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Art 35.5 Hours a Week

About this film

The front security door opens and the first visitors enter the National Gallery in Oslo. Another day at the gallery begins. But while this is another day of leisure for local visitors or foreign tourists, several coming from far away to see the classics, it is another day of work for the security guards who surveil the precious paintings the National Gallery is home to. Artist-filmmakers Mariken Kramer and Eli Eines, both alumni of the Trondheim Academy of Fine Art, focus in their documentary on the behind-the-scenes at the National Gallery, singling out those people who spent the most time with the paintings in front of them. In careful long takes, Kramer and Eines evoke the required slow look at a gallery, all the while speaking to the guards in order to learn about their work, but most importantly about their relationship to art. In the background of the directors’ frames, viewers speed through the different rooms only to take a picture of a famous painting; a beautiful contrast that forces us to think about our relationship to art, our willingness to take time for what surrounds us, and our appreciation of it.

Nadin Mai (tao films)

Interview with the Director
Your documentary is a contemplative observation of the, if you will, behind-the-scenes life of the National Gallery in Oslo. You single out the work of security guards which I find original because I always wonder what they think when at work! I reckon my first question is comprised of two parts: First, what has led you to make Art 35.5 Hours A Week, and, second, why have you single out security guards rather than gallery visitors?

In addition to our own artistic practice we have both, for several years, been working as educators for school and kindergarten groups at the National Gallery. In that connection we got to know many of the security guards as colleagues. In conversations with them we were intrigued by their thoughts about the artworks on display, visitors and the building itself. This inspired us to make a film about them. Amongst all the employees at the National Gallery, they are the ones that spend the most time in direct contact with the artworks. But, although they are seen as a homogenous group in uniform and not considered as connoisseurs, they do reflect on and have opinions about what surrounds them at work. We wanted to give them a voice. In addition we were interested in capturing the slow tempo of their working day. As opposed to the museum visitor, the guards have a fixed frame of 35.5 hours a week in the museum, while visitors can come and go at any time. We found this an interesting perspective.

I would like to know more about how you approached the filming process. Was there a script, for example, or did you rely on improvisation? How did you approach the sections that contain interviews with the guards?

The film had no script. Although we had a set of questions that we asked each guard, we had to rely on a certain amount of improvisation and patience. Things had to develop on their own, which at some points was frustrating because we didn’t quite know what direction the film was taking. When we found the four guards that agreed to participate we also had to find a way to balance their voices. Each guard was interviewed on their own, for one to two hours. But we had to cut out 90% because of the way they answered questions or the length of their responses. We wanted a poetic film where the imagery could speak for itself and reflect the tempo of the workday of the guards. We spent hours in the museum over a period of a year, following the guards and, like nature photographers, waiting to capture the right moments. Initially we planned a longer film, but in the editing process we discovered that we had to remove more and more to get the right atmosphere and intensity.

On the surface, your film is about the work of security guards, but some interview responses from them hint at a deeper level, I believe. I’m thinking in particular of the argument that people often only come to the gallery to take pictures of the artworks on display without really taking their time to look at them.

This is an interesting question which opens up for a broader discussion of what the function and meaning of art is, and for whom art is for. Hallvard’s reflections on art reveal that he feels that the artworks are more than just tourist attractions to tick off on your list. His relationship to many of the works, are almost existential. But to what extent can we expect this of the general visitor? Does the art in the museum move people at all? We hope that art can open up for reflection and deeper meaning and that the museum as an institution creates an atmosphere that promotes this. In this sense Mona’s take on the artworks she talks about helps demystify the works of art as untouchable objects through her critical observations and scrutiny of the masters.

The national gallery, as we see it in the film, is closing, so Art 35.5 Hours A Week functions as a sort of memory keeper, a document about how the gallery used to be, albeit this isn’t overtly at the forefront in your documentary. It simmers under the surface of your images. I wonder what moved you to create a record of the National Gallery, specifically, to set your investigation in this particular institute?

Over the years we have developed a close relationship to the National Gallery. We have become intimately familiar with the exhibition halls; we know all the different colours of the walls and the textures of the floor where we sit with groups of children discussing the art surrounding us. For us it was important to let the camera dwell in these different rooms, linger and take time. In 2020 the new National Museum in Oslo will open and the National Gallery as it functions today will no longer be. The future of the building is in the hands of politicians and there has been a great controversy as to the future use of it. For many the building symbolises the making of Norway as an independent state. Norway is a young nation, after hundreds of years under Danish and Swedish rule we got our independence in 1905. In an art historical context, none of our great artists emerged before the middle of the 19th century and they were all educated abroad. So the National Gallery had an important role as a cultural nation builder and one of the markers of Norwegian identity. In one way our film is also homage to the building as a place for art, both historically and politically. But Norway as a nation is not what it was 200 years ago, and Norwegian identity is always in flux. We are not in favour of conserving the sentiments of national romanticism, but we sincerely hope that the building will remain a platform for art.

You have both studied at the art academy in Trondheim and have been active as professional artists. How did you find you way into the arts and what form of art are you personally involved in? I believe it is static art?

Eli & Mariken: Even though we both are educated at the same Art Academy, “Art 35.5 Hours a Week” is our first collaborative work. Previously we have only worked together on art educational projects and courses.

Eli: My way into art was an existential one. Since I was young, I have struggled to understand things around me, myself and others. In art, I found a language through which to understand the world. Art offers not only a room to express oneself in, but also to meet other people and their world views. At the same time, I have always liked to make things. I have worked in a variety of media: painting, drawing, sculpture, textile, performance and, of course, film. I choose whatever medium is best suited to convey what I want to say.

Mariken: Since my years at the Art Academy, my work has to a large extent, been camera based, even though I, like Eli, have worked across the boundaries of different media. But I guess my way into art initially was through painting. Before applying for the Art Academy, I studied Social Anthropology at the University of Oslo and after my degree I took a year off at an art school. It was an eye opener for me, a point of no return. One of the teachers there had a huge impact on me in my choice of continuing with art. But I carried with me my “anthropological” interest in us as humans, which has been an underlying force in all my work. Working with video as a method intrigued me at quite an early stage.

In my writing on contemplative films, I have often noted the link between the films and static arts. I’d like to ask you what your take on this is, because you work in both fields.

For us as visual artists, in our work, there is no distinction between what you call static art and what we perhaps would refer to as moving image works. There is, of course, a distinction between the so-called “film world” and the “art world”, even though there are overlaps, with artist and filmmakers moving across these borders. We have both worked within different media and combined different elements where video and film have had an integral role. But perhaps the biggest difference between our earlier individual video works and “Art 35.5 Hours a Week” is that this film follows a more traditional formula within documentary film. Whereas our earlier video works are more related to performance, sculpture and installations. There is a difference in screening a film in a cinema and showing moving images works in a gallery space. In a gallery space the viewer has a more physical approach to the work than in a cinema where you are more “locked” in space and time. Here streaming on VoD platforms becomes a third possibility.

What can we expect from you next? Is there another collaboration project in the making?

We will be exhibiting in Gothenburg, Sweden, this fall and are currently working on something new for that. Otherwise Mariken is working on an artist book about time and memory that will be launched later this autumn and Eli is working on an embroidery project related to architecture.

Thank you very much for this interview.