We Are All Normal

By Clive Phillpot, 28 November 2002

The savvy and articulate editors of this 400-page book have characterised their collection of writings by visual artists as dependent upon a Nordic concern with the welfare state and personal freedom. Furthermore they have corralled texts by over fifty artists into eight categories including: the state, language, the self, popular culture, geography, and private and public spaces. Nearly all the artists hail from Denmark, Sweden, Norway or Finland; the exceptions being a few who are working abroad in Berlin, Paris etc., plus three from Lithuania, and three from Iceland.

The themes and theories addressed by the artists are much the same as those that have preoccupied artists in the rest of the Northern hemisphere for a decade or more, but despite their geographic origins, it is curious that specifically ‘Nordic’ aspects are not particularly evident. One reason for this is the close attention to American art and theory in many of the essays, while another is the reliance of writers on a preponderance of Anglo-American sources (though these include French philosophers, for example, in translation).

The familiarity of the issues and arguments and the lack of Nordic nuances renders a good proportion of the writings of doubtful value to a non-Nordic audience, while the interest of the other pieces seems to be in direct proportion to the distance of their authors from the Oslo, Stockholm, Copenhagen urban triangle. For example, Arturas Raila presents unfamiliar details from the recent history of Lithuania, and Margret Bløndal informs us of unfamiliar aspects of Icelandic life. It may be that ‘we are all normal’ now, but some of us still have divergent life experiences.We Are All Normal (And We Want Our Freedom): A Collection of Contemporary Nordic Artists Writings // edited by Katya Sander & Simon Sheikh // London: Black Dog Publishing, 2001 // ISBN 1901033236 // Price, pb, £16.95

Clive Phillpot <clive.phillpot AT> was co-curator of ‘Live in Your Head’, London and Lisbon, 2000 & 2001