Carl Nesjar. Pavilion for the Internationale Gartenbauaustellung – Abstracting nature through texture

Using walls as a canvas, sandblaster as a pen and Naturbetong as a medium, Carl Nesjar had nothing else in mind than Norwegian nature when designing the Pavilion for the Internationale Gartenbauaustellung (IGA)[1] in 1963.

 

In the attempt of representing nature through texture, a very peculiar pavilion arose. This small building without a function was the outcome of an interesting collaboration between Carl Nesjar, a famous Norwegian artist, and two well-known Norwegian landscape architects, Egil Gabrielsen and Morten R. Grindaker. [2] The triangular shaped pavilion represented Norway on the Gartenbauaustellung of Hamburg in 1963, a landscape architecture fair that is still held in Germany every ten years. Although Nesjar was only in charge of the concrete walls, his influence is tangible through the whole design.

The brutalist pavilion is experimental. It evokes the sensation of nature in an abstract way and creates a multisensorial experience for eye and ear.

 

Narrating Nature

 

Abstraction as a key ingredient to depict nature is a recurring theme through the work of Carl Nesjar. The Norwegian artist is well known for his concrete artworks, especially the ones he made in collaboration with Pablo Picasso. The Fisherman, a mural artwork they created together for the Regjeringskvartalet in Oslo, put Nesjar on the map of art in Norway and abroad. Through his whole life, Carl Nesjar has been inspired by nature. Especially water, ice and coast are a common thread throughout his work. This fascination for seascape views and landscapes finds its origin in Nesjars youth. In an interview with Sylvia A. Antoniou [3] he talks about how he drew and painted as a child the views in Larvik, his birthplace, a small town near the sea.

Through the use of texture, Nesjar tries to relate his art to the landscape, in an abstract rather than figurative way. To understand and read the landscape in his artworks, one should comprehend what these two terms mean to him: Landscape as reproducing a specific piece of land, abstraction as giving this piece of land own understanding while depicting it. [4]The method of representing nature by means of texture is rooted in nature itself: by zooming in, every grain of sand, every lump of mud, every piece of nature becomes a texture. By isolating a specific element out of its context and focussing on its particular surface, this element will lose its clear form and will no longer be recognised as a clear object but a texture instead. This awareness of nature as texture becomes visible in the photographs Nesjar took during the sixties and seventies. These photos unveil a deeper understanding of the way he treated concrete: A similarity between the microtexture of nature and the raw skin of concrete can be discovered as they both reveal the heterogeneity of their own surfaces. 

photos made by Carl Nesjar | right bottom sketch made by Carl Nesjar

Photos of micro textured surfaces, which are made by Carl Nesjar, correlate to the method that he uses to manipulate and make the pebbles visible in the concrete.

It is this exploration of texture that connects his early concrete work with his later paintings.

all represented artworks are made by Carl Nesjar

Nature represented through texture is a recurring theme that binds his oeuvre together: (Left) texture connects his later paintings (here: Blå Time – Carl Nesjar, 2010 ) with his first concrete artworks (here: the concrete wall for IGA 1963). (Right) his own photographs as a source of inspiration to use texture to embody nature in his work

Carl Nesjar was probably influenced by his close-up photo’s while creating his concrete works

 

 

Concrete as Culmination

 

In order to create this rugged appearance of the concrete surfaces, the well-known Naturbetong technique was applied. This technique was developed by Erling Viksjø, a Norwegian architect, in the early fifties and later adopted to Oslo’s government quarter. Together with Inger Sitter, Tore Haaland & Kai Fjell, Carl Nesjar contributed in last mentioned project[4]. In this way, the pavilion can be understood as a part of a trend that was happening in Norway in the sixties and seventies.

In this earlier experiment, the Naturbetong process reveals the rough inside under the smooth skin of the concrete. Even though Nesjar applies the technique on every wall, he achieves different results:

elevations made by author

(top) fig 1 (bottom) fig 2 – Elevation (front and back side) of the wall composed and executed in Naturbetong by Carl Nesjar

(fig. 1): The wall has been hollowed out and the inside of the concrete is exposed, showing the raw core. A smooth enclosure in which a cut is made.
(fig. 2):  The drawing is no longer carved away. In fact, it looks like the drawing protrudes from the wall. The right side surface is smoother than the left side.

 

axo made by athor

Lower garden walls and the higher Naturbetong walls demarcate respectively the edges of the plot and the pavilion, leaving corners open to provide access and leading the visitor through space.

“The Naturbetong technique deforms the walls into art, making incisions and cuts in the concrete. Doing so, the walls move away from 2D space and enters 3D.”

 

axo made by author

The concrete walls define the pavilion, creating an inner and outer space.

 

 

Moving Through Material

 

Although Carl Nesjar only sculpted the walls, his mindset resonates through the whole project. The use of texture as a way of representing nature might also have influenced the design of the pavilion and garden. Looking at the plan, one cannot ignore the great attention to the texture of the ground. Bushes, moss and grass form a herbaceous carpet. The floor of the pavilion is texturized by tiles and wood. In this way, the transitions between inside and outside are indicated in a visual and sensorial way. While walking over grass, wood or stones, not only the eye but also the sense organs find pleasure in an immediate and diverse experience. All achieved by only modifying the ground.

