Imagining Northern Norway: Visual configurations of the North in the art of Kaare Espolin Johnson and Bjarne Holst.
The formative processes of collective identity and belonging inspired Benedict Anderson to write his ground-breaking Imagined Communities (1983). His emphasis on imagination and sodality in these processes also resonates in contemporary artistic presentations of life in northern Norway. A rereading of Anderson’s thesis in relation to the arts in northern Norway, in particular the visual arts, may offer some new insights, both into the blind spots of Anderson’s analyses, and into the ways in which people of the North have recently imagined themselves. This article is the first to relate the art of Bjarne Holst (1944–1993) and Kaare Espolin Johnson (1907–1994) to Anderson’s theories of imagined communities. These reflections are also among the very first to focus in depth on Holst’s art, and to conduct a critical analysis of these artists’ work. The two artists complement and contrast each other in subject matter and in their idiosyncratic stylistics of scraping to light from soot (Espolin) and colourful anthropomorph-icing.