film. Here, humans have become outdated and the spectator has become an observer for these facilities. It brings to mind Nikolas Nikolaidis’ 1987 film Morning Patrol, a post-apocalyptic science fiction film set in Greece, where they still have electricity (cinema, television, street lights …) but only a few people left. It is a country where the apocalypse has washed away the past and the future.

Subtitles bring another layer of meaning to Busse’s film: what is the iron for? The images don’t show this, but the text makes it clear that the iron is used to produce weapons. Mining in our part of the world, in Northern Norway, is part of the war machine, and the regional politicians talk about local jobs without mentioning the whole picture. This is one of the diseases of our time; we live in a globalized society without insight into global entanglements – in mainstream politics, it’s part of the game to stay focused on the positive local impact as if the world around us did not exist. As aforementioned in the film by Nikolaidis, it’s a society without past or future, only the electricity is still functioning.

American writer, critic and curator Lucy Lippard’s 2014 book Undermining: A Wild Ride Through Land Use, Politics, and Art in the Changing West points to an important aspect of Tanya Busse’s work: the connectedness of local landscape and global crisis. The Norwegian-Canadian artist prompts us to reflect on humanity’s unbalanced relationship with nature, gesturing towards the possibility of a more holistic view of the world characteristic of indigenous thinking: to cut a tree means to plant a tree, so the cycle of life in nature is not interrupted.

Tanya Busse’s work The Poet’s Antidote takes its cue from an ongoing conversation between the artist and a female “noaidi”, a poet and shaman of the Sámi, the indigenous people of Scandinavia and Russia. Together, the artist and the noaidi attempt to come up with a spell that would destroy the “war machine”. The work seeks to confront the military-industrial complex as it is manifested inside a mountain in Northern Norway through spiritual means. The noaidi does not, however, cast the spell. Instead, she offers a ritual of protection, and in that sense a cure for the ailing mountain.

Busse’s film may be read against the backdrop of the Arctic, Cold War fears, and the antagonism of capitalistic and indigenous worldviews. At the same time, her work transcends the local context and addresses universal issues embodied by the artist’s deep concern with historical narrative, warfare and an ever-changing global political landscape.

 

Sarah Schipschack
Freelance Curator