Art house Messen, Ålvik, Norway
Kunstnarhuset Messen, Ålvik, Norge

An Inspirational Residency

Having spent a wonderful 6 weeks at Messen Kunstnarhuset over the previous summer, I was keen to return there for September and October 2015. It is really an inspirational residency. The environment – on the banks of Hardanger fjord – is spectacular. There are wonderful trees and plants and rocks to draw, endless walking possibilities, and at that time of year, a plentiful supply of blueberries to eat as you go. And at least as inspiring as the stunning natural environment is the generous artistic community that thrives at Messen.

The residency exists because of the continuing vision and efforts of a group of artists who are from or have moved to this special part of Norway. As a visiting artist, one has many opportunities for creative exchange – with fellow artists-in-residence, with those artists who live and/or have permanent studios there, and with those who belong to the two artist collectives associated with managing the house and residency.

Links are forged between resident artists and the local community. In late September, the public were invited to presentations/open studio sessions by me and fellow resident artists – Karla Caprali (Brazil/USA) and Kit Kelen (Macao/Australia). Around this time too, at the invitation of Simone Hooymans and Hans Pulles (Messen’s resident artists and caretakers), I enjoyed running a collaborative forest drawing workshop for a group of eight-year old Ålvik children, guiding them in drawing a large collaborative forest picture.

exh11 exh12 exh13

Around a month later, the public were invited to another event. The Messen Autumn Show (October 24-25, 2015) was the initiative of the six of us who were resident in October – Kit Kelen, Kristen Keegan (Canada), Ranveig Lægreid (Norway), George Ridgway (UK) and Dafna Staretz (Israel/Germany). The presentation of paintings, drawings and installation works was accompanied by the performance of poetry, vocal and musical improvisation works. My contribution to the exhibition consisted of two folding books – Scots Pines of Ålvik and the next chapter of the Tree Diary (a work-in-progress begun at ARNA Art and Nature Residency in Harlosa in Sweden during the summer, as well as a number of small ink and watercolour drawings, a drawing installation and two larger watercolour and ink works.

exh1a exh1b exh1c exh2b Exh3 Exh4 exh6  exh9

Planning and presenting this event (which was amazingly well-attended despite the short notice!) was a real pleasure – evidence of the good will, generosity and creativity not just of the current artists-in-residence but of the communities who foster and maintain this fantastic residency.


December 4, 2015
An Inspirational Residency

Truande [looming]

The sea is steely grey and reflective, hard and animated.

The bus carries me out of the town, past the place where I was shown how to pull a trigger and swing a lasso, past the place we moored a boat and attended a small camp-fire party one pleasant evening, past the steps to Kjepso, past the spot where they are building a new tunnel: the machines at peace today because it is Sunday.

A pause in Kvandall to meet the ferry and then it’s off again towards Granvin where the fjord is narrow and the mountain face on the far side is so sheer that there is no road. The trees cling to the mountain and reach up and up towards the sky. They run out of soil before they reach the top where the exposed rock is blanketed only in cloud, not tree. The rain darkens and weighs down upon everything.

As my departure date approaches, the sculptural mid-summer bonfires along the shores grow bigger.

Susan hughes artist (Ireland), Messen, Ålvik, artist residency , Norway

This is a link to Susan´s Norwegian blogs:


rain on the fjord, photo Susan Hughes


I awaken dreaming of home where waves crash white on a beach, dramatic and full of light.

Here, far inland from the open sea, the waves lap.

Today the fjord is calm and the sun shines. The air is sweet and I drink it up in long breaths marvelling at its taste, so clear and sharp it cuts through my body. After much standing and looking I peel off my Doc Marten boots and layers of tights and socks. My soles grip the warmed rock as I scamper across and down to a small pebble shore, one of the few places where the water is accessible. The water in the shallows slips over my feet, cold and fresh. I stand still, breathing. A larger-than-usual flock of seagulls flies over me. I wonder if they are agitated by something.


photo Susan Hughes

I hear a sound, much like the sighs that come from the factory, but from out on the water and not so far away. Porpoise, I guess excitedly as I look over to see sleek black forms breaking the surface coming around the corner of the huge rock which continues the mountainside deep underneath. Up come the fins: one, two, three. Two adults and a calf tucked in close. No, definitely bigger than porpoise. Dolphins? These move slower than dolphins. They breathe again, shooting up a spray indicating a big set of lungs. I am confused. The sound their breath makes in this stillness is larger than anything I have heard from any other creature.

