Last month we ventured across to Bergen, Norway, to stay with Tonje Birkeland and continue work on our on-going collaboration (and have a holiday!). Bergen is perfectly placed to experience cosmopolitan Norway in a city full of historic character, go hiking in the mountains directly from your home and visit the windswept, and much more Orcadian, west coast islands. It was wonderful staying with Tonje and connecting with her influences, favourite places and city life. These connect with deep historical meaning and significance, bound up in her childhood stories and family adventures, but at the same time cut with a real contemporary edge. Perhaps it is fitting that she lives in an ultra-modern apartment that has been built directly above an old warehouse that is being renovated as part of the development; the past and the present entwined.
In terms of our collaboration, and apart from the lovely warm sunny weather, our trip to Gullfjellet (a mountain range c.20km to the west of Bergen) was a highlight. This is Tonje’s landscape. Having visited here since she was a young child there is no need for a map; the map is in her head, in the marker cairns, places and family stories that, in her presence, bring this landscape to life. Having walked here with Tonje, we now understand her work and characters on a new level. All of her characters (Luelle, Tuva and Aline) are part of this place.
Taking a lesser used track across the river we ascended up Mjelkehaugen and onto one of the western peaks in the Gullfjellet range; Austefjellet at 808m. We were retracing the footsteps of Luelle, but also Tuva and Aline. Although the characters’ journeys happened in different decades and were played out during different adventures around the world, they are all linked by Gullfjellet. Their paths all intersect in this mountain range.
We were visiting the character photo sites, mapping these places with a GPS, walking with them and learning about their landscape. The most powerful of these sites was that of Luelle, standing on a small rocky outcrop on the steep southern slopes of Austefjellet, looking south-west across to Hausdalshorga – in lush green magnificence – to the sea way beyond. The profile, a rounded form with steep scarp slopes and gullies, is reminiscent of parts of Ward Hill and Cuilags in Hoy, Orkney. This visit to Gullfjellet was in high summer, with birds, distant sheep bells and wildflowers filling the mountains. Luelle has also travelled here in snowy autumn and winter, following the same stone markers along the same paths.