What is reflection?


Reflection through practice

From the beginning of my project, I’ve been dealing with an inner struggle regarding finding the right format and motivation for the final reflection. I guess I am not alone here. Probably this is because it differs from what I am used to in my former practice, but this has changed. At least it is in progress. What is reflecting anyway? Is it something that appears separate to your creativity? Or is it embodied within your practice and processes of art-making? 


Instead of imposing a format beforehand or afterwards, I’ve decided to stick to and flesh out the format that naturally occurred during my fieldwork and daily practice. The format of the log or the journal. I am sharing a selection of these moments through a rough log or a professional diary, consisting of field notes, reflections, stories, images, sketches, found objects, presentations, rejected ideas, quotes and so on. It more or less follows a chronological timeline, but I am also commenting on my own notes, quotes and reflections along the way. This creates a shift in time. I like this perspective, that the reflection moves back and forth in between the past, present and the future. To discuss my guidelines, ask questions, to highlight the process, present new insight and to communicate new knowledge.


As an artistic research fellow, we’re constantly reminded at the research seminars that we’re free to choose the format, make a video essay or create a podcast, but for some reason it seems like many of the reflections end up being ‘standardised’ and follow a more traditional theoretical and academic form. I think it’s interesting to discuss why it ends up like this. The background of artistic research in Norway and Scandinavia is still being shaped and carved out. We are all important contributors making this privileged resource a generous and playful platform. What artistic research is and how it should be carried out. I personally think it’s really important that we are able to maintain the creative headspace and artistic freedom within the programme, and keep and develop this ‘open’ format in the reflection. What should it include and what’s the overall purpose? It is up to us, the research fellows, the supervisors and the institutions functioning within the programme to decide.


So how do artists reflect upon their practice and how does this vary from artistic research? I guess there are more than 100 different ways of reflecting about and within your work, still there must be many similar thoughts and experiences. Within the artistic research programme, I still think the notion exists that reflection is a systemised concluding that comes after the artwork is done and not within your artistic process. I would argue that this is only one option among many. For me this only shows the academic framework that the programme is still drawn upon and not really the premises of art, innovation, alternative knowledge and creative production.


How do I reflect through my practice and how am I able to share that insight and knowledge? For example, when I’m out in the field, walking, breathing, thinking, sensing, listening and recording, I experience this deep feeling of belonging, the presence of nature is frightening and overwhelming in many ways, the feeling of wonder and mutual respect creates this deep state of happiness. It is like a drug. I can’t get enough. The way I work out in the field, has many things in common with improvised music and responding to other musicians. Listening and recording is an active act that demands a 110% focus. You need to be totally present. Right from when I am selecting a spot, mounting the microphones, testing the selected input of sound and listening to the different possibilities and combinations of microphones and source at that specific location, I am listening (and talking to myself) and composing. This is reflecting (on the spot). I am reflecting both on a subconscious and conscious level. Call it a sort of live improvisation, if you like. Sometimes when I have decided to visit a specific location, I just know if I do THIS, THAT and THAT, THAT will happen, you may use the traditional folkloristic term ‘magefølelse’, gut feeling, this method and way of working is embodied in me after years of listening, doing, listening again, doing again and so on, other times I choose to do stuff in a more ‘spontaneous’ or ‘intuitive way’, I am searching for the unforeseen, if fortunate this can trigger a chain reaction of which I am not really in control. This can lead to very interesting and surprising results. Like the recording from the Russian Kamchatka Crab fishing boats at Henriksen Kaia in Kirkenes in 2019. The choices, methods and process of how to record will dictate the final artistic product. Of course, it is possible to rework or manipulate the final result. I used to do that more before, when I made experimental music, but in my current process I tend to leave the recordings as close to the ‘original’ take, just adding changes such as EQ, panning, fading, multitrack editing and multichannel mixing, to create the artistic result I sought. At least when it comes to my field recording albums, similar to the Y-album and the one I choose to accompany the book. When it comes to my installations I think a bit different, they are more material-based, site-specific, experimental, conceptual and are built more freely on the acoustic reality where the recording was made.


Reflective listening


In 2018, before applying to be an artistic research fellow at Kunstakademiet, UiT Arctic University of Norway, I was visiting my grandmother’s birthplace in Lyngen outside Tromsø. The property is called Heimtun. Nobody lives there on a permanent basis anymore. The farm serves as a social meeting-place for the family and is also a popular destination for mountaineering tourism, especially during wintertime and the northern lights season. After Covid-19 the place has been pretty quiet, not many tourists have visited, but it still functions as a holiday home for my family.