Instantly a memory shoots into my consciousness out of forgotten depths. I am in Knut’s car, driving along the winding roads, though tunnels in rock as he drives us to play in a concert in a small Folkets Hus on up the fjord. I am asking him if he has seen the porpoise. ‘Oh yes’, he says, ‘and the other ones, the whales’. ‘Whales? No!’ I say, incredulous and jealous. ‘Yes’, he replies cooly, ‘these ones with the black and white. I have seen them’.

Jesus, I now think, could these be orca? And there, a head moving a little bit more out of the water to reveal a clean white mark against the black – the marking of an orca. It must be. I cannot believe it.

All through the years, all those hours standing on rocks just like this looking out at the sea hoping, wishing to see a whale; here in the Hardangerfjord, or in Donegal, at home in Down or in Kerry, in England, Spain or on the log-filled beaches of British Columbia, always dreaming, seeing them only ever in my dreams.

And here they are, three at once, passing me by and disappearing.


Susan Hughes from Ireland

Susan wrote a lot about her experience in Norway on her blog:

May 28, 2015
Truande [looming]

Knitting project in Ålvik

Jen Pepper lived for one month in Kunstnarhuset Messen, and started up this project because of her fascination about water and topographic maps.

Pepper: “My project “How to wear a Hardangerfjord” is a collaborative project with three women from Alvik, Astrid Farestveit Selsvold, Camilla Gangal and Merete Salvesen Wallevik.

Much of the motivation behind my artistic projects has to do with translation and how forms are in constant ebb and flow. It’s natural to me to be attracted to water, and as a resident artist at KH Messen that is situated only a few steps from the Hardangerfjord was a perfect inspirational location for me to take up residence for the month of March.

In my art practice I make use of materials that are flexible in nature, often working with metals, rubber, and fibers, etc. My mother was a master knitter, and as a child I marveled at the way she could read knit code like a book, turning a long line of wool into a three dimensional form (a sweater).

As an artist I am also keenly interested in cartography and the process of map making, translations, if you will, of land and especially water bodies that are presented as finite illustrations, but in actuality are constantly shifting and changing. Nothing is ever permanent.

Transforming the shape of the Hardangerfjord into a fluid knit matrix of Norwegian knitting designs, is an additional layer of translation – allowing for a certain knit code to be read and interpreted through yarn which to me is similar to that of the act of seeing, drawing and interpreting the world around us.

My plan is to photograph and video different ways people might “wear the Hardangerfjord” as a performative object, in the location of Alvik; a shawl, a baby blanket, a tent, a cape, a hat, a hammock.  To be “wrapped up” in the Hardangerfjord is my intention of this great waterway that has been, and remains to be, so vital culturally, ecologically and environmentally to the western part of Norway.

Working with the community members of Alvik has been a great treasure, personally and professionally, tethering me to knitting traditions, the people and many cultural histories of Alvik and Norway.”


Hordaland Folkeblad-Pepper-72

Hordaland Folkeblad.pdf

April 10, 2015
Knitting project in Ålvik

Coming into the Fjord

Hello from North Carolina!

Now, deep in January—which I realize may mean something very different in the American South than it does in Norway, or Australia, or in the other far-flung places from which artists and writers have come to Ǻlvik—I’m warmed by thoughts of my August on the fjord. (Does anyone else from the Not-Norwegian world find that their automatic-pilot typing fingers resist typing a “j” right after an “f?”)

Here are a few of the poems that landed on me sitting on the rocks looking out over the water. You know what I mean.

Coming into the Fjord

A seagull yaps like a puppy announcing a new arrival.
Another creaks like a gate too long unopened.
A fly hums by me but doesn’t land.

No midges or mosquitoes, here. No fire-ants
To keep you tense and dodging. A few furred bees, is all,
mumbling on the yellow vetch.

