‘Bokstavelig Kunst’ Interview

Kunst December 2012

Published: December 2012
Media: Magasinet KUNST, Norway

In December, KUNST published a long interview with Magne in connection with ‘Bouquet’ and his 50th birthday. The interview can be read in Norwegian online here, and the folks at Fineart.no are willing to send out back issues upon request.

Below is a translation of the article by Tiffany Dahlgren.

Bokstavelig Kunst

The last time that I met Magne Furuholmen, he was into aluminum and card houses. Now he has wrapped up the so called Aalto building in the center of Asker with anagrams. What is Magne Furuholmen’s artistry all about really?

Four men in mirror mosaic suits, antlers on their heads and gas masks, who make music they don’t like and go by the artist name Apparatjik.

A sail for Kjell Inge Rokke’s (Norwegian millionnaire) boat. A sealed sculpture with thoughts from teenagers in 2012, addressed to the future. Clay jars as tall as a man with English words mixed up like letters in Alphabet Soup. Letters and forms painted on bloody sheets from surgery and emergency rooms at the Riks Hospital. A card house made out of recycled aluminum in front of the Peace Center and a room clothed with protective aluminum foil over snow and ice with the titles CLIMAX and ANTICLIMAX. Pictures of letters and fragmented texts. Doll versions of Magne Furuholmen, portraits of him as others see him or want to see him, in a room with Furuholmen’s voice on hundreds of soundtracks in the installation “MANGE (“Many”) Furuholmens Discussing Art With Himselves”. And the more well-known projects: TV2 channel’s show “The Voice”, a job as manager and a life as a recording artist with 2 solo albums and a pop career in a-ha. How can someone describe Furuholmen’s landscape? Let’s just go right back to the beginning: a vulnerable line picture and a lead suitcase filled with memories.

Magne–“I have promised myself and my family not to make so much in the next few years, but I almost don’t know if I can keep that promise! I get a lot of energy from working, there is something manic about it. My wife thinks I’m a typical extroverted person. Maybe that’s why I sleep better with the TV on in hotel rooms…?”

Magne Furuholmen has allowed KUNST magazine to enter the most holy: the studio at the old Trafo station in Asker. A model of Kjell Inge Rokke’s sail catches the eye: CODE ONE. The photographer gets some rules. Around us, everyting is ready and packed for Furuholmen’s big jubilee exhibit that opens November 3 in the rooms under us in connection with his 50th birthday, November 1. Here is his artist life in boxes and drawers, from his debut project and graphic folder with 10 pictures, “VULNERABILITY” in 1994 to his latest exhibit “ECHO” with paintings on bloody sheets in 2011 at the gallery Stolper + Friends, where he is co-owner. It’s been a long time ago since I hung up a-ha posters over my bed and Barbie house, and danced to “Take on Me” under the discolights at the disco every Thursday. Somewhere on the road from leather wristbands to a Moods of Norway jacket, Furuholmen changed from a commercial popstar to an artist who sets his own rules.

Magne–“In 1989 I made my first graphic magazine for the debut exhibit with Arve Opsahl in Stavanger, it was very figurative.”

Magne digs around and finds a suprisingly Edvard Munch inspired, squished in figure with a monumental shape where the head lies in darkness and he continues…

Magne–“The the VULNERABILITY and IKARUS series came, that remind me more of a kind of cartoon or fable. The pictures at this time functioned mostly as a diary or journal. When I look back, it’s clear that I was more of a drawing artist than a painter. And that’s one of the reasons why I have chosen to work a lot with graphic techniques.”

He shows us a picture of a vulnerable line that almost seems to vibrate.
I am fascinated by it and ask “When did the text come? And is it text with meaning or text as a form, a shape that interests you?”

Magne–“I have challenged text both as architecture and shape, but it started with meaning. In the wood cut series “KUTT” in 1995, I used personal memories from my father’s plane crash as a starting point. He was a jazz musician and every picture in “KUTT” reflects jazz song titles from a handwritten list I found in his destroyed trumpet case. Every title is cut up and changed into form and color. Language is also a form of music!”

He darts around the boxes and a decorated ceramic vase full of cigarette butts. Nearby, Furuholmen’s porcelain dish set “Love Hearts” with simple, handpainted statements that appear as the food is eaten. A card house is still keeping its balance high up on a shelf. Tools lay in order according to size on the countertop. There is organization in the chaos. We hop on over to a new part of Magne’s life.


The woodcuts, that give associations to music compositions, were printed in brave color combinations and bold colors in “ERASING MEMORY”. In 1995, Furuholmen received the “Autumn Exhibit Award” for the wood cut “TRAVELER” and the same year he made “FLAG for BURMA”. The following year, his portfolio “EVERYTHING HAPPENS TO ME” came out: 5 woodcuts, a poem written by Henning Kramer Dahl and 4 CD’s with music by the jazz legend Chet Baker. The pictures were made while Furuholmen constantly played Chet Baker in order to see if music could be carried over or transformed into graphic art. Two years later, came “BLUE NOTE BOULEVARD”, an artist book with original wood cuts. The book was kind of a journey through jazz history from 1939-1969. Magne tells us that he quickly got the label “colorist” with these pictures, something that triggered his next project: “PAYNE’S GRAY” in 2004.

