In 1944 a nineteen-year-old young man with a heart disease writes a four-verse poem describing how he feels about his situation. In 1966 he dies from this hole in his heart. By then he had a one-year-old daughter. That daughter is me. I don’t remember my dad. The hole in his heart became a hole in my self.
By transferring his words to fabric, I have traced his hand in an attempt to get close to someone I would have loved to have known, a hand I would have loved to have had ruffled my hair. I have tried to read the movement of his hand. The way the ink has been placed on the paper tells me this. Where his hand paused or he pressed emphatically down, the writing becomes thick and dark. Where his hand guided the pen swiftly and lightly across the sheet of paper, the line is thin. At times he guided the pen so quickly that the ink didn’t have time to seep into the paper. The technique of embroidery is so slow that I had time to dwell on each word my dad wrote. It is evident that the poem was written by a youth. He stood on the threshold to adult life with a handicap most of us do not have to experience. My encounter with my dad’s poem became an encounter with the sense of darkness that a young person with a physical handicap may experience. When my dad was going through these emotions in 1944, Norway was occupied and the Second World War was raging in Europe. I wish I could have told him that in his future he would travel, get an education, find a job, meet a woman who loved him, buy an apartment, experience sex, and have children. Because my dad’s life story unfolded the way it did, the embroidered poem conveys a sense of hope. It is a story of how a personal darkness is not necessarily the end.
Nevertheless, the fact that my dad passed so early in my life has been a loss to me. In a poem about a pair of striped pyjamas I express how I have felt being fatherless. As one of the bereaved I try to keep hold of and expand what I have inherited from my father. I have materialized the stripes. In the project room at Møre og Romsdal Kunstsenter I want to build a wall based on the pyjamas’ colour pattern. I’ve searched for my dad everywhere: in other people’s stories about him, in the places he had been, in things he owned, in his photo albums. The exhibition includes five photographs my father took. The pictures bear testimony to a time long gone, to a time and place where physical strength was vital for rebuilding the nation. This spring I was told by the cardiologist Terje Skjærpe that my dad’s journal was probably in the National Hospital’s archives. I contacted them, and a few days later I stood at home with a large envelope in my hand. Inside I found several of my dad’s ECGs. Imagine if I could have pressed my ear against his chest and listened. I forwarded the ECGs to the composer Maja Ratkje and asked her to do the following: Play my dad’s heart to me so I can hear it. Maja used the ECGs to compose a piece for a solo violinist. The violinist Ingvild Habbestad then made a recording of it, which will be played for the first time at the installation in Molde.
By sharing this story from my private life, I want to give others with similar experiences a space where they can reflect. The exhibition takes its place in my oeuvre as a story of the individual’s inviolate worth and irreplaceability.
A Hole in the Heart was initially shown at Tenthaus in Oslo. The installation will be adapted to the project room at Møre og Romsdal Kunstsenter and supplemented by the commissioned piece Play My Dad’s Heart to Me So I Can Hear It.
I would like to thank Regionale prosjektmidler, Arts Council Norway and Fritt Ord for their support to this project.
(Translated by Stig Oppedal)