Any biting thing, I brought it with me.
I can send it back. Tonight, I’ll sleep with the window wide
and let the air come in.


The air here is—What can you say of an air that doesn’t bear
The smell of smoke, perfume, or must? Only that it changes.
Steady sameness makes us blind and numb.

Swinging puffs of gentleness cool my skin.
Then pause and let it heat again. The sun.

A person could get sun-burned here.
I think a person wouldn’t care. The wind.

Thanking and Asking

For moments—more than moments, really—for whole minutes of savored mental peace.
For pieces knitting back together.
For finding a gift.
For learning to ask, consciously, and in all directions.
For healing: brain, body, and beyond.
For stories.
For joy.
For union and re-union.
For swilling it around in my mouth to get every bit of the flavor.
For the trail of crumbs.
For eyes to see the crumbs and courage to follow them into the dark woods,
bending under the low branches, bowing to the shadows.
For this channel, this invisible-on-the-surface path through the shallows
between rocks where the surf breaks and boats and bones could break too
if it weren’t for this one deep still safe strand of true water
that may carry me, if I don’t steer stupid and fight the flow.

Writing in the dark, you can’t even see the words you leave behind your self.
You just fling them down. The birds will come and neaten up after you are done.


Let me walk in the sun today
And let the sun speak

Let it speak to my eyes,
To my visual cortex
To my pituitary
To my neurochemistry
To every cell of me
Let the sun speak
And let my cells listen
To that ancient agitation,
Molecular ears trembling
With atomic wonder.

Let my neurons shiver and crack with it
Let my thoughts hatch out
Feathered by the message of the sun.

Staying Afloat

It’s whitewater
this swirl of adrenaline serotonin
PEA cortisol testosterone oxitocin
and the unnamed effluents of factories undiscovered.

and me in this tiny, tossing shell
gripping my paddle
for dear life
for life is dear
and if I go down
if this torrent takes me
down where there is no air
down where there is no breath
where the battering currents
break my tender body on the rocks
or pin it under hungry fallen trees…

…then I come apart

then I am just another stream
hither-and-thither molecules
just bits

no boat

no paddler

no eye.

Donna Glee Williams, RN, MFA, PhD
NCCAT Center Fellow
The North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching


photograph: Hans Pulles


February 12, 2015
Coming into the Fjord

God Jul !

This year, 2014, has been a exciting and dynamic year for Messen. Why? Because we have had special visitors from all over the world! Writers, poets, painters, performancers, photographers, people making beautiful drawings and people doing creative research. We laughed, talked and made lots of new friends. Sometimes the projects and initiative of an artist became a bigger plan, like a publication of the work made in Messen, or an exhibition with all the work made in Messen. We like that ofcourse. But also without a visual result, we are sure that the time in Messen influenced somehow the creative mind.

It was also a dynamic year because the artists of Messen and some of the guest artists gave a serie of workshops to the local schools. That was fun and informative ! And to be continued in 2015.

It is always a bit sad to say goodbye again to someone, who has been a housemate for a while, and even became a friend. But luckily for us, a lot of you return to Messen one day, for a new creative dive into the Hardanger !

So, we hope to see you again in 2015, and we hope to meet you in 2015 !

Merry X-mass


December 16, 2014
God Jul !

Carol Archer: thoughts on the sublime

Carol Archer Profile pictureMaking art at Messen Kunstnarhuset impressed on me the wonders of light, colour and nature in this remarkable part of the world. The sky exerted a magnetic attraction on me and I found myself noting its changing colour throughout the days and nights I spent there, particularly as the days lengthened between mid-June (when I arrived) and the time of the summer solstice.

I loved the sustained twilight and the deep blues of the midsummer night sky.

Day sky Messen midsummer14

Night skyMessenmidsummer14

Although I’ve taught students about Romantic painting for years, it was my stay on Hardanger fjord that really deepened my understanding of the notion of the sublime. Such environments are humbling because of the inescapable knowledge that one’s own efforts – and one’s very being – cannot but be puny and transient by comparison.