Magne–“Then and there I didn’t see the fine red line running through my art, but afterwards, now, I see the long journey. Everything I do is fruits of small
discoveries along the way. Small things can have enormous consequences.”

In “PAYNE’S GRAY”, Furuholmen tore down the dividing wall between his visual art and music career. He experimented with that blue-gray color in all its colors and hues and tones, a color that many believe was discovered by the 1800’s painter William Payne. And he used his own texts running in spirals with fragmented text and as single letters. In 2005 “RUINS” came out, as a follow-up to this graphic painting series. And again, Furuholmen changed expression; from gray to earth tones in the series “MONOLOGUES”. As a kind of final conclusion to the “PAYNE’S GRAY” project as a “cemetery for purpose” but also as a start of something new. In the vinyls, he cut up all the vocal files from a-ha’s album “Foot of the Mountain” to single words and organized them alphabetically and made new sentences.


Since the early 1990’s, Magne has experimented with glass and clay. The jars, with his own designed shape, have also become a part of his signature trademark. He shows us one of them with the letters both etched in like handwriting and also printed into the clay with forms.

Magne–“Originally my idea with the jars was to make 3D paintings. But I also wanted to challenge the art of portraits. Many of the jars are portraits, where I use a person’s name and play with the letters in new English words like in alphabet soup or the game “Scrabble”. I like to call it a personal alphabet. All of us have a close relationship to the letters in our names and we recognize them quickly, even though they are divided up and made into other words. We have an inner need to understand and search after meaning as soon as there are letters involoved. I like fragmented phrases that are open and challenge what is rational. Besides, you have to move all around the jar to see it in its entirety!”

Such a thought process fits Magne. He seldom stands in the same place for more that a minute and he is always moving the whole time around and between vases and boxes. We follow after him.

Magne–“To others, it might seem that I spread myself too thin as an artist, but *I* don’t think I do! I see the entirety, the whole, better from many angles. I learn by moving and seeing different perspectives…also in projects. But of course I respect artists who focus on 1 thing their whole life, Like Jan Groth for example.


He stops in front of the last paintings on bloody sheets that he has painted with the color “sanguine”, which is latin for “blood red”. Each painting measures 85×200 centimeters, the measurements of a standard hospital bed. The painting series has gotten the title “ECHO” and “FUTURA PLUS” and refers to the life within hospitals, but also to the drama that has played out on these sheets.

Magne–“I have collected hotel sheets for a long time to print on them. I take care of things I find…I remember as a child, I once dragged home some dead crows. My grandfather taught me to do this. He always stopped on the highway to pick up empty bottles.”

He goes over to some long, metal plates with the words “Do Not Forget”. Recently he was doing the project “TIME CAPSULE” in light of what happened July 22 (the Oslo terrorist bombings/shootings). In 2031, his sculpture that contains thoughts from teenagers in 20 high schools will be opened. The letters are stored in metal boxes and sealed inside Furuholmen’s sculpture in the foyer of the Riks Archives.

Magne–“I get energy from young people who get involved with things and from projects that can continue on without me.”

Suddenly he crosses the floor again and goes over to a lead box case. And again, we quickly go from the end to the beginning. The box case is the work “TRAVELLER”, from 1989, the work that never ended. He lifts off the very heavy lid and shows us the contents: old photos from his father’s accident. Documents.

Magne–“Suddenly the circle is closed. This is a thread from youth and back again to this memory box that has followed me the whole way! I see it now.”


“Do you go back and forth now between music and art?”

Magne–“I did it for a while, but not anymore. Like with Apparatjik, we all know pop music’s language but we decided to make music that no one knew anything about–that no one even liked! It became a mixture of Donna Summer and the Clash, a kind of combat disco. Apparatjik goes around everything: it’s actually neither an art project nor a band. It’s both playful and serious, often without any special connection. We work together with everything from Moods of Norway to quantum physics at MIT– Max Tegmark sent us chapters from a new book he wrote, and we made music from the text, exactly as it was written. Why not?”


Magne finds a catalog and shows pictures of Apparatjik in mirror mosaic suits, antlers and gas masks at the New National Gallery in Berlin. Here there is humor, dada and electric cars made into a disco mirror ball.

Magne–“I have always been curious about new technology and environmental projects….Morten Harket and I were actually the first ones who paid for the first electric car in Norway–a gift for Bellona. Another cooperative partner in Berlin was the Deutsche Bank (German Bank). Apparatjik made edible money for the bank’s opening in the new building in Frankfurt, and we encouraged people to eat the money instead of shopping for food–cut out the middleman! The German Bank is of course just as guilty as other banks,like all the rest of us are,–but they have at least enough faith in the future to reduce water consumption by 90% in this new building. You can say that Apparatjik makes pop music without following the rules.”

