I was so pleased to attend the unveiling of artist Julia Vance’s sculptural installation WE – ME in front of the Oslo Sentralstasjon/Central train station the other day. The journey of the sculpture which was made and exhibited in Italy, has been much slower than anticipated since it was stuck in Customs because it did not match their official description of a sculpture. To my astonishment, I read in the Norwegian National newspaper Aftenposten, how art – especially sculpture – is defined by Customs. Their description is both antique and extremely vague; A sculpture must be made by the artist, and not by any other craftsman nor assistants. It must be carved, cast or molded hence not welded. If the sculpture does not comply the artist will need to pay a full VAT to import it into Norway. The outrage and numerous comments have been entertaining to read, and packed with suggestions, plus full listings of famous sculptures that do not fill their definition, see: Public Commission stuck in customs/Offentlig-bestillingsverk-star-fast-i-tollen. The amount of press coverage probably made it unavoidable for Customs not to release the sculpture to Julia Vance just in time for her scheduled unveiling, without paying VAT and an import fee, but for unneccesary storage while it was “evaluated”. An expense that really should be refundable, in my opinion.
Julia Vance was one of fourteen artists that applied to take part in an art project run by Oslo Council to temporarily show art in prominent places scattered around the city. The square outside the central train station is where the sculpture WE – ME will be until Christmas. At the unveiling she talked about the concept behind the sculpture, how easy it is to turn the word “me” upside down to make “we”, just as easily as one individual can join a group and become part of a “we”. There is a big wheel on the side of the sculpture, making it into an installation, that can be turned so that the word and the meaning is changed. The wheels will only open for use every Thursday from 16.00 to 17.00 until Christmas, otherwise closed, since they are heavy to turn, and ever so tempting for children and adults alike to test out.
I found this captivating description of Julia Vance in the introduction to her catalogue by John B. Hightower, Former Executive Director, New York State Council on the Arts, Former Director, Museum of Modern Art, New York City: “The skill and touch of the sculptor can transform any number of materials into awakening shapes and forms that lure light and shadow across varied surfaces. JuliaVance’s sculpture adds another distinctive flair by transforming traditional calligraphy, normally considered a two dimensional presentation of letter shapes, into blocks and forms more familiar to Isamu Noguchi and Jean Arp. Her sculptural fascination with calligraphy is the result of a decade and more of perfecting this exquisite ancient art form on surfaces of paper, wood and glass.” Read the continuation and see more of her work on her website: Julia Vance.
The bottom two photos are taken by my husband. Here is another informative and enjoyable article from Aftenposten, on Customs’ definition of art with the headline: “Customs: This is not Art”; Aftenposten.