HEGE DONS SAMSET
Analogue Photo on Sublimation Dekotex Micro Velour, Silk embroidery, Hand Made, 40x60 cm, Edition: 1 + 1 AP
My interest in the human began in early childhood when I spent most of my time up in a tree outside our house, observing the people who came and went underneath it. Like little ants they went about their business, often demonstrating a behaviour that baffled me. Later, at school, I became an outsider and learned the advantages of seeing the world from a distance. This is most beneficial for an artist, and I turned it into a profession and moved down from the tree to travel the world and investigate the mysterious human race.
The territory of my artistic practice is nature. Nature is where I perform, stage my photos and videos and tell my stories. My art is always moving as I develop new insights, and a topic at the moment is ‘quality of life’. I am interested in observing human behaviour and how man coexists with nature, how he relates to his surroundings and treats that on which he so fundamentally depends. A nomadic life has brought me to many remote places where I have found people living under very different conditions. By using myself as a barometer I investigate what quality of life means to people and how being close to nature forms us.
Nature represents the presence of non-human order, and this can be a good place for someone who functions differently from most people. I am interested in the meaning of being an outsider in the widest sense of the word, and there are many different types of outsiders. They usually create disturbance and fear because they represent something unfamiliar and strange, something outside the system upon which society is built, outside what is considered normal. I see nature as a place where they can belong, because they can escape the rules and regulations imposed by society, and function on their own terms, in an environment characterised by diversity.
Expressing these topics artistically has led me to explore new disciplines. Over the past three years I have delved into trying to merge embroidery with analogue photography in order to create a meeting between man and nature. By embroidering details on photographs, I investigate what happens in the encounter between photography and embroidery, and where in previous works I have staged humans in nature, I now embroider the traces of man in nature. I see embroidery as telling stories with thread, a tradition that stretches far back in time. The Incas had their own ‘written language’ called quipu incaico consisting of knotted strands. They had their own specialists, called Quilcacamayoc, who noted events, stories and poetry so that they were preserved for posterity.
How far removed are we from nature? I recently found myself in the epicentre of two massive earthquakes in the north of Chile. I had just arrived at a camp in the middle of the desert when the first one began, and it was an existential experience that is hard to describe. It made me realise how fragile we are, how completely dependent on nature and its forces that can wipe us out in a second. As I spent the next two weeks helping people reconstruct their houses and clean up all the damage in between strong tremors, I reflected on what it means to live at the mercy of nature’s forces. I asked the people how they managed to deal with the fact that all their life’s work could be wiped out at any moment. They replied that they had got used to rebuilding their lives, and focused on living in the moment and being grateful every time they escaped without physical damage. I was struck by the ability to live with such brutal forces and, looking up at the immense sky with its millions of stars, the contrast between the beauty and the horror.
So what does ‘quality of life’ mean to us? What does it take to give us the feeling of living a fulfilling life? It certainly means something completely different to a fisherman in the Hanga Roa village on Easter Island than it does to the owner of an ecological camp in the Atacama Desert, a horse farmer in Iceland, or to a sales executive in New York. What I find most interesting in talking to the people with whom I live during my travels is that certain things are universal, and intrinsically human, whether one lives in the countryside, on an island or in a megacity. Certain basic needs have to be filled in order for us to live a good life, and those needs are more visible in remote places under extreme living conditions and are becoming hugely affected by urban complexity and global growth.
Maybe the best things in life are free. And maybe we need to celebrate that by making sure that we don’t miss out on what really matters to us.
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