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