When I first came to Messen in Spring, 2011 I wasn’t sure what I would find.
I wondered if I would find anything. Was it a hoax, a scam, the fjord pictures photo-shopped? A hologram? Would there be nothing but a mocking face on a wall? Fooled you!
And I had come a long way to be fooled, as far as Ålvik is from Castlemaine, Victoria, Australia , a long way.
But there instead at the bus stop waiting to meet me was caretaker, Hans – and soon after I met his wife, Simone and little boy, Merlijn. Not long after that there was a friendly host of Dutch artist – settlers living in Hardanger and a little later Ingunn and Els the co-ordinators and the warm-hearted Norwegian artists from Hardingpuls, the local artists’ group. The current artist-residents and later newcomers followed.
Now, in 2014, I am here for the third time, again for three months and again I am finding Messen a most pleasant and inspiring place to work as a writer.
There have been changes in the four years, the most notable structural change being that Messen is now owned by Kunstnarhuset Messen foundation, whereas before it was privately owned and up for sale. It says something about Norway and Kvam that the state thought this concept of an international artists’ house in a Hardangerfjord factory town worth supporting.
Why do I enjoy being here so much? I sometimes tell friends it’s like a luxury resort without the luxury resort. What you do have are wonderful views over the fjord and up the hillsides that make for uplifting walks – and places to swim when the weather allows. You also have a quiet and stimulating place to work as an artist – large light-filled studios if you’re a visual artist, quiet, comfy writing studios if that’s your craft. Bedrooms are comfy simple – the kitchen is roomy.
Add to this mix a coming and going of artists from around the world, the chatting and sharing in an otherwise self-catering , washing and cleaning residency. As an added bonus, caretakers Simone and Hans, are the warmest and supportive of hosts (soon friends) and artists themselves, who will offer to include you in family celebrations, a drive to a nearby place of interest and more. Director Ingunn van Etten and the Board of Messen are watchful foundations of the concept.
Personally, I have made firm friends from the artists whose lives I’ve shared and professionally (while that word sits less comfortably) I have written good poems here, one winning an international poetry prize – Midsummer Night – set in Alvik of course and written ekphrastic poems drawn from artists’ work which have been later published in Australia in fine journals. With time to read, walk, chat and reflect, it’s an ideal place for this poet.
I like to think that I can continue coming so long as they’ll have me – and the tolls don’t get me first!