Research Fellow Jesper Alvær (2013 — 2016)
Oslo National Academy of the Arts / Fine Art
Norwegian Artistic Research Programm

1st. Witness – approx. 30 min

Exhibition Mother, Dear Mother / Anonymous Focus Group, Oslo 2014
(Participant experience)



S: First speaker (male)
S2: Second speaker (female)
S3: Third speaker (male)
S4: Fourth speaker (female)
S5: Fourth speaker (male, British)

S: It was in December 2013, I think. There was an advert in the newspaper, they were going to … I don’t really remember the text in the advert, but there was something about, it was a question about who are when, when we experience exhibitions, or something like that. There was some kind of information about (?? 0:52) focus group, and then you should does send an email if you were interested, and there was not very much information, but I wondered what it was, and I sent this email, and then I get information about when and where I should meet, and all this lack of information from the beginning has, in some way, been some kind of motivating factor, because we have always wondered what the results will be, and what will happen next time we meet. We are not really sure what will happen, but that also has been some kind of … and I was very curious, so it hadn’t been, it had not been negative – it had been more a motivating thing.

S2: How many were you?

S: At the first meeting, because then we met at (?? 2:27), and then we were, I suppose, 20 or 30 or something, and then it had been two meetings. It was one meeting another day, and I think there were as many as we, but then, a lot of them were only on this first meeting, just to see what it was, and then there was one more meeting at … then we met at (?? 3:01) next time, and then also, I don’t know how many groups we were, that meet, but after some, more meetings, we were about six, I think, at least we are five or six now in the group I’m in, and some, maybe some more in the beginning, but we are five or six now. Also, I haven’t been, there have been periods where I couldn’t participate so much, as always, so it has been … but at the first meeting after this introduction on (?? 3:55), we get informed of Jesper’s exhibition, also at (?? 4:04), and all the members of the group was at that exhibition, and some of the members of the group were there several times, and also on some courses at (?? 4:25). I only saw the exhibition sometimes. I was not there on some courses, or something, but in the exhibition, this advert that had been in the newspaper, where also a part of the exhibition, where they seek this anonymous group, and this anonymity …

S3: (?? 5:04) in the newspaper?

S: No, I saw it in (?? 5:06), but it was some … I think it was that, but I think it was in some, several newspapers.

S2: What do you talk about, when you …

S: On this first time?

S2: Or altogether?

S: Well, we have been talking, after this exhibition, we talk about the exhibition, and also when, and how we participate in the exhibition, and what we expected before, and this kind of thing. He had been, so I understand from this exhibition, he had been a member of several political parties, where before the election, the year before, and used this experience in the exhibition, and I’m also a member of a political party, so it was, some interesting … I’m the only one! (he laughs) Well, I have been a member of two, but not at the same time … yes, but that was very, in the beginning, all this, and then we became more a smaller group, and the same people that met all the time, so it was more … then we also felt more responsible, that because, if one of us went there, we, would this be a better group? But this, we did not have a very, this anonymity was not very important for us, so Jesper did not … I think he would like that we were a bit more anonymous than maybe we were, but he didn’t stress it. I also knew one of the members from before.

S2: That would be my question – what kind of, how would you describe the members of the group?

S: What kind of … ?

S2: How would you describe the members of that group?

S: I don’t know the members of the group, so some kind of anonymous … we know our names, but I don’t know so much about …

S2: But if you look at like how, I don’t know, of your age?

S: There are four women and two men, and I think the youngest is late twenties, I suppose, and then the oldest may be about 60, and I think all the members have some kind of experience, or working with art on some level, maybe not all, but almost, so they have at least some kind of special interest in more than one way, but I think it’s very different, because I think someone has this very, more, do it more for curiosity than for anything else.

S4: And the oldest member of your group?

S: I think she is about 60 years old, and three of the members have moved out of Oslo recently, so that’s a bit strange. Two had moved out of Norway, and one had moved to Bergen, in a group of six, but I don’t think it has anything to do with (?? 10:45)! (he laughs) But then there were some new meetings at (?? 10:51), where I was, a period where I was not participating, in the autumn of 2014, I think, and then there were, they had, there was this critical reflection, where the team from (?? 11:14) meetings, and they were also going to have, write an article in (?? 11:24), is a journal …

S3: Is is the group, writing the article?

S: No, Jesper, but with statements from the group, but this article, because (?? 11:48) has stopped the magazine, or (?? 11:54) for that magazine, so it was not … but they had used, it was useful for the group to have these conversations anyway, but I was not so participating in that period, so I can’t say so much more about that. But then there was this exhibition in Prague, and I understand that someone is going to speak about that tomorrow, but I was also on that exhibition.

