Aleksandra Mir

Narvik Superstars

The Cultural Department of Nordland County Council, Press Release, Bodo, 2004
by Per Gunnar Tverbakk

New York based artist Aleksandra Mir is planning a public commission for Narvik. Narvik Superstars will become part of the new city structure and the planned area of development "The Triangle", which is to be built in the harbour area of this northern Norwegian city. The city of Narvik will eventually have its own "Walk of Fame" inspired by the original in Hollywood, where selected representatives from the film industry have been given a permanent star made of stone and shimmering metal for their achievements. In Narvik the focus will be on equality. Every year between 160 and 180 children are born in Narvik, a city threatened to become vacated. During the next 5-7 years about 1000 children will be born. All these children will be given a star in the pavement of the new city area. In this way the exclusive is turned into the popular through a local recycling of the "star culture" where every new born baby will become stars in their own lives. Simultaneously the project represents a local mobilization to increase the population of Narvik. The project stretches over several years, and will become a permanent collection. Every year a ceremony is to be held when the new stars are revealed. During winter months there will be under ground heating to keep the stars visible. Narvik Superstars is a unique project with international appeal. It is both temporary and permanent, creating new stories about the future inhabitants of Narvik. The feminine aspects of the project represent a contrast to the more masculine stories about the railway workers, which the city is famous for.

Narvik is a town that has grown up around the shipping of iron-ore from Kiruna. This industry is still the basis of the town’s economy and its primary source of employment. There is a vibrant culture among the migrant worker community, and not least the myth of the Black Bear. Narvik’s future will be influenced by the industrial rationalisation, which will reduce the available jobs within the traditional ore industry. As an alternative, Narvik is developing its tourism sector in both the winter and the summer seasons. Thanks to the Gulf Stream the climate is good, providing suitable conditions for fishing, walking and skiing.

Plans are currently being drawn up to develop an entire new part of town, the so-called “triangle”. This is a site down by the sea and the harbour which has always been closed to the general public. In the words of the local council, the municipality’s greatest resource is its residents. Economic, social, cultural and political events within Narvik’s community will always reflect its constituent members. The local population provides the “backbone” of all social activity in Narvik. The municipality has some 18,000 residents. The annual birthrate for the area is between 160 and 180, and its mortality rate between 120 and 150. The municipality of Narvik strives to be an attractive place to live and wishes to use a broad notion of culture as a strategic tool for development. It aims to have 20,000 residents by 2010.

Aleksandra Mir studied art at the School of Visual Art in New York and read cultural anthropology at the New School in the same city. Her art would appear to show close links to her own life and her encounters with other people and with social and political structures. (This was evident in her project Daily News, in which she printed her own newspaper containing more than a hundred birthday greetings from friends and acquaintances a year to the day after the September 11th catastrophe in New York. Mir’s birthday is on the same day, and in this work she seeks to illuminate how our attitudes and experiences are influenced by the media.) She directs a critical and keen gaze at these structures, creating breathing spaces, watering holes and playgrounds for the individual, facilities that are the very precondition for a social system. She draws attention to the little stories that tend to pass unnoticed in the media either because they are insufficiently spectacular or because they have no market value. With humour and charm she places these stories in the limelight on her own terms.

The Danish curator and art critic Lars Bang Larsen writes that Mir’s art often uses the forms of social processes that are open to anyone who is willing to discover meaning in her works. Mir likes to begin with a certain location, creating a situation that develops and takes shape in response to the input that comes from other people, participants and her audience. She is perhaps best known for her staging of the first woman on the moon, which she organised on a beach in Holland. With the willing assistance of workers from a nearby factory, tractors and diggers were brought in to build an enormous moonscape in the sand. This roused the curiosity of several TV stations, and people flocked to the place to be present at the occasion. As the first woman climbed into one of the moon craters, an immigrant rushed to her side and declared himself the first coloured man on the moon. For the Momentum exhibition at Moss in 1998, Mir decided to organise a “Cinema for the Unemployed – Hollywood disaster movies 1970–1997”. Over the course of a week, Moss’ local cinema showed old films such as Towering Inferno, Airport and Avalanche, all screened during working hours for those who had no jobs to go to. The project turned the spotlight on unemployment from two angles: the social problem of finding activities for those who fall outside the system, and the frequent inability of the unemployed to get to grips with their own situation.

Aleksandra Mir dares to cede control and to let art become part of people’s lives, while at the same time making it part of her own. Her art reflects capitalist consumer society while simultaneously offering an alternative, more feminine, playful and intimate space in which she herself plays the part of hostess. Her homepage is like a long story about her own life,, in which broader social and cultural trends are illuminated through her engaging and absorbing projects. Her narrative style is personal and constitutes an interesting alternative to an otherwise all-too rational and masculine tradition of historiography; as such it contributes to the creation of a new history, a different style of narrative, thus possibly influencing the way we see ourselves through our culture by giving it a more feminine twist. Tim Griffin in Artforum has pointed out that Mir composes epos on the basis of intimate moments – or still better, anti-epos that function as chapters in an insignificant literature written in the light that spills over from our culture of the spectacular.

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Artscape Nordland is an international art project with invited participants from 18 countries.

The project originated in a comprehensive debate about the role of art in society. The County of Nordland, with its 240.000 inhabitants, does not have an art museum - and people must travel long distances to study modern art in museums and galleries. The idea of a collection of modern art in Nordland, one sculpture in every municipality and with the landscape as gallery, was first presented in 1988.

The underying idea of the project is that a work of art creates a place of its own through its very presence in the landscape. The sculpture also visualises its surroundings, thus giving the place a new dimension. The dialogue resulting from the encounter between the sculpture and spectator reveals different ways of understanding and interpreting art.

The project officially started in 1992, and was completed in 1998. Sculptures, located in beautiful, varied and often brutal landscapes on the coast of the Atlantic, will be found in 33 of the 45 municipalities in the county. An art gallery without walls or a ceiling - and covering an area of 40.000 km2.