RANDI NYGAARD LIUM
Randi Nygaard Lium held her first solo exhibition in Denmark in 2006, in the room called “Stensalen”
at The Danish Museum of Design in Copenhagen. However, this was not the first time she
had exhibited in Denmark, as through her education at the Jyske Academy of Fine Art in Århus she
had become part of the Danish textile artists’ circle. Since moving back to Norway in 1986, she has
maintained her connections with the Danish circle.
Tapestry weaver Randi Nygaard Lium belongs, I dare to say, to the happy generation of women who grew up at a time when there was a tradition of producing textiles, and her generation
may have been the last generation for many years to come. During her upbringing she learnt
how to sew and embroider, knit, and crochet from women in the nearby surroundings, as was
completely normal for young girls at the time. Following her first attempts to manage the tools
and materials used to sew or knit doll cloths, she later embroidered presents to be given to elderly
female family members, and as a teenager she sewed her own clothes. She experienced the joy
of experimenting with combinations of different materials, and getting to know colors and trying
out her own color combinations, first by copying a motif and then by varying and perhaps inventing
her own patterns. Today, it can be difficult for young women to understand the richness to be
found in a bag of knitting yarn of many different colors, and the possibilities of drawing inspiration
from a basket filled with embroidery yarn in all colors of the rainbow.
Many children experience the joy of testing their own creative strength through play and
knowledge, and it can be identity-building for them to take part in and further develop traditions
that date back many hundreds of years.
For many young women, the experimental stage stops when they become youths. Yet
for some, it becomes a lifelong love that they never lose. And for a very few, who are gifted with talent, have a good deal of stubbornness, and are motivated to develop and try out new methods
and materials, it can become a job.
In the industrialized western European world of textiles, crafts are connected to women
and the home. Historically, there have been two aspects to the connection. On the one hand,
crafts have been a matter of necessity, but on the other hand working with textiles has been an
opportunity for many women to play freely with yarn, techniques, and ornamentation. Even in
cases where domestic textiles have been produced for use, their production has often been about
creating an impression and observing how expressive and beautiful textiles have been created out
of the possibilities and materials to hand.
However, although the production of textiles after industrialization was no longer as
time-consuming and hence less expensive, at the same time highly specialized knowledge was
no longer sought after. As a consequence, the production of textiles was left to women, either to
women and girls in the upper classes as a way to pass time, or in the lower levels of society, as a
way to acquire and repair fabrics. Furthermore, although textiles had earlier ranked high as statusgiving
among house owners, the value and status of textiles had later declined.
Textiles have had a prominent place in Norwegian folk art for a number of centuries. At
the end of the 19th century, when many movements in Europe (among them the craft movements)
attempted to reawaken interest in earlier handicraft traditions that many considered had
been lost during the period of industrialization, textile art was experiencing a revival and craft
schools became the carriers of folk handicraft traditions.
The applied art movement participated in creating a new type of craftsman—the art
craftsman—in this case, the weaver, who not only was a skilled craftsperson but also an artist.
Such weavers either drew their own cartoons or following a main sketch using colored yarn, with
which they “painted” the finished result. From this turning point, textile art developed throughout
the 20th century and became the carrier of a continuing, but not undramatic movement.
At the end of the 1960s something crucial happened in this development. Suddenly, textiles
started to expand beyond four-sided frames, grew outwards from the wall, and even started to
crawl on the floor or float in the air. And one could see the potential in the artistic world of textiles.
The choice of materials and techniques almost exploded. Moreover, it became a very common for
artists to use their art as a means to struggle for the growing emancipation of females, for a better
life for women and their children, and for women in terms of general political issues.
Today, when one looks at photos from this period of weaving, when women knitted and
crocheted in “hen knitting” groups surrounded by crawling children, it is difficult not to smile. There
was something both naïve and fertile about this time and the textiles produced, but it was also a
happy time because everything was possible and nothing remained unexplored for more than a
Randi Nygaard Lium’s joy of and fascination for working with textiles first started in the
weaving department at the Craft School in Tynset, after she had finished upper secondary education.
After having acquired knowledge of and experience in basic weaving techniques, Randi
seized the chance of moving to Denmark and applied to study at the Jyske Academy of Fine Art,
where her teachers were Berit Hjelholt, Annette Holdensen, and Vibeke Klint—some of Denmark’s
most important and at that time most experimental weavers.
