Interview with Artist and Gentle Activist Eva Bakkeslett

About Eva

Eva Bakkeslett is an artist, filmmaker, curator and cultural activist exploring the potential for social change through gentle actions and subtle mindshifts. Through her work she mediates relationships between humans, nature and culture as a living organism. Fermentation as a process and metaphor is central to her work and is often communicated in the form of socially engaged and inclusive projects. She frequently collaborates with others across disciplines. Her practice often combines film, participatory events and workshops where she creates spaces and experiences that challenge our thinking and unravel new narratives. In her work she explores ways of reconnecting to our senses, to non-human life and to ancient and deeply rooted knowledge. Eva believes that the abstract, elusive, poetic, aesthetic and imaginary power of art is vital to this reconnection.

Eva shows, lectures and performs her work worldwide and her films have been screened in numerous film festivals and art events. As a curator, she has focused on the connection between art and ecology through Gentle Actions at Kunstnernes Hus, Oslo, in 2010, the Repair program at gallery ROM, Oslo in 2016-17 and in her most recent project The Conference of the Birds 2018-23. Eva has an MA in Art & Ecology from Dartington College of Art in England, and lives on Engeløya in North Norway. There she has created an Artist Residency program and a guest studio as a platform for aesthetic collaborations and enquiry founded in ecological and interconnected thinking and working.

The Interview

Natasha: Eva, thank you for being here. Can you tell me first a little bit about your work you're doing?

Eva: My work is about reconnecting people to a place where nature and culture hasn't got boundaries anymore. It's a place where we are connected to everything living and and sense those connections in all kinds of weird ways. I like to work with magic in that sense, and I work in lots of different mediums, so for example I will make workshop based events where I ferment with people. I work with chosen microbes that I bring with me and connect the people to the microbes, so I become a bridge between what the microbes, the teachers and the people. Sometimes it's more concrete, things like making something together and in the process of making, the conversations we have, and the themes or the scopes that I bring into it, trigger ideas and thoughts about what we're doing and the using of hands and where we're at at the moment and our connection to the land or the air. And sometimes I make films and the films are also about reconnecting. For instance, I made a film about breath and breathing and how breathing connects us to everything and how we seem to have forgotten the most basic of daily actions that keep us alive and that connects us with everything around us. We just see it as a mechanical action of the body. I do so many different things it is very difficult to pin down.

Natasha: It's not easy to put in a nutshell is it your work?

Eva: It's very, very hard.

Natasha: Sounds like in a way the underlying theme is the interconnection, and bringing those nodes of connection together. Obviously your work connects the land, and the hidden landscapes of the land like the breath and the microbes, but do you feel like you're also connecting inter-generationally?

Eva: Well, yes, because I feel that a lot of this knowledge is intergenerational. Actually, I'm bringing the knowledge that is still present within an older generation or within Indigenous population and I'm bringing that up to the surface, especially for children or people who have no knowledge of those things. And I also feel I create an intercultural experience. As in bringing something from one part of culture or into another part of culture, or from science to art, or from one sphere to another like microbiology to art. So I suppose I'm a reconnecter.

Natasha: I love that thread of bringing the knowledge from the older generation to the younger generation or cross culturally from across different cultures and being that node between them.

Eva: Sometimes when I describe my work, I describe it a bit like archaeology because I dig into things. I dig and find a path through. For instance, the meaning of a word. Then that word can lead me into a way of thinking that used to be part of a culture at one time. And then I look into that and I bring that into my work. So it's like digging into something that is present, but it's hidden. That can be hidden in lots of different ways, in layers of our underworld, so to speak.

Natasha: That's interesting. I'm curious about how you bring those messages to young people, and how you feel that's received. What is that encounter like for you with young people?

Eva: Well, I do feel that there's a lot of young people who are searching for other ways. They are searching for different ways of of knowledge and different ways of understanding the times that we're living in, but they're not quite sure what it is that is going to reconnect them to the earth. A lot of younger people, especially the sort that come my way, are people who have realized that we have been disconnected from some vital knowledge about the earth. And not just knowledge from the head, but knowledge from our hands and our bodies. It's about embodying ourself back into this earth again. They are trying to find ways of doing it and because of that, I often get approached by my young students when I'm teaching in art colleges or doing a workshop, who want to come and learn because they feel that colleges are often not giving enough space for this sort of knowledge and this way of practicing art.

Natasha: It's interesting that sense of young people having kind of an inkling that they're needing something different, but also not really knowing how to fill that void and it's like you meet them in that moment.

Eva: And it's also about navigating. I feel like it's because in the system that we've been brought up in, through schooling and through the society at large, we are taught a particular way of navigating. It's a linear way of thinking. That leads us into nothingness or to getting lost, really. So we have to find other ways of of navigating and other ways of coming to knowing and other ways of experiencing and other ways of making. And I feel that's what's happening with the younger generation. I think there's a lot of lost souls that are lost too, but the ones that have an inkling of something else, they start doing walkabouts. And I want to try and find ways of digging deeper and feeling and sensing with them.

Natasha: I really love that sense of everyone kind of gathering together behind this knowledge and taking it in. Do you have a sense of the legacy that you're leaving with your work? I hesitate to make you put it into a nutshell again, but can you tell me what it is that in your heart of hearts you want to leave for that generation?

Eva: Well, not just for that generation, but for anybody who has come to the state where they are ready to receive that. I wouldn't call it lessons but they're triggers, trigger points perhaps to other ways of thinking and more earth connected ways of being. Even though there's lots of young ones at the moment who are ripe for that kind of knowledge, I underline the fact that it isn't necessarily younger people. There are also people in other generations who come across the work and who resonate with it, because somehow it makes them feel like something they've been thinking about or working with for a long time suddenly makes sense. Or things that they've had to bury for a long time suddenly is surfacing again. So I feel it's not just important for the younger generation. I hope for my work to touch people of all generations, including children. It's really exciting when children get excited about the work.

It is a little bit like a a missile. I imagine it having a long shot of speed, but being tiny, so that it hits somebody but it isn't directly explosive. It's the idea of gentle action. It hits your heart in an almost invisible and unfeelable way. And then, after a while, it starts opening up some space in there and suddenly you start seeing in a different way.

I am reading Merlin Sheldrake's book Entangled Life at the moment, and he was referring to this moment where he was speaking to the magician David Abram about these things. He describes it so well. David Abram was doing his sleight of hand magician things. People were saying that after they've been to his sessions, they start seeing things differently, that the light was brighter, the pavement was shinier, and they felt transformed by this experience. There is no scientific explanation for that. But the probable or possible explanation is that being touched by something that is more than the ordinary, being touched by magic, in a sense, that it makes you open up to other possibilities and really to otherness. Because we're so locked in a cage of knowledge of what is possible and not possible, we need that magic to touch us, to get us out there and to see things and do things differently. I really hope that my work has that effect. When I get that sort of response from people, when they write to me and say that it's had that effect on them, I feel I'm doing a good thing.

Natasha: Eva I'm going to leave it there, because that is the most magical, amazing description of gentle activism ever. So thank you very much. That was really a magical tour of your work.

Written by Natasha Rivett-Carnac

Natasha Rivett-Carnac is an American writer based in Devon in the UK. She writes about the environment, arts & culture, and education. Her blog supports women at the intersection of their creative work and motherhood. Read her blog here.

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