Everything Is Alive

Johan Christian Dahl, Shipwreck on the Norwegian Coast, 1830



The project is a performative investigation into human history and how humans understand nature around them and inside their bodies. The research focuses on works by 19th century painters and sculptors in different museum collections around the world. Each investigation will lead to a performative lecture that will be staged in front of the work in the museum. In the performances the artist(s) will use texts, sound, theatre lights and objects to highlight different qualities in the painting. The goal is to reflect on our current social and political situation in the world is connected to history locally and globally. What can we learn from history and what ideas, ideals and processes have we inherited from romanticism?

The project takes its starting point in romanticism because of its double relationship to nature. In romantic art there is both a deep fascination as well as alienation in face of the natural landscape. Artists at the time were crushed by how the ideals of the French Revolution had failed how the ensuing Napoleonic Wars had wreaked havoc and created senseless carnage among military and civilians alike. Disappointed, artists turned their gaze towards nature. The project aims to create a better understanding about how 19th century ideals have shaped contemporary western understanding of nature and how it can be rethought by introducing ideas from non-western cultures. There is in other words a profound will to embrace the local cultures’ understanding of the world and how these can be used to challenge western thinking.

The project was born in early 2019 in Mexico City during collective workshops at the choreography school CICO. Together Vision Forum’s workshop leaders and students undertook investigations based on romantic paintings. The workshops were much loved and it was clear that the format has much more to give. Therefore, in 2019-20 Vision Forum will visit major museums in Sweden, Finland, Norway, France and Brazil with the project. It will look into how most romantic artists were interested in the emerging national identity that was spreading across the globe at the time. The project investigates how these cultures have evolved since the early 19th century. Many of the artists were landscape painters and profoundly interested in and fascinated by nature (e.g. Caspar David Friedrich).

The project shares this interest with them. But our interest lies in connecting the “outside” nature with the nature that is inside our bodies. What happens if we can break down the boundaries between subject and object? What happens everything is alive and is part of interconnected processes? We are interested in how our understanding of ourselves in the world (in “nature”) influences our understanding of ourselves. On this journey we are inspired by Eduardo Viveiro de Castro’s multi-perspectivism; Benjamin Lee Whorf’s linguistic perspectivism and Polly O. Walker’s work on performance and conflict.

The project allows us to investigate the historical roots of the work that we do and to get a better understanding of how today’s society has evolved from the ideas of the enlightenment and romanticism – that romantic artists were part in shaping. In the art of the time (but also philosophy and politics) there was a will to change the world and therefore a will to make very large claims. It is important to compare these ambitions with those that artists express today.

Looking at different painter’s and sculptor’s work in different museums around the world as well as developing a performances based on their work constitutes a way to stimulate cross-cultural interest in history and to promote the importance of historicising art, politics and social movements in a time coloured by populist politics. Public presentations are planned in Norway, Brazil, Sweden and France. A preview performance


Everything is Alive is supported by Nordic Culture Point and The Swedish Arts Council.