Thus, besides having grown up at a time when there was a tradition of producing textiles,
the first important years of her career as an artist were in a period when the world of weaving was
very fertile and all possibilities were open.
In addition to studying at the Jyske Academy of Fine Art, Randi Nygaard Lium took a
master’s degree in art history and a bachelor degree in English at the University of Århus. Her thesis
from 1984 was on a textile subject that was very special at that time, namely mainstreams within
Danish textile art in the 1970s and 1980s, exemplified by four weavers: Berit Hjelholt, Annette
Holdensen, Kim Naver, and Britt Smelvær.
Not all human beings have the freedom to choose their occupation independently. But if
one has the possibility, and one chooses an artistic occupation which is as traditional and historically
burdened as working with artistic textiles, then one finds oneself swinging like a pendulum
between doubt and arrogance, and between introvert and explosion. In some way or other, this
will undoubtedly lead to an exploration of gender and identity, and also Randi Nygaard Lium has
slowly moved towards an examination of these conditions. In fact, they have been the source of
inspiration for her weavings for many years.
Nature and landscapes—especially Norwegian landscapes—and also light have all
been a fundamental sources of inspiration in Randi Lium’s art. Recently, she has started to experiment
with paper cuts, cuts from colored magazines which give a different textile structure than
paper yarn. And whereas earlier she had used watercolors in her sketches for a woven work, she
now paints directly onto woven textiles.
Through a natural stubbornness and enthusiasm in her working process, she utilizes contrast
in materials, between stiff materials such as paper which keeps its form, and soft materials
such as textiles which are more alive and compliant. In this way, Randi Nygaard Lium has achieved
a fine balance between the traditional and the experimental, and between the introvert and the
extrovert. There is an “aura” of the heartfelt and femininity in her works.
Randi Nygaard Lium has had several solo exhibitions in Norway and has had many
commissions for larger decorative works. Like many other women working with textiles, she has
another occupation in addition to her artistic activities. For many, having a second occupation is
a kind of “necessary evil” and a frustrating factor that can weaken their concentration and delay
their artistic development, but there must be butter on the bread, as there are children to provide
for and rent to be paid. Even though textile art has achieved the status of visual art, it is still a
time-demanding art form, and economic conditions have not yet changed to the extent that most
textile artists find it possible to ask a reasonable hourly rate of payment for their work.
But for Randi Nygaard Lium, having a civil job in addition to her work as an artist is not
experienced as dividing her attention. One can sense that she regards not only theory and practice,
but also working first as a curator at the Nordenfjeldske Museum of Decorative Arts and then from
1998 to 2011 as the executive director of National Museum of Decorative Arts in Trondheim, as
having infused her work with a higher sense of unity.
Textile and Costume Collection
The Danish Design Museum, Copenhagen
Once I was her teacher. It was at the Jyske Academy of Fine Art in Århus, Denmark. Randi Nygaard
Lium was in her last year of study at the academy and at the same time finishing a course in art
history at the University of Århus.
Randi was among those who appointed me to work at the Jyske Academy. In fact, it was
a rather complicated affair to become teacher at the Academy, as one could not simply apply.
Rather, one had to be selected by the whole team of teachers and the board, but happily I was
unfamiliar with this procedure. I had been visited by a group of students in my workshop. The visit
was followed up by an invitation to be guest teacher at the Academy on the very same day that
I was asked whether I was interested in teaching courses in textiles. When I asked the students,
“Are you in the position of deciding that?” their response was “Of course, we are!” No teacher can
be hired in a more happy way.
Randi was the intellectual leading force in the department, and she could keep a new
teacher busy with her knowledge and demanding questions about female forms of expression in
art, such as portrayed in the work by Judy Chicago.
We extended Randi’s year of study by inviting her to join us on an eventful journey to
Poland at the end of the next academic year. We visited Polish textile artists and museums in
Warsaw, Lodz, and Krakow, where we found all the complications, difficulties, and irritations that
a stay behind the Iron Curtain necessarily entailed, to be an exotic experience.
Randi wrote our mutual diary: “After a theatre tour and a subsequent visit to a night club
at the famous Old Hotel Warsaw, a group of young women from Århus and the surrounding area
walked home to their hotel around two o’clock at night. They met a naked man with only a trench coat on, riding a unicycle. The girls’ comments are the best part of the story. One, a part-time
nurse, was worried about the man’s health as he was only wearing a thin coat in the nighttime
frost two weeks before Easter.” Randi pointed that a unicycle was brilliant when one wanted to
expose oneself in such a way.