For me, Heimtun has taught me how to appreciate and love the north again. It’s also been a way to reconnect with my family history and has forced me to deal with my current family relations, both in a good and bad way. When returning to my apartment and family in Oslo, I was longing for a ‘simpler’ life, connecting with nature, the landscape and myself. My partner had seen this ad from UiT The Arctic University about artistic research. I knew very little about it, though I have a few colleagues like Trond Lossius, Ellen Rød, HC Gilje, Geir Tore Holm, Michael Duch, Ivar Grydeland and so on, who have been through the programme. 


After a period of grand hesitations, some creative processes started to grow in me, and I realised that I could actually continue working as an artist, the way I wanted and to develop my current practice as a sound artist. I started to write the application and searched for relevant information and literature online. I realised that there is so much information about sound art, field recordings and listening out there that I didn’t know of, even being part of the sound art field and experimental music scene for several decades. More and more I realise there is not ONE field, but many scenes and initiatives that coexist in a parallel universe, many overlap, some can’t stand each other and some of them are not even aware of each other’s existence. I find this lovely mash up of idealistic underground, historically defined genres (both academic and autodidact) institutional establishments and interdisciplinary practitioners, whose works and agency constantly force you to reflect, renew your perspectives and position yourselves, continuously educating and inspiring. There is so much wonderful and interesting knowledge and so many projects that have already been completed, that should be lifted up and acknowledged, and also so much important work that is ahead of us, that needs to be carried out in the future. 


Putting words into actions

What am I searching for? Absolute answers or more questions, that lead to even more questions? I’m not sure, I think we need both, ambiguity is always a source for innovation. To explain what I am looking for when I record or when I compose, is not an easy task. For me this is a total full-bodied experience, a 3D event that stimulates all senses at the same time. How do you describe that? Is it even possible? Listening for me has qualities similar to an obsession or a passionate hobby, a dedication to something, a deep love that creates a mental embodied experience, that guides your choices, thoughts and ideas and not a fixed methodology. Like the internal collective processes triggered inside musicians when jamming and improvising together. What do you think when you feel that? Why do you play like that when I play like this? It’s not really that easy to put into words. It is possible to try, but there will always be limitations. Ask everyone in the band and you will get different answers. Like walking on a mountain. What a beautiful view. Can you explain why? Words can never justify the experience of an artwork. It can guide you, give you examples, and offer you a wide range of metaphors and philosophical terms and interpretations, but it can never replace the experience of the actual event. This is an important recognition for me as an artist, maybe not as a researcher, not always sure which hat to put on, that there will always be aspects or layers, both within the artistic presentations and creative processes that are not fully revealed or spoken out clearly, and that it is totally fine. That doesn’t mean that it has less value either as artworks nor as artistic research. This is my opinion.


Searching for a method

Starting up as an artistic research fellow meant reconfiguring my mindset and questioning the way I work and the way I articulate my projects and ideas. It means gaining new knowledge, unlearning skills (to learn new skills) and questioning my own working methods and practice. This is how I choose to address my new task(s) as an artistic research fellow in Tromsø. It is somehow not the easiest way (and not unprofessional), but for me it was the only way to be able to challenge myself and to achieve new knowledge and insight within my artistic practice and the sound art field. This differs from a structured systematic scientific method with a cause, method and conclusion methodology. That you have to claim that your findings are of more importance and relevance than others. Who am I to claim that really? I constantly try to challenge and push myself to invest in things I don’t know, the unforeseen, or things I can’t really control, rather than confirming what I already know. Creating these new experimental “rooms” offers an alternative way for me to look at what is productive and counterproductive in my practice and what I can contribute to the field. I also think it is important to allow yourself to doubt, to dwell, to question, to stop, to experiment, to fail, to see what comes out of it. This is not weakness, it demands strength. For me this is one of the key points of significance of artistic research.



As an artist, I often tend to make things more complicated than necessary, there’s a slightly masochistic joy in the detours that lead to new and unexpected (physical and psychological) places. When I first moved up to Tromsø in 2018, I was unsure how to start out and move forward with the project. I could have chosen to just continue the way I have been working for the last fifteen years and just fulfil the programme’s expectations, but I am no ‘nice girl’ and wanted to stretch things a bit further. Not that I didn’t know what to do or how to do it. After more than 20 years of self-taught practice, I know my way, I know what I like, I know what I don’t like, and I know how to get a desired result, but that’s not why we’re doing artistic research. 


My first idea was to put an ad in the local newspaper, Har du hørt?. I wanted to interview people about their relationship to sound. All ages, nationalities and genders. I also wanted to visit a kindergarten, primary school and an old people’s home. I mentioned this to different colleagues, and everyone responded a bit vaguely for some reason. After a couple of months, I decided to skip the idea, there would have been a lot of work transcribing and analysing all the interviews. Probably a lot of very interesting dialogues and meetings, but I felt the method was a bit too scientific and dry, and would also create a lot of transcription and managing, before I would be able to process and work further with the material.