S3: You helped at Prague?

S: Yes. I think all the members of the group were there, on different, not at the same time, and then after the exhibition, we met at Jesper’s home, and then he had a camera, and he wanted to film where we talked about our experience with the exhibition, but it was, one member of the group that didn’t want to be filmed, so he turned the camera so that only the sound came, and we have been, this was the first, I think, he recorded from us, but then after we had, not for a so long time ago, we had an interview where he also recorded, and this, in the exhibition there also have been recorded, because we had, listening to, during both the exhibition in Oslo, and then in Prague, there were recorded elements that we listened to.

S3: But what, as a group, all the people together in Prague?

S: No.

S3: It was the only difference?

S: Yes, but that was, because we could go when we had time, in the exhibition term, so I met one of the group members on the day, because I came the day she left, but that was, it was not planned.

S3: (?? 14:32)

S: And then we had more meetings at (?? 14:39), and there were some practical tasks. We had this lump of clay, and that was one of the tasks we did, and I think … we formed it into …

S4: (?? 15:16)?

S: Yes, and we had some statements. I don’t remember what it was, but then we should form it, what we thought about, and then afterwards people guessed what they think the different shapes were, and people, a lot of members of the group had thought very differently about this, and after this, it was a pretty long period when we did not meet, and we criticised a bit, because we needed to meet a bit often, so that we could … because we had, before this, we had met quite often, then we met again, and then, after this, we had this long interview when we met him separately at (?? 16:38), and then, it was not really an interview, because he asked, he wanted us to tell about our whole life, I think, from the beginning – or no, he didn’t set any … he just wanted us to tell about our life, and I think we should talk in, I didn’t remember the time, but then we just talked, and he recorded, and he did not interrupt. I suppose the other members of the group had done the same, but I don’t know, but that was the task I was given. That was, I think, just before the summer, this year, this interview, and I’m here now, so …

S5: What kept you coming back? It’s been two-and-a-half years, what kept you – because it’s like a focus group without a focus in a way, what kept you going to it?

S: Well, because I think most, it’s some kind of curiosity for what will the result be, and what will happen, and also because these meetings have been interesting when we have met, and it’s also because, when we were fewer, then you felt more of a responsibility for the group.
S2: What is your professional (?? 18:36)

S: I work in the county (?? 18:45), so I’m a civil servant.

S2: What section?

S: Well, now I work with, in politics right now, with politics. I’m not a politician, where I work at least, but it’s all kind of, it’s a political office, but I’m on the other side of the table. I’m not a politician, but I have worked with, I ran a small art, sales place for art, but only one year, but that was, this year happened in this focus group period.

S3: And you say something about, more the processes, you thought about it before, the critical moment, or a critique, what was really sure of a critic?

S: No, it was more that he asked us what, because if we wanted to hold many meetings, and the progress and so on, and then it was more that we needed to have some progress, because we are not working with it. We are just participating sometimes, and then we felt that we needed to meet with not so many months between the meetings.

S2: They wanted more meetings? – that is what I understood?

S: (he laughs) Yes. No, it was just in one period.

S4: How would you describe the purpose of that meeting (? 21:19)? – if you had to explain it?

S: I suppose we can, have been some kind of reference group, that we could …

S2: But for yourself?

S: I haven’t reflected on my own, how I am when I’m going to exhibitions, and what I know from before, and what my, everything I mean before I go to an exhibition, and how that makes me react on what I will see. I haven’t reflected more on that, because of this project, than I did before, and it has been interesting to talk with other members of the group.

S2: (?? 22:27)

S: Er … I don’t know, I can’t … I don’t remember anything right now.

S2: But I would like to learn a little bit more, understand a little bit more, what you mean by interesting? There could be so many levels of something being interesting, like there could be sexual attraction, and that would be interesting.

S: No, it was …

S2: People could talk about their private lives.

S: No, it’s more, because we have experienced a lot of the same things, we go the same exhibitions, but not at the same time, and then it has been interesting to hear that other people have experienced something else.

S2: How long would one thing be?

S: No, it has been one hour or two hours usually, yes, and we have, I think also a lot of the … because we don’t know if it’s … it can be a group that is doing the same things that we do, because we don’t know what happened to all the people, the first introduction meeting.

S2: And you’re not curious to find out?

S: Yes.

S2: You are?

S: Yes.

S2: But Jesper won’t tell you?