We have extended Randi’s “year of study” a considerable number of times since then,
sometimes with the teacher / student roles reversed. Now it is like this: we meet once a year or
every other year for some days, and talk together, probably for 12 hours per day.
Art—gender—identity are the important, repeated themes.
Of course, we talk about exhibitions we have seen and articles we have read. We are
informed women and the intellectual side does not let itself be denied, especially not in the case
of the museum director. But that is not what is taken up for discussion after she has left.
However, during the course of conversations about art, gender, and identity we are in a
land where the questions shift focus and where the answers flow, because we are growing older
and we dare to say things that we did not dare to say earlier. Art is the rotation point, and the
passion and the duty. The gender which we are bound to . . . The identity . . . After the director has
left, I continue thinking to myself and talking with a few others.
When I look at Randi Nygaard Lium’s pictures, especially the latest ones, it strikes me how
modest their expression is—a quiet play with materials and a simple form. It is as if they hide
some secrets. She plays with traditional weaving traditions, the immediately breaks with them.
“We want to be big,” some of them seem to say, “And blue . . .” They are tight and disciplined, and
still full of life. At the same time, they are folk art and sophisticated minimalism.
INSPIRED BY LIGHT AND NATURE
It is always exciting for one artist to see another artist’s works at artist meetings. It was especially
exciting to present Randi Nygaard Lium’s exhibition at the Aukrust Center in 2007. In common with
Kjell Aukrust, Randi Lium’s’ roots are in Nord-Østerdalen.
Both Randi Nygaard Lium and Kjell Aukrust express how childhood and upbringing have
contributed to forming them as artists and as human beings. Both declare their love of nature and
landscapes—one in a naturalistic way and the other in a more abstract way.
“In the loom I find a possibility to express myself. The loom forms the frame for its own
pictures. Through material, craft, form, and technique, I create a picture expressing my identity and
belonging,” says Randi Nygaard Lium.
Randi belongs to a generation of women that early in life learnt the joy of having knowledge
of handicrafts—a silent knowledge transferred from one generation to the next. She started
with embroidery at the age of seven years, and “fell in love” with handicrafts. In her teenage years
she sewed her own clothes, and after completing upper secondary education, she took a one-year
course in weaving at the Craft School in Tynset before attending the Jutland Academy of Fine Arts
in Århus, in Denmark.
Randi has received both a practical and theoretical education in art. She is an active artist
and her daily work has been performed in public art and cultural institutions, originally as curator
of the National Museum of Decorative Arts in Trondheim (1986–98) and thereafter as executive
director of Trondheim Museum of Art (1998–2011).
Both the urge to create and the joy of creating are strong experiences for Randi Nygaard
Lium. She finds it important to use her hands to express herself. “It gives a good feeling,” she
informs, and it is important for her to have this opportunity in addition to her museum job.
Randi creates with pleasure in small scale—in miniature.
With stands of wool, silk, and linen, Randi has woven an image of winter in Nord-Østerdal,
with the snow in all its nuances and shifting light. In the works Winter Light I and Winter Light
II, which hang in The Centre for the Arts at Tynset we can see blue behind blue—colors characterizing
the special light conditions. These works are quiet images, but nevertheless strong.
Randi plays with different themes such as identity, female identity, and identity bound to
big cities and to the mountain region in Norway. She is secure in her handicraft, and therefore she
can play with materials, and experiment and explore.
By taking into use paper as a material, Randi Nygaard Lium is an artist that has conquered
boundaries in Norwegian weaving art. She weaves with paper yarn and paper cuts from weekly
magazines. Through choosing paper, her use of color has become bolder. At the Aukrust Center
exhibition, she showed works in large sizes and pictures woven with paper that had been painted
with watercolors or embroidered.
andi’s generation of artists has contributed to textile art gaining the position that it
deserves, namely as an autonomous art expression on the same level as sculpture and painting.
Since her debut at The Artists’ Easter Exhibition in Århus in 1983, Randi Nygaard Lium has
held an impressive number of exhibitions, in both Norway and Denmark.
Director, Aukrust Center