“Except for the commercial part?”

Magne–“That’s what I call the rules. I won’t let myself be caught by my own hard work, talents and skills. It’s fun to build sand castles, but even more fun to trample on them. Not one day has gone by where I have been bored at work! It’s about freedom from expectation. All the phrases we express creates an expectation about the next phrase. I consider then and there what I will do. If something runs the risk of becoming too routine, I get very restless!”

“But this building in Asker, is Christo in your head here?”

Magne–“I worked as an assistant at the Henie Onstad Art Center when I was 15 years old and I got to meet Yoko Ono and Christo. I didn’t understand so much about them then, but the experiences are a part of me and what I do. You can’t wrap up a building without referring to Christo. But I see this project as more of a 3D painting. I wanted to show the building’s architectural starting point. When the covering is taken down, I hope people will miss it. And maybe, when they pass by the building in 10 years, this whole stunt will help them to see the building–in a different way.”

“To become aware of their daily surroundings?”

Magne–“Yes, Situation conditioned understanding and insight. Think about music–during love’s heartache even the most banal pop songs can suddenly become more meaningful.”

We quickly change the scene with the last stop being outside the Aalto building in the center of Asker. On the way over, our photographer says, “This is going to be too long…”

Magne laughs and says “Do what I did then, when I sent out the latest press message: I wrote a text about everything I found worthy of critique in Norwegian art, cut it up into many small pieces, and then glued them randomly together and sent it out. No journalists came!”

He then lets us take a photo of him in front of the letter covered building.

Magne–“Before I start working, I make some driving rules. In this project, I chose to only use letters in the words “KUNST RETT VEST” (Art right west) The color palette I limited to the colors of Dutch tulip flowers. Such rules and laws can seem liberating.

If you stand in front of a canvas and you are going to paint something, then you quickly have all of art history at your back and all the colors in the world on your palette. The choices are so many…to stay with one letter or choose one color is enough to set off a lot of activity inside me. Or else, it quickly becomes a kind of ….paralyzation.”

Says Magne Furuholmen. From a little detail the most complex projects spring out. And a simple, vulnerable line is the sprout of big card houses and wrapped up buildings.


(pg. 12) KUTT was one of Furuholmen’s first wood cut series with titles from his father’s jazz notes. His father died in a plane crash in 1969.

TEGNEREN–“The Drawing Artist”
Maybe one can say that Magne Furuholmen’s artistry is anchored in the series VULNERABILITY and ICARUS from 1994, that show the life
cycle from birth to death.

(pg. 13) Apparatjik was formed in 2008. They work with everything from music to visual art, to fashion and design to sceience, somewhere
between art and pop culture.

(pg. 13-14) ECHO is painted on bloody sheets. In the series FUTURA PLUS, each painting measures 85×200 cm–the standard size of a
hospital bed.

in 2003, Furuholmen made this 5 meter high jar with a 150 meter long blue ceramic line towards the sea. From loudspeakers in the ground,
you can hear music from a dark trumpet played by Nils Petter Molvaer. The sound comes and goes in a random pattern and gives the
impression of ships passing by.

From 2007, is a sculpture that was ordered from the Nobel Center in Oslo for Al Gore’s visit when he won the Peace Prize. The house of cards is
made from recycled aluminum and shows a house about to collapse.

(pg. 15) Aalto Building
This Fall, Furuholmen wrapped in the so called Aalto building in Asker in mesh and titled it “Bouquet”. The colors are from Dutch tulips and the
anagrams are from the letters “KUNST RETT VEST”

From 2004, marks the transition from colors to a narrow, limited palette with Furuholmen’s own text.

In 2002, Furuholmen was invited to decorate a Christmas tree at the Oslo S train station. He decided to use his entire allotted budget of
14,000 kroner to decorate the tree and made origami decorations from kroner bills. As soon as the press reported that the money was real,
the tree was stripped and robbed overnight. The work was complete and the concept led to the performance “My life as a Media Slut” in the
underground magazine “Hot Rod”. Furuholmen dressed in drag, and the photos were taken in an Oslo hotel known for its prostitution
activities. The magazine offered to buy an unlimited amount of 1,000 kroner bills signed by Furuholmen and sold for double the amount. This
stunt upset and provoked the Central Norwegian Bank, saying that the artist could not increase the value of the Norwegian krone with his
signature. Furuholmen answered back with “MUNCH LANDSCAPE”. He glued 18 1,000 Norwegian kroner bills on a canvas with a portrait
of Edvard Munch, who is pictured on the 1,000 kroner bill, and he priced the picture at 15,000 kroner— 3,000 kroner less than the actual
value of the picture. The picture also contained instructions on how you could get the kroner bills loose off the canvas.