The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
On Saturday, April 20th, Jason Havernaas, the newest resident at the Institute for Neo Connotative Action (INCA) in the historic New Center district, gave an artist talk on his life and work. Much of his work, which evolved from photographic portraits to video shorts, centers around his upbringing within an international network of structured communities inspired by the philosophy of Rudolf Steiner (father of the Waldorf School) to address the assisted-living needs of the mentally handicapped.
Jason Havernaas speaking about his work before a crowd in the living room of INCA.
Havernaas was raised in one such community, Camphill Villages in Bristol, where his family was one of four households that provided collective care for a group of 10-12 mentally handicapped people. When Havernaas left home and followed his paternal roots back to Norway for graduate school, his parents ended up following him and becoming involved with another such community.
A large body of Havernaas’s work documents community members in their costumes for the numerous holiday plays, which are put on annually and provide a cyclical sense of time and established purpose for individuals who would otherwise lead a life relatively free of structure. Havernaas’s unique relationship to the environment documents the community not as an outsider, but as one deeply familiar with it, yet his perspective is neither wholly involved nor detached from the proceedings. During his talk he spoke of the derivation of meaning through cycles and repetition, a theme that he continues to explore into a new dimension with his creation of video portraits.
Havernaas's close ties with the Camphill communities affords him an insider vantage point in his work.
These videos, created by digitally filming the visual projection through his large-format camera obscura (which creates an enchanting visual effect and unfathomable depth of field), are Havernaas’s attempt to, “destroy the magic illusion of portrait photography.” Though his subjects are no longer confined to the single moment of a still photograph, Havernaas still favors characters locked in repetition, including a four-part loop of one acquaintance in his habit of endlessly bumming cigarettes, another of a man at work interminably stirring a concoction for bio-dynamic farming (itself a cycle), and a longer piece centered on a conversation with one of his favorite residents Paul, a man with no short-term memory ("Paul & I & I").
Havernaas showed samples of his portrait work, as well as screening several of his video pieces.
Havernaas also revealed that he is currently the last scheduled resident on INCA’s exchange program, as the future of further residencies is in question with the shifting in the relationship of founders Aeron Bergman and Alejandra Salinas to the supporting entity of Arts Council Norway. Here’s hoping the board finds another way to continue to their own cycle of broadening international exchange between Detroit and Norway.
Havernaas represents the 8th residency period at INCA. Hopefully he won't be the last!
Institute for Neo Connotative Action: 750 Delaware St. Detroit; www.incainstitute.org