S: No! (he laughs)

S2: Did you try to ask him?

S: No, I haven’t asked directly about it, because, well, I know it’s a lot of things going on, that we don’t know about.

S4: Why do you think he chose you as (?? 24:49)? – and not one of the many others?

S: I don’t know. It can be that there was no-one other, had the possibility tonight, or yes, I know one other member could, so I don’t know.

S4: And you have no idea, you don’t ask yourself why?

S: Eerm, no, no I haven’t asked about that.

S4: No guesses, no assumptions?

S: No, because we have … no, it can be almost that he selected, I had the possibility tonight. Maybe the other members couldn’t.

S5: Do you think we would have got a different picture of the group, if one of the others had come? Do you think they would have painted a very different, had a very different experience?

S: Eerm, yes, I suppose … yes, because we are pretty different, and often when we have done the same thing, we have a different perspective, so I suppose one of the other members would have described it differently, and we also, we remember things differently, what has happened in these years.

S3: Was the meeting a kind of, you were feeling any expectation, it is the first (?? 26:53), the second … also change also the meeting, the pre-justified, post-justified thinking about the art field?

S: I don’t, well, I didn’t have many expectations, because all from the beginning, it was very, we didn’t know what we were a part of necessarily, and so I didn’t have so many expectations. It was more curiosity, but I think it has changed how I … your other question was …

S3: And you were thinking, to take part in an art (?? 28:00).

S: Yes, because … yes.

S3: And is it the imaginary, something that you think it’s art, or you get, (?? 28:07), or what you think about it?

S: I think I see more as art than I did before maybe.

S2: You understand (?? 28:25)?

S: I think maybe I see more as art, than I maybe did before, or at least I reflect more over it maybe, than before.

S3: You would say it was a learning process also?

S: Yes.

S4: I have (?? 29:02) what kind of conversation you had?

S: It was very, sometimes …

S2: What kind of conversations were you having?

S: Well sometimes it was just because of something, after this exhibition, we had a conversation about the exhibitions, but in the other meeting, that we had tasks like this play, and there were also some, there were other kind of similar tasks. I don’t remember right now.

S2: (?? 29:56)

S: Well, we never called ourselves a focus group, because it was called an anonymous group, and also when we get the email, it says anonymous group, so focus group is not, we haven’t used focus group. If I should explain what I’m part of for anyone else, I would say it was a focus group, but it’s not very easy to explain for anyone else to …

S4: The discussion of the exhibition was a kind of (?? 30:42), you discuss about other things? I think you discuss about the exhibition, it was like, not long afterwards, you have to (?? 30:53) – do you understand what I mean?

S: No.

S4: You’re always leaning yourself to the exhibition, (?? 31:02) trigger to discuss other things?

S: Yes, we talked more in general. We talked about the exhibition, but then we also talked about why we, or more in general if we experienced one exhibition in some way, then we also talked about why we do that, and why we, more in general, but then about exhibitions, so other exhibitions than that one we had been seeing.

S4: (?? 31:53) to the exhibition, but I wanted to know, did you experience the schedule of some tasks in the same way as a lump of clay, so that it felt that it had been received, the task to discuss the exhibition? – like, gather you here together (?? 32:13)?

S: It did not felt like a task in the same way. It was more, a normal conversation that we could have had without … it would be natural for two people that had experienced the same exhibitions, to talk about.

S4: Do you think you would have continued with that group, once Jesper has gone?

S: No, I don’t know, because we don’t have any contact, when we are not in that group.

S4: Do you think Jesper’s a great artist?

S: Yes! (he laughs) Yes, I think …

S4: Do you think he’s an interesting, a good artist?

S: Yes, absolutely, yes.

S4: What makes him (?? 33:06) interest? – or is it more the personality?

S5: We can switch the recording off, if you like!

S: (he laughs)

S4: (?? 33:18) to be the beginning of a long series of (?? 33:25)

S3: (?? 33:27) and at least be the voice for us.

S2: I can ask much more (?? 33:38).

S: It’s hard to explain.

S2: Would you try for me? – because I’m a bit clueless, I have to make an assessment, so I need your help.

S: Well, I don’t know how I can … I experienced this exhibition, I think it was January or February or something, in 2014, but I was so, he had some exhibition that had this theme for some years ago.

S3: Like (?? 34:27).

S: Yes, so … I don’t know how I can explain why I found them interesting. It’s very … it’s art, and politics. It’s a mix that’s a bit strange, and a bit … nice (? 35:24), and it’s a lot of things that I have experienced in this exhibition, that I didn’t, I don’t catch it there and then, so you have to wonder about it, and try to catch it, or just live it, the curiosity.