When I look at the other research fellows and their projects, I see all kind of methods and strategies. Should I be very strict, methodical and structured, or should I choose a more open, curious and playful strategy? I guess I can’t really escape my anti-authority and childish punk nature, the old-school skateboarder’s and only child’s urge for freedom and authenticity, so I chose the latter.


I chose to start without any specific strategy or developed idea, to be open and to see what popped up and developed naturally. Very un-academic, but who cares. I got the job! This might sound a bit amateurish, but I see it as a strength. From that empty spot, a new strategy arose, not based on preoccupied ideas and general knowledge. It related strictly to the frame and content of the project that slowly built up and appeared. A dialogue between nothing and something. A fragile framework that slowly becomes more and more solid. In the end it becomes iron. Call it a kind of live improvisation, a way to systematise the algorithms of randomness. This was (and still is) my strategy, even though I developed and stuck to certain methods, areas of interest, techniques, technology, chose a series of material and a concept of selected workflows. 


One of the things I knew right from the start, was that I wanted to stay out in the field as much as possible, to listen, experience, explore, engage, interact with the sound environment and the Norwegian landscape. Why and how was not really clear by then, but I have learned to never lose faith and follow your visions, even if they are vague. It is like walking into thick fog, you cannot really see the path in front of you, but you can see a hint, a contour of a landscape. I wanted to be outside to see how the light and sound shifts and changes the landscape, to observe animals migrating, feel the temperature, smell, taste, collecting (in)significant objects (giving them new stories and meanings), to freeze, to be physical exhausted, to feel alive, to record environmental sounds and to explore acoustic phenomena. 


For me, listening is a way of mapping (reflecting), collecting data, reading and engaging with and within time and space. Being in the nature, being with nature and being nature. Becoming landscape. This is what I have learned. This is what I have become.


During my time in Tromsø, I visited the Heimtun farm numerous times. It’s a place that grounds me, connects me to my ancestors and unites me with nature and the surrounding environment. I guess many people experience this feeling of belonging, when they are out in nature, and I wanted to keep this feeling as long as possible, before returning to the city.


The action of cutting wood, shovelling snow, firing up the sauna, hiking (seeing the seasons changing), feeding and watching the great variety of birds: dvergspett (lesser spotted woodpecker), bjørkemeis (brambling), dompap (bullfinch), granmeis (willow tit), grågås (greylag goose), tjeld (oystercatcher), storspove (Eurasian curlew), havørn (white-tailed eagle) etc., watching the fox passing the house, seeing the elk walking slowly and majestically out on the fields, the ever-changing sky and the ancient mountains. A slightly romantic, lonely and primitive lifestyle. Through my regular visits to Heimtun and several hikes during my position as an artistic research fellow, this methodology has become an important part of my work and has truly changed my practice. I can also already see the shape of some future projects that contain longer trips or field work, in between art and a science, that has more in common with the methodology of a biologist than my earlier practice, which was much more based on performance within the experimental and contemporary music scene.


Back to Heimtun again. Inside the house, I am sitting by the kitchen table, drinking coffee and listening to the news on the radio. I can feel the deep vibrations from the trailers passing by, maybe on their way to Alta with furniture or with fresh groceries to the inhabitants of Kjervøy, it’s a good reminder that everyday life and transport logistics go on as normal, even in a disconnected and rural place like this. Out on the fjord, big boats pass by filled with gravel and sand. I check their names and their routes using the MarineTraffic App. I can see where they come from and where they are heading. I imagine their sailing routes, the different characters onboard, their dialects, their origin, age and gender, the colour of their hair and so on. The captain steering the boat with his or her steady hand, gazing out over the ocean, into an endless horizon, bringing supplies to foreign nations. I like sitting here close by the window, it is my television out here, it is all I need.  Only now and then do people walk by, mostly only cars pass by. They come in sequences, when there is a ferry, Svensby –  Breivikeidet or Lyngseidet – Olderdalen. Once, all the people I saw were one couple with their dog during a whole week’s stay. I did not really miss people or being sociable, I enjoy my own company, it does not stress me. For some people I know it does. I find it interesting that this rural place, distanced from the hectic rush and urban environment, is at the same time, connected to the global market-economy, geopolitics, national and international flow. 


Some of these issues mentioned above raise several important questions in my head. Like, where and how do I want to spend my life? What is my role as an artist and civilian? What will the future look like, 100 years from now? How will the acoustic reality in Northern Norway change in the future. For the better, for the worse? What is belonging? What can art and artistic research contribute in an unstable and uncertain future?


That is reflection for me.