The Beast & The eye of the Cyclone

2015 – 2017

Still from the video Hic sunt dracones (2016). Photo: Tasneem Khan

This project combines scientific, literary and personal references and perspectives to explore human in violation and domination of nature. In the center of this exploration lies the whale and the history of whaling. A history Signe Johannessens own family in northern Norway is deeply embedded in. Whaling is controversial and can in itself be used to illustrate the effort to overcome time and space: the will to master the old animal which has always been living in our enormous oceans. The project consists of films, sculptures, drawings, a book and several workshops. Through the workshops Johannessen explored notions of death, fat and misogyny together with whalers and fishermen in northern Norway.

One of the works that came out of the project is Olaus Magnus teori (The theory of Olaus Magnus). The video departs from the traces of Aunt Tulla, an old relative of the artist who died many years ago. She used to collect remnants of the fishery and whaling industry in the small town where she lived. According to a local rumor, Aunt Tulla had hidden bones from old whales in her yard and house. Her home at the time was said to be filled with remnants from sea creatures and findings from the ocean.

Still from the videowork The theory of Olaus Magnus
Still from the video The theory of Olaus Magnus (2016)

During 2015 Johannessen started digging in the garden where Aunt Tulla once lived, only to find 7 enormous parts of the spine of a sperm whale. Olaus Magnus Theory consist of material from the handling of the found parts of the spine, collected material from the fisheries in the town where Aunt Tulla lived and one performance where the artist reenacted Aunt Tulla´s search for remnants together with local children.

Still from the video Hic sunt dracones (2016)

The video Hic sunt dracones places the viewer on a whaling boat where Johannessens relatives once worked. In the archive footage from 1940 rituals take place, the men are preparing for the killing they are about to do. The work also takes us into the element and condition of actually being a whale.

Bonewars (2017)
Hold me closer (2016)

The sculptures Bone wars and Hold me closer are in dialogue with the videos Hic sunt dracones and Olaus Magnus theory. The title Bone wars alludes to the struggle among scientists of the 18th century to be the first to name, find or present extinct species. A struggle not only jeopardizing science as such but resulting in dinosaurs and prehistoric whales being misrepresented in history books and museums.

Still from the video Hic sunt dracones (2016)

The work Sälen i Labyrinten och den eviga vilan (The seal in the labyrinth and the eternal rest) was a site specific part of the project The beast & the eye of the Cyclone for the city of Norrköping in Sweden. In 1908 a new city hall was built in the city of Norrköping. During the construction people found a skeleton in the muddy ground. It turned out to be the remains of a seal who had been living there 6000 years ago. Since the skeleton was found it has been shown in many different exhibitions at Norrköping Museum. The remains have been moved and wrongly presented in different display cases several times over the years.

Still from the video The seal in the labyrinth and the eternal rest (2016)

The seal in the labyrinth and the eternal rest consist of a performative interaction with the remains of the old seal. The interaction was a collaboration with Norrköping Museum, The Swedish History Museum and the archaeologist Jan Storå from Stockholm University. The interaction showed that the skeleton was assembled incorrectly. By opening up the display case and questioning the way the remains of the seal were placed I raised questions about the writing of history and by whom it is written. The remains have finally been organised correctly in accordance to contemporary natural science.

The artist mounted a series of Still lifes for the Book The Beast & The eye of the Cyclone, in the archive of the Natural History Museum, Stockholm, Sweden. In colaboration with photographer Gustav Almestål.

The beast & the eye of the cyclone also became a publication which was produced in collaboration with curator Caroline Malmström.

Press about the project