The care for materials can be read from the plan. Texture defines the character of the plan, making it not a dry but refined architecture tool.

 

As described by the architects, the materials were carefully chosen to depict Norwegian nature and refer to its diversity in landscapes. Wood was used to refer to the Scandinavian forests, stones to the rocky landscapes in the north of Norway and the concrete wall with bare pebbles resembles the hedge of snowberries and yews.

“Instead of lawn and carnation pillows, a rust of dark wood. To that a circular fireplace because summer does not last long in Norway, and usually it’s cold. A concrete wall with bare pebbles on the surface instead of the hedge of snow berries and yews. Wood and stone retain their beauty even in the long winter seasons of the north. Further away from the house, the garden gradually grows into the landscape.” [5]

The natural materials used for the ground enter into dialogue with the raw concrete walls

 

 

 

A project that embraces nature through abstraction. Abstraction understood as texture. Texture as a way to experiment. An experiment that affects both the ground and walls.

 

Nesjars play with textural qualities of the concrete derives from a perception of landscape as something three-dimensional, something with form and grain.

The texture is no longer understood as an ornamental method to cheer up a plan, an elevation nor an artwork. It’s integrated in the pavilion and defines the experience.

 

 

Footnotes

[1] international horticulture exhibition (https://www.bundesgartenschau.de/buga-iga.html)

[2] Byggekunst n.6 (Norske arkitekters landsforbund ,1964).

[3] “Early Art Experience, Carl Nesjar in conversation with Sylvia A. Antoniou”, Carl Nesjar Retrospektiv – Maleri, tegning, grafikk 1925- 2005 (Larvik Kunstforening, 2005).

[4] Samtaler Med, Carl Nesjar Betongdekorasjonene i regjeringsbygningene i Oslo (Oslo: Icefount Publishing). (x2)

[5] architects description. (2018). [exhibition catalogue] Deutsche Bundesgartenschau-Gesellschaft mbH (DBG). Hamburg.

Sources:

Pictures and drawings:

(illustrations shown in this order)

photo 1 (featured image) – “Carl Nesjar”, Digitalmuseum, last modified on 13th of September, 2018, https://digitaltmuseum.no/search/?q=carl+nesjar+gartenbau
collage 2 – sketch(right bottom): Byggekunst vol. 41 n.1: The Norwegian review of architecture (Norske arkitekters landsforbund , 1959), 19. & photo’s: Carl Nesjar Fotogafi (Larvik Museum, 2005).
Gif 4 – made out of photo’s of the pavilion “Carl Nesjar”, Digitalmuseum, last modified on 13th of September, 2018, https://digitaltmuseum.no/search/?q=carl+nesjar+gartenbau. & natural photograph of Carl Nesjar Carl Nesjar Fotogafi ( Larvik Museum, 2005). & painting ‘Bla time’ of Carl Nesjar J. R. Williamsen, Carl Nesjar Malerier 2011 (Oslo: Icefount Publishing, 2011).
Photo 3 (left) – Carl Nesjar Fotogafi (Larvik Museum, 2005).
Photo 4 (right) – “Carl Nesjar”, Digitalmuseum, last modified on 13th of September, 2018, https://digitaltmuseum.no/search/?q=carl+nesjar+gartenbau.
Photo 6 (fig. 1) – collage made by the author, made out of photo’s of “Carl Nesjar”, Digitalmuseum, last modified on 13th of September, 2018, https://digitaltmuseum.no/search/?q=carl+nesjar+gartenbau.
Photo 5 (fig. 2) – collage made by the author, made out of photo’s of  Byggekunst vol. 41 n.1: The Norwegian review of architecture (Norske arkitekters landsforbund , 1959), 19 and “Carl Nesjar”, Digitalmuseum, last modified on 13th of September, 2018, https://digitaltmuseum.no/search/?q=carl+nesjar+gartenbau.
Axo 7 & 8 – made by the author.
Plan 9 – made by the author, based on drawing in Byggekunst n.6 (Norske arkitekters landsforbund ,1964).
Photo 10 – picture of the archive of Deutsche Bundesgartenschau-Gesellschaft mbH (DBG)

 

Text

Byggekunst n.6 (Norske arkitekters landsforbund ,1964).
Byggekunst vol. 41 n.1: The Norwegian review of architecture
(Norske arkitekters landsforbund , 1959), 19-22.
Carl Nesjar Retrospektiv – Maleri, tegning, grafikk 1925- 2005 (Larvik Kunstforening, 2005).
Einar Wexelsen, Carl Nesjar (Haugar Vestfold kunstmuseum Labyrinth Press, 2008)

Espen Johnsen, Brytninger: Norsk arkitektur 1945–65 (Nasjonamuseet – Arkitektur, 2010-2011), 206-215.
J. R. Williamsen, Carl Nesjar Malerier 2011 (Oslo: Icefount Publishing, 2011).
Peter Anker, Kunt i betong (1965), 18-20, nr. 273.

Samtaler Med, Carl Nesjar Betongdekorasjonene i regjeringsbygningene i Oslo (Oslo: Icefount Publishing).