Artist profile: Sigbjørn Bratlie – Exploring Language and Identity


Sigbjørn Bratlie photo by Karoliina Lehtinen


Have you ever thought of the meaning of your mother tongue to your personality and identity? Sigbjørn Bratlie is a fascinating Norwegian artist who is interested in languages and literature. His work often has a humorous touch and a very analytical undertone. Bratlie works with various techniques, currently mostly with video art, but also with paintings, installations and performances. Currently, Bratlie has an exhibition called Ubi silentio fruor in B-Gallery, Turku.

The B-Gallery exhibition consists of four videos that have been shaped from Bratlie’s interest towards foreign languages. He has spent enormous amounts of time learning minor languages, such as Finnish, Greenlandic and Irish (Gaelic) which has resulted in videos that form a very interesting mix of communicational, cultural and philosophical issues. The audience is left to ponder where to place themselves and the people on the videos, in this multicultural experience. I had the chance to have a sneak peek into the background and working habits of this interesting artist over a cup of coffee.

Bratlie did his first video installation on the subject already in 2011. “I have had a sort of geeky interest in languages since a teenager. For a video installation, I practice the language for about a year and then I can communicate in simple issues and occasionally cheat a little bit to make it seem that I am talking the language properly.”

Exhibition at B-Gallery, photo by Tiina Mäkitalo


Bratlie finds it interesting to investigate the relationship between identity and languages. He has thought about it through his own experience as well since he has been living in various countries. “Even though I have been speaking almost as much English as Norwegian during the past 20 years, I still have a different relationship with my mother tongue. There are some things that I am just aware of in my native language Norwegian, but that I am not aware of in English. Sort of small, mostly psychological things. For example, during the very rare and occasional arguments have with my partner, difficult issues are easier to talk about in English, the words seem not to sink as deep, when spoken in English. There is something very particular about the native language because it is so ingrained in the body. This is what I am very interested in.”

For this middle-class Oslo city boy, it was always clear, that he would want to work as a creative artist. “My father tried to talk me into going to Law School or Medical School, but gave up after a few months, because I was not receptive at all.” As a younger boy, Bratlie got fascinated about cartoons and had thoughts about being a cartoonist. However, as a teenager, this switched into a very clear thought about becoming a painter. During his studying times, Bratlie was quite clearly an abstract painter and his work was more based on the process of painting than ideas. But then something changed. As a graduate, Bratlie realized that he was painting abstract paintings, but was actually more and more interested in literature. “I have always been especially intrigued by French Nouveau Roman writers and the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges. They have all written very experimental and creative pieces, almost inventing a new style of writing with every text.” So Bratlie started moving more in the direction of storytelling in his work. “Maybe this traces back to my childhood interest in cartoons and the stories in them. I find my current interest in videos follows this.”

Exhibition at B-Galleria, photo by Tiina Mäkitalo


After an almost two-decade career as an artist, Bratlie has found his own distinct working habits that suit him. He currently lives in Poland with his girlfriend, but also frequently visits Oslo. His life involves much flying between different countries, but his working processes are cosily related to everyday routines. “At home, I make coffee for myself and my girlfriend every morning. After she goes to work, I have another cup of coffee. When the caffeine starts to kick in, the ideas start popping up in my head.” Another crucial part of Bratlie’s working routine is post-it notes. “When the ideas start coming, I write them down on post-it notes. Our living room, which right now is also my studio, is full of hundreds of small yellow post-its. The walls and the table are covered with them. Most of the ideas are bad, but some start evolving. Then one finally sticks in my mind and I start working with it.“ Bratlie then actualizes the project, whether it means shooting the video or painting the picture and the work will change many times during this process. “Then, at some point, it just must be declared ready.”

Humour is an integral part of Bratlie’s work. “I think humour is a very natural way of thinking for me. This is also a way to get people’s attention since there is something very immediate about being invited to laugh about something. People can connect to it very quickly. Humour is also very timeless, a natural reaction that everyone can relate to.” Bratlie is still not quite finished with the theme of languages and exploring the world. Currently, he is working on extending a video project about Iceland into three different films, photographs and installation pieces. He is also planning a project in South Africa.

Screenshot of “Aporfik” (2016), a documentary, in broken Greenlandic, about descriptions of nature in the Greenlandic translation of Knut Hamsun’s novel “Pan”. Picture taken by Sigbjørn Bratlie.


At the end of the interview, I ask Bratlie about his crazy dreams as an artist. “As a wild, childish dream, I would like to make a Lord of the Rings type, huge budget movie, building whole streets and locations for it. Of course I know this will never happen, but I really admire movie professionals for the hard work they do, and I am certainly intrigued by the idea of building an entire world.”


Karoliina / Kunstportal