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Amund Ulvestad

Amund Ulvestad

Amund Ulvestad
Image Credit: Anna Rogneby

Amund Ulvestad's new project can now be streamed online on the artist's page.

Dorothea Schlegel Artist in Residence
Research Area 2: "Travelling Matters"

April 2020 – March 2021


RECAST is an artistic research project concerned with the multimodal relationship between text and sound as well as the relationship between the fluid now and recorded time. The artist will specifically examine textual recordings – casts – primarily of early Norse and European stories from oral storytelling traditions, reimagining and restoring them as sound performances, and finally recasting these performances as audio recordings for digital distribution. 

The work will explore acts of interpretation and recreation in a movement away from static text to temporally plastic performance, and then further from performance to the static medium of sound recording. Performance, then, becomes an intermediary state of plasticity between two temporally fixed media. The transitions, the acts related to transitioning and the status of textual semantics, textures and structures as they are moved out of the textual realm, will be the main objects of artistic research. The ongoing work will be accessible through a constantly shifting immersive sound installation at the premises of EXC 2020 (opening autumn 2020). The installation will serve as a conduit into the wide variety of auditive situations and objects, environments and milieus emerging through the artist's exploration and sonification of the different texts.

Amund Ulvestad (b.1982) is a Norwegian multimedia artist, musician and composer based in Oslo and Berlin. He holds an MA in Music Technology from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. Ulvestad has been active as a touring musician since childhood, and has performed throughout Europe, Asia and Central and North America both as a soloist and as a member of various ensembles, employing the cello and sound electronics as his main instruments. Ulvestad is now working mainly within the fields of experimental music, sound art and theatre. He has held exhibitions and performances at institutions like Atelier Nord, Trøndelag Centre for Contemporary Art, Foro Eco, Morelia and KW Institute for Contemporary Art in Berlin, among others. Ulvestad has also scored music and made sound design for theatre productions at, among others, the Croatian National Theatre, The Norwegian Theatre and The Arctic Theatre (Hålogaland Teater), as well as with various independent theatre and dance companies. He is a member of the dance company ULF, theatre company Heløe/Ulvestad and sound choreography group Vingelklang. Since 2015, Ulvestad has given guest lectures at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and at the Norwegian Theatre Academy. He received the Norwegian Government Grant for Artists in 2016 and 2017.

A short interview with Amund Ulvestad about his project at EXC 2020

Amund, can you tell us about your current project, the livestream on your website. What, in a nutshell, is it about? And how does it relate to the idea of "temporal communities"?

(Amund Ulvestad) I’m currently working on six streams, which will be published sequentially over the course of the next few weeks. More might follow later. Some are abstractions and audio-visual translations of literature – specifically material from Norse sagas. But they are very rough, chunky representations of certain structures and characters within these texts; the idea is to take abstraction as far as possible and use the text as a framework for my own storytelling, rather than translating the semantic specifics directly. Through this process, I hope to skip the usual national-romantic framing that these texts are made to suffer, and to create something more vivid and ambivalent. Before their textual recording and subsequent canonisation, these stories were orally transmitted in a fluid, improvisatorial, transnational culture of telling and retelling. I would like to liberate them from their current national-romantic prison, make them fluid again, melt them down and recast them anew, if you will.

Most of the streams will also explore medial, recorded time in different ways. This is something I have been interested in for a long time as an artist and music technologist: The act of recording and playing back is to break the continuous flow of time and space into fragments, and the proliferation of audio-visual recording technology over the last 150 years entails a deep cultural shift away from the linear and historicising nature of text towards a fragmentary, collage-like understanding and experience of the world – what Vilém Flusser would call photographic culture.

In this context, the format of the continuous stream to me is interesting in itself; an ever continuing, self-reorganizing format is a very different experience from a temporally closed work with a set beginning and end. I quite enjoy exploring the contrast between the recorded fragment, which a priori is a temporal closure, and the sense of an ongoing, continuous flow, a stream. The latter will always be a medial construction – something illusory, even magical.

How did the initial idea and the specific process of the livestream come about? What were and still are the most challenging aspects or stages of this work for you?

(Amund Ulvestad) My original project proposal was to use live performance as a way of “melting” textually recorded stories, restore their plasticity to make them more available to my own medium of sound recording and manipulation. I have worked a lot with theatre and contemporary dance over the last few years and I wanted to draw on experiences from these fields in reshaping and repurposing text. Then, of course, Corona made live performance rather difficult, and I shifted my focus towards performance for camera. I must say I find this an interesting format: it’s an in-between form, something between the cinematic and the theatrical. I feel there is a lot of potential in this, and so far I have only scratched the surface.

The main challenge has been to structure my time in a way that propels the projects forward. In a workflow that includes programming, 3D-design, electronic design and circuit building, prop design, carpentry and construction, painting, makeup, musical composition, visual conceptualisation, filming and camera work, audio recording and editing, and of course the eternal joys of production tasks like booking studios, identifying filming locations, renting equipment, etc., etc. – it’s easy to lose track of it all. That said, I consider myself extremely lucky to have been given this opportunity to be hands-on and creative in all these different ways. Somehow the convergence of my residency here at EXC 2020 and the situation with the pandemic has opened up an entirely new, extremely rich workflow which I very much enjoy, even if it is chaotic at times.

Who participates in the livestreams and what exactly is your personal role in all this?

(Amund Ulvestad) It was my plan from the start to work with a diverse set of collaborators. So far I have involved contemporary dancer Ulf Nilseng, who is a veteran in exploring gay identity and experience onstage; the British actress Kate Pendry, whose work, ranging from small-scale, hard-hitting performance art to big-scale slick opera productions, I have always found very interesting; and Yvan Novak, who is a young creative performer from Burundi currently living in Berlin. Eili Johannessen of Norwegian-Sami heritage and Josua Josua, a visual artist from Indonesia, have been assisting me with the camera work and editing. Involving people with minority experience – including the gay/queer experience that I myself share – enriches the work, of course, but perhaps more importantly, it makes me feel more at home in the process.

If research can be fruitfully influenced by art, how would you say that, vice versa, literature and art studies might have influenced your work?

(Amund Ulvestad) To put it bluntly, I do not believe in a clear distinction between academic and artistic work. It is built on romantic notions of the intuitively creative artist and the pedantic, structure-oriented academic, archetypes which I find rather silly. Artistic work is, of course, always informed by culture and the intellectual, theoretical framework in which it is situated. Conversely, academic work is also always creative and, in many ways, intuitive and improvisational. In dealing with concretisations of the abstract, I think academics and artists have much in common. I’m hugely enjoying my conversations with other cluster members, learning more about the conceptual trajectories that are being developed and explored within the EXC 2020, and I would have to be deaf, dumb and blind not to be influenced by the richness of a project such as this one.

(Interview from 6 October 2020)