During my stay at Messen I was lucky to see an exhibition in nearby Oystese of Norwegian Romantic Painting, including many wonderful works portraying the Hardanger fjord.  It is true, I think, that the sublime environment stirs one’s creative impulses – even if, like me, the portrayal of the grandeur of that environment is not the subject of one’s work. Although I did some studies of the view of the fjord from my studio window and the Folgefonna glacier, my own work at Messen was centred on smaller wonders: the local trees and their leaves and the stones at the nearby fjord beach.

two tree studies Messen 14

Tree studies, watercolour on handmade paper, 22 x 15 cm.

Tree study messen july14

Tree study, oil on handmade paper, 22 x 15 cm.



Plantand stonestudies14 Messen

An Ålvik Tree and Stone Register, ink and watercolour on paper in a Chinese folding book approximately 10 x 25cm in size.

Carol stayed for 2 months in Messen, last summer, together with the artist and writer Kit Kelen.

November 21, 2014
Carol Archer: thoughts on the sublime

Kit Kelen

20140719_172406Christopher (Kit) Kelen is a well known Australian poet, scholar and visual artist, and Professor of English at the University of Macau, where he has taught Creative Writing and Literature for the last fourteen years. Volumes of his poetry have been published in Chinese, Portuguese, Italian, Swedish and Filipino languages. Japanese and Indonesian editions are currently in preparation

Kit Kelen stayed for 2 months in Messen, last summer, together with the artist Carol Archer.


Here are some of his poems and paintings created during his residence in Messen.


Boulders of Ålvik

must each have once tumbled into position
a river of ice ground these pebbles out
toys tall gods have tossed aside

now slugs cross fat with the season of life
and bitumen creeks pass

boulders of Ålvik each mossed to its spot
are alive with the place
snow knows them – and the running stream

they are bracken swept, fern beset
beside steep uphill climb
flowers have said summer over them

it’s here gulls perch to sing a sea
they fish fjord and balance boulders
here in my antipodes

runes in them are deeper than reading

in their few dry moments someone sat
saw turf roofs rise and crooked chimneys
long ships launch, clouds slant

carpet of needles then snow’s quilt
white as winter’s black all night

the lapping’s all below
and there’s more foliage sidling up
or tucking under lichen

once in a while a tree will try one
suggesting soil enough
that’s something like a royal reign

lightning strikes a dynasty
or nations fall and rise
there is a core of knowing though
the ice will come again


tree, rock, cloud and me

trees become rocks
and rocks turn tree
too slow to grow

slugs will be roots
if they look too hard

leaves blow off
a breeze

clouds stand idly
they are the slowest
thing in the sky

and you’ll
find yourself


tre, stein, skyer og meg

(Nynosk translation by Bjørn Otto Walevik)

tre vert stein
og stein vert tre
veks for seint sneglar

vert til røter
viss dei ser for hardt

blad bles av
ein bris

uverksame skyer

tingen på himmelen

og du vil
deg sjølv borte


on such a day

on the day
you hang your bedding out the window
and a towel to dry on top
air the stairs with a wide open door

on such a day
your hear hoses
passing gardens

old folk sit on a bench
to soak a dry wall
make petrichor

with purposeful stride
the one with the rake – leaf warrior
and even that’s painted bright

bicycle goes by with a nod
it’s the age of the helmet yet

on such a day
yes there are clouds
they’re thinking about it

there’s a sun
reluctant to set
afternoon’s evening
and evening goes on all night

it is the day of porpoises passing
not so ostentatious though
one fin at a time
turn by like a wheel

it’s glass
and the kraken
lies deeper than thought

blue tractor gets socks wet
bringing home the boat

oak and birch and aspen
pine and fir and spruce
each of them older than dreaming
still to learn their names

a toilet grows flowers
on the front lawn
a bicycle too

on such a day
one goes hunting for lines
they’re found
and out in the open

there’s mowing the lawn
and addressing one’s flowers

they bare their chests
who whisper engines
and with whom engines speak

moss has a thirst
on such a day
man washes his rock
and after, beer
as prescribed

it is true I’m pursued
by what isn’t a bee
by what I’d call a march fly
and I’d be wrong