S2: I still have (?? 35:57) some artists, it seems to, is he always present when you meet? – like, is he present when you’re in the focus group meeting?

S: Yes.

S2: Is he facilitating the group, or is he just joining it? Does he engage in conversation, or is he more of an observer?

S: That has changed from time to time actually. Usually, he’s not, he’s more a facilitator than a participant.

S2: So he facilitates the session? – like he, for example, says like, I brought you some clay, and now you are doing this exercise?

S: Yes, or he more asks if we want to do this exercise, yes.

S2: He’s the one who convenes the (?? 37:07)

S: But we have had more open meetings, where at least we have felt that it wasn’t, that he didn’t have a plan, but maybe he did anyway, but where he more facilitated.

S2: (?? 37:45) no kind of relation established (?? 37:54)?

S: No, I know one other member of the group.

S2: You met him in the group?

S: No, I met …

S2: Before?

S: Yes.

S2: So the one you will see.

S: Yes, but we are not friends, or we are working in the same building, so we see each other sometimes.

S2: So you have not seen (?? 38:19) other than them?

S: I don’t, I haven’t met the other members, and three of them have moved out of Oslo recently.

S2: (?? 38:40)

S: Yes, we meet altogether all the time.

S4: But not outside of the meeting?

S: Oh, no – not outside, no.

S4: Were you allowed to, or was that like … ?

S: Yeah. No, it was not forbidden, and this, we were never told that we must be anonymous, but he said that we could, we didn’t need to tell names.

S4: And you didn’t?

S: Yes.

S4: You didn’t tell your names?

S: Yes, we told our names.

S4: (?? 39:24)

S: But in the start, there were some members that really wanted to be …

S4: To be anonymous?

S: Yes, but that was in the first meeting, and maybe one or two after.

S4: Where you have a larger group?

S: Yes, and I think one of them, we had, in maybe one more meeting after that.

S4: How many meetings in total?

S: I haven’t been to all the meetings, so I’m not sure. I think it’s … maybe 20 meetings, 20 altogether maybe.

S4: And 20 meetings, you did not have (?? 40:29) No, I’m surprised, because (?? 40:37)

S: (he laughs)

S2: (?? 40:44) He could pretend that (?? 40:47) you could be 50 times, nobody would develop a relationship.

S3: (?? 40:51) in the recordings?

S: Yes.

S3: In the meeting, and then the same question is, did you read, hear again the recording? What kind of difference was it, if you record it and if you hear it again, read it again? – it’s another area, and also what is really, recording use in exhibitions?

S: We recorded the conversation after the Prague exhibition, but we never heard it …

S3: Again?

S: No.

S3: You never heard it again?

S: No, and we recorded this last interview, but we haven’t heard that, and we also wrote a text about reflection, that he collected.

S2: What about Jesper’s account of the meeting, like do you, did you get the feeling that he is accountable for the whole process, or did you sometimes feel like being in a strange, being material in a strange experiment?

S: No.

S2: Did you feel that he was somebody, can be held accountable for the whole thing?

S: Yes, I feel that, yes.

S2: You feel safe?

S: Yes, very safe, and when we had all the information, we also had known that we shall not have all the information. The whole project is a bit …

S4: So that was transparent, the in transparency was probably there.

S: Yes.

S2: I have to say, I feel a little bit awkward, and I wonder if I should make, conclude a judgement from that about how Jesper works, because he just turned on the recording device, and is now asking me, for example, whether that would be okay for me, and I feel that it has a huge impact on my conversation with you, and so I feel manipulated in this situation now. I have no idea what is going to happen with this recording, if he will use my voice in any other context?

S: But I can turn it off.

S2: Yeah, yeah, no – I’m just thinking now, and I’m becoming active now. What I mean is, like a way of how this meeting has been conducted, needed my own agency at the very late moment of time, to interrupt this, which I won’t do, because I give a shit! – but just, because I’m trying to make my mind up about how this way of working is, and I don’t like that. I don’t like that the recording was turned on, and I’m not asking him, but whether that is okay or not, especially in the present times. Everybody thinks they can take data, images, voices, from everybody, (?? 44:08), which it is not. It’s personal.

S4: You say he was going to record, not ask if it was okay? – but saying you were going to record?

S3: (?? 44:20) if you close this, it will record it, (?? 44:24).

S4: I know.

