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Katja Bjørn

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Fathom 2015

HD, single channel, sound. Video documentation of performance.

Our relationship with nature has been a recurring theme in art and literature for centuries now. The romantics, for example, envisioned a transcendent connection between reason, nature and freedom in response to the blackening landscapes of industrial capitalism, and instead extolled the savage beauty of mountains, oceans, and the skies. Later, the futurists proclaimed the end of nature and replaced its elemental scenes with visions of technological optimism set in urbanized utopias. Often, and especially today, the relationship between human and nature remains one of conflict, an encounter between the natural and unnatural elements of our existence. 

In the live performance, Fathom, which is documented in this video, Katja Bjørn staged a different kind of engagement with nature. With inspiration from a Buddhist prayer walk, she used her body length to measure up a small island south of Læsø with the meditative rhythmic of an inchworm (geometer moth caterpillar), which curiously measures its way forward in a cycle of stretching and compressing on its longitudinal axis. Bjørn presses her body and face to the ground, stands up in a forward curve and then repeats, in what becomes a meditative fusion of the human and geological temporalities. Furthermore, the process of measuring becomes a sympathetic quantification not predicated on abstract calculus but rather on biological difference. In this union the schism between body and nature disintegrates into a pure interaction between form and world, and the human body enters into a much slower, much less agitated temporality. 

In this way, Bjørn stages a reflexive interaction with nature that doesn’t aspire for technological or cultural domination but rather for a sort of motherly affection. She presses herself to the surface of the island like a child reaches for its mother’s arms, and extrapolates from this interaction a merging of the seemingly opposite categories of humanity and nature. The volcanic forces which, faster than in any other Danish region, is raising Læsø from its base, is conceptualized as the upward reaching embrace of the earth itself, mirrored by Bjørn’s downward momentum, thus constructing a metaphorical conception of a human-nature synthesis. 

The performance took about an hour and is depicted in real time above; it was an open event and attended by a small audience. Exhibited at Læsø Kunsthal.