on such a day
it’s the idea of dinner
draws indoors

the book hasn’t been written
to hold all one could do
on just such a day

I wonder if anyone can remember
precisely when peace was declared


at Messen

snow stands for true mountains
a midsummer sentry

a smoky man tends barbeque
such are the voices of the picnic garden
a fjord is part of the picture too

gathered like wildflowers
we ourselves are a summer

pick cherries every ripening day

the rain hasn’t come yet
but here we are,
over the rainbow
already planning for after


at Messen
rumble is the road
or thunder
men’s laughter
the factory’s dinner going down
the kraken waking
earth gives a shake
a train but very far
nobody knows what


it’s the gods in everything
like to make us guess
a crow says no, flies off
and everything’s still here

November 21, 2014
Kit Kelen

Workshops til ungdomsskule i Messen

Several Ungdomsskule from Hardanger, were visiting Messen, the last few months. Guest artists and local artists gave workshops to the pupils.

The workshops given until now:

Gökçen Dilek Acay (Turkey) – Soundeffect for film workshop

Nicolas Norris (USA) – drawing with poetry workshop

Hans Pulles (The Netherlands) – Folding 3D form workshop

Ross Donlon (Australia) – Poetry workshop


Busy folding at Hans workshop

Busy folding at Hans workshop


Results folding workshop

At the Poetry workshop of Ross Donlon

At the Poetry workshop of Ross Donlon


Translating the poem into nynorsk

November 14, 2014
Workshops til ungdomsskule i Messen

Living in a hologram

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!

Ross DonlonRoss Donlon-net

September 19, 2014
Living in a hologram

Can we speak with light using our body?

Can we speak with light using our body?
This was a central question I hoped to answer when I arrived at Kunstnarhuset Messen this June.
If light is language, it is always speaking into me.
And what am I saying with it?
Can one understand the sun from a rocky shore?
Can one understand distance through an outstretched arm?


I knew that I would uncover something during my time at Messen, but I could hardly have fathomed the magnitude, beauty and wealth of my discovery. The natural beauty of the region invites meditative contemplation, and the long days helped me develop a stronger appreciation for the subtleties of the constantly shifting present moment. The vertical presence of the craggy mountains and their silent snowy caps were well balanced by the horizontal complexities of the meandering fjord and its shimmering waves. During my time there, these snow caps quietly dissipated into the glittering falls feeding the endless blue fjord. And thus a season moved into my own veins.

With rather limited mobility (the bus only runs about every 2 hours and the nearest coffee shop is about 25 minutes away) I became intimately familiar with my immediate surroundings. I hiked up the mountain over the village several times and was constantly stunned by the vistas. The terrain shifts noticeably when you approach the tree line, moving from woody abundance into a stronger sense of brutality and spareness in the heights. I found myself small and welcome in them. I found myself intensely alone and was grateful.

I came to continue my work on a large cross arts project that explores sunlight, displacement, and devastation. It requires me to move meditatively in the light, and with 18 hour days, I had ample opportunity to discover what the light was speaking into me. In fact, I tried to inundate myself with this long daylight as much as I could. A family member had packed a sleeping mask for me since I have a hard time sleeping in Philadelphia due to the ambient street light coming in through my windows. While at Messen, however, I quickly put that aside and opted to soak myself in the natural light, even moving my mattress to the floor under the window when I slept. I found that within just a few days, I was sleeping incredibly well. Dreamlessly. With blue resilience.


It is hard to describe all the things I discovered and found in Messen. The wonderful artists I met, the quiet beauties I experienced, the long walks filled with the humming chatter of bees. The kindness and welcome, the friends I made.

But most essentially, I experienced a profound peace.

And this has led me to my outstanding discovery–the sun’s light wishes us well. It wants to accomplish life with us.

To speak this daylight in our bodies, we need only assent. To confirm the radiant blue gold distance pouring through ourselves, too.

I stayed at Messen, but Messen now stays in me. It has opened this channel inside me, confirmed in a solar display. I feel it as firmly as the word “home” inside my spine. I hope to return.

May we all find such aerial kindness inside.

Sueyeun Juliette Lee

August 4, 2014
Can we speak with light using our body?