S: I’m not sure that you are recording, because …

S3: No, (?? 44:35), I want to say, for me it was like very demonstrative, like this.

S4: But maybe I am moving myself in different environments.

S3: And I’ve found, with this kind of idea of witness, that this is also part of a project, and it was kind of, how to build the audience, how to involve people, and how this collection collectively, we are, and like the different levels.

S2: I totally agree, but I still want to know what you were thinking about it, and whether you can relate that to the way, the whole project, this anonymous group, has been set up?

S: But we have never been, when the recording, we have been asked if we are okay with it, and then also there were this time, when it was someone that didn’t want, she wasn’t recorded.

S4: Did they not (?? 45:44) to Jesper? You said they had no, any relation to the rest of the group. However, the artist, you think (?? 45:54)?

S: No, it’s the same as the group, I think.

S4: (?? 45:58) that you would like to, to see again, to discuss, not friendship, (?? 46:05).

S: No, we don’t meet outside the group.

S2: I worked with, in a similar manner, (?? 46:20) between human relations, I don’t want. It’s not the reason why I do it.

S: No, but of course, it’s more acting, all the members of the group have a stronger relation with Jesper than the other members of the group.

S2: Some have a more … ?

S: Yes, because we have all talked with him more than maybe all together.

S4: I am (?? 46:49) that you just said that all the members had a stronger relation to Jesper, than (?? 46:55).

S2: Yeah, that was what I was asking.

S: Yes, yes.

S2: But you say you don’t have a relationship with Jesper? – that’s what I was asking, if you have a relation to the artist?

S: No.

S2: To Jesper? – I mean, Jesper being the artist?

S: Yes, I understand.

S2: You don’t?

S: No.

S4: That’s still a little bit different from the relation between the others?

S: Yes.

S3: What was the difference between the exhibition in Oslo, and the different exhibition in Prague, was it for you?

S: Well, in Prague, then we were like a strong part of the exhibition. We had to be a part of it, and it was … we were alone, and when we went through the …

S3: The exhibition?

S: Yes, so I think that’s the biggest difference. We were needed to … because if we didn’t, went into the exhibition, the exhibition wouldn’t be fulfilled, because it was me that made a lot of the exhibition.

S2: Maybe you say this (?? 48:20), away from here, what is your main occupation, to part of this?

S: No, I think it’s all from the beginning, it has been curiosity, because when I saw the advert, I didn’t know really what this was, and that had been, in the whole progress, we haven’t always known really what it will become.

S2: Are you paid for this?

S: No.

S2: (?? 49:04)

S: No, I haven’t been paid – yes, for the travel, yes. That’s the main, yes.

S4: And obviously it’s inspiring to have conversations about the next (?? 49:28) with other people?

S: Yes, and with people that maybe I wouldn’t … yes.

S2: And curiosity about what?

S: Well, first of all, curiosity about the whole project, and what it will lead to.

S2: Very scary, not to meet people?

S: No, I meet people outside, and it’s not a social group.

S2: (?? 50:08)

S: No, not in, first of all …

S2: (?? 50:07) curious like, what kind of people have we go there? Actually, I will meet some interesting characters, I mean, not that you want to make friends, but as you say, (?? 50:18) people over here, that we will talk about.

S: The main interest was that I wondered what this actually was, and then I didn’t know if I just didn’t, to go to a meeting, and then nothing more, but then it’s …

S2: It kept your interest?

S: Yes.

S4: And you were selling, when you were still running that space, before you went into politics? Is it very different from that kind of art?

S: Yes, it’s very traditional, pictures on the wall mostly, yes.

S4: Do other members of the group also have a (?? 51:00) affiliation to the arts?

S: One of the members had, she worked with a character in the municipality, that she worked in. She has some kind of art history, or something in her education, but she’s not an artist, no.

S4: But do you think that everybody in that group has done, like a high level of formal education? – a formal education, like did everybody go to university, or has an A level, or is it very different? What did you guess?

S: I don’t think it’s a very high level of education in that group. I’m not … I think some of them are under education now also.

S4: They are at university?

S: Yeah, I think so, but also, the more grown-up members of the group are studying.

S2: What are they studying?

S: I’m not sure. I think that the youngest members of the group are working in a bank, yes.

S2: So I would just like to ask, I can’t stay much longer, (?? 53:12).

S5: I very much appreciate your time.

S2: Do you have any questions to ask?

S: Sorry?

S2: Do you have questions to ask? – you want to ask us?

S: No, I don’t think so. I think with the exhibition in Prague, I think it will be more information about tomorrow.