Randi Annie Strand: 99/9 Vestervik
By Vilborg Stubseid Hovet
English translation by Diane Oatley
Not all books made by artists are artist’s books, but in all artist’s books the physical structure, the object itself, is an integrated aspect of the means by which the work communicates its contents. It is a book, or an object that resembles a book, or an object which in one way or another employs the book as its material and an artist has had a high degree of control over the finished product. The book entitled 99/9 Vestervik by the Oslo-based artist Randi Annie Strand (d.o.b. 1962) is an artist’s book. Strand is an artist who has strict requirements for both craftsmanship and aesthetics, requirements she has adhered to here, in a book which Johanna Drucker could have included in the group “The Artist’s Book as an Agent of Social Change”. With exquisite paper and printing, a typeface imbuing the words with a unique voice, a poetic use of prosaic everyday details and the artist’s own family history from a typical Norwegian small farm in the 1960s, she presents an ecological alternative to the consumer society of today that has an international relevance, global in the sense of displaced from any specific location.
Randi Annie Strand: 99/9 Vestervik, Levanger, LevArText 2019. ISBN 978-82-690297-8-9
You can see the author’s own photographs of pages from the book and look through the book here: https://www.randistrand.no/boker/99-9-vestervik
The Book-ness of 99/9 Vestervik
99/9 Vestervik has a stiff binding, a sewn spine, is offset printed in an edition of 300 copies and has an ISBN number. The contents comprise 224 pages of written texts and photographs. The object has accordingly all the usual characteristics of a book, but what is unique about it is that the physical structure, the object itself, is a fully integrated dimension of its message. The object, the materials out of which the book is made, the contents and the choices with regard to physical, book-specific elements (paper, typeface, binding, etc.) appeal to the senses and trigger associations of both a personal and shared cultural nature, both experiential and knowledge based.
The pages aren’t numbered, but the binding arranges the sheets of paper in a specific order. The paper, Munken Print White (15) 80g, is a light, transparent type of paper, which allows the reader to glimpse a shadow of the printing on each subsequent page. This is a reminder that, just as in a traditional book, something always comes both before and after. Every page of the book and every written text or image becomes part of a series that the reader activates as he or she turns the pages of the book. The paper is pleasurable to the touch, beautiful, and so thin that we sense that we should handle it with care. The feeling established is that of touching something valuable, which awakens associations of a tradition in which books were important for the communication of information and education, as well as for the preservation of a cultural legacy.
The format is reminiscent of a photo album or a scrapbook, while the black shirting spine, the pattern and colours of the decorative paper on the binding, the slightly smudged title label, and the grey end leave paper all summon associations of a notebook or ledger. Simple, old, and well-worn. However, the quality of the paper, the use of the book pages, and presentation of the contents signal that this is neither an ordinary ledger nor a run of the mill photo album or scrapbook. It is something else altogether. Associations are generated which we carry with us as we peruse the book, and this provides the reading experience with further depth. The contrast between the everyday use of materials on what appears to be a somewhat soiled front page and the delicate contents, heightens the senses.
99/9 is the farm and property registration number of the Vestervik farm on the Namdal Coastline in Norway, where Randi Strand lived with her parents and four siblings from 1962–1975. The book presents a selection of old receipts which were once vouchers from her father’s tax returns. The receipts document income earned and costs incurred by the family farm and the boat building enterprise run by her father. In the book we also find a few pages from her mother’s worn notebook where she has recorded the consumption of berries, sales of surplus goods to neighbours and important recipes for food preservation. The book also contains short, explanatory and commentary texts written by the author and an epilogue containing two addendums: one by the author, the other by political scientist and social commentator Svenn Arne Lie.
The book contains twenty-one photographs from daily life on the farm. Both the photos and the bookkeeping vouchers are photographed for the book by photographer Jan Alsaker. All the pictures in the book are therefore photographs. The brief comments by the author are typeset in a short line format with generous line spacing, centred on the page, and printed in a thin, sans serif typeface: Franklin Gothic Book.
The book 99/9 Vestervik is a carefully edited collection of visual and verbal texts. As the reader thumbs through the pages, a coherent story line is created in which the bookkeeping documents constitute a visual narrative thread. They are sorted by date in chronological order and structure a story spanning four years, from early 1957 to the end of 1960, documenting a modest life and a self-sufficient society in interaction with local natural resources.
The black and white photographs of children and adults at work and leisure provide further contents for this annual cavalcade of earnings and expenses. There are family photographs taken with a Leica camera by the father or grandfather and the majority of these are what we would call snapshots. They depict the immediate geographic surroundings and document the daily life of a family living the life attested to by the bookkeeping vouchers. The seasons change, as do the landscape and the work tasks. The number of children increases, children grow up, and from the first moment they are all included in a community in which the relationship between humans, animals, nature, and work is defined by the passage of time, and passed down from one generation to the next.
The photos of the bookkeeping vouchers are situated in the middle of the book page and presented one by one, just like the family photos and the short commentary texts. The backs of the vouchers are also photographed with care and precisely placed on the back of the book pages so all the details are included.
Both the size and format of the originals are preserved, as are details such as comments added in tiny handwriting, random notes in pen or pencil, marks from time or use, paper quality, and typeface. Because the book is printed in coloured ink, the materiality, the age, the different paper qualities, and colours of each original document can be realistically rendered. In other contexts, the colour of cheap-quality paper, or signs of damage incurred through storage or use, become insignificant, irrelevant details. Strand converts such details into personal possessions containing important information about the people who were involved in the transactions.
The factual information has not been altered through the artistic process, but the originals are transformed from a stack of accounting documents of little interest – beyond the information about costs and revenues in a farm’s bookkeeping system – into personal forms of expression and aesthetic objects.
When