By Valorie Arrowsmith

East Bethel, Minnesota—Jill Johnson, director of the Nordic Arts Alliance in the Fargo/Moorhead area, is an installation artist, active in this genre of visual arts for more than 15 years. In 2011 she won a Folk and Tradition grant through the Minnesota State Arts Board to expand a Nordic mythology installation that she began earlier in her career.
The grant-funded work will be installed at the Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve in East Bethel, MN on October 8, 9, 15 and 16. It is based on the big star sculptures in Denmark and will include life stories that portray culture. Adding narrative to the installation is Icelandic storyteller Ingibjorg Gisladottir, who will perform among the big oak savannas. Gisladottir will also give school and community performances in the region.

Johnson’s questions in this project are:
(1) Are we still Scandinavian 150 years after the boats sailed?
(2) Are any memories triggered when guests see the pieces in nature?
(3) How are we influenced in the present by the immigrant family?
(4) Cultural stories continue to have an impact because they’ve been told so long. Where does that story have an impact in the present?
(5) What gets transmitted culturally?
(6) There is cultural myth and cultural story; how does that inform us today?

For Johnson it’s not about answering the questions as much as it’s about asking them. She wants to understand what people were—and are—thinking, believing and acting, and how that shaped the world. She is seeking ways of interpreting the world's cultural archetypes, however she is not focused on reclaiming Nordic religious practices. After her work is done, the installation then belongs to the bigger community. She says, “What you see is what you see when you’re ready to see it.”
To prepare for this Johnson has done beeswax portrait casts of Nordic-Americans. She has focused her supplies on what materials would have been available to the Nordic world in a pre-Viking era: wood, linen, beeswax.
For more information, contact Jill via email at Jill Johnson
For more info on the exhibition - Ordinary Vikings Outdoor Art Installation and, the ecological research site - Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve

Photography by V. S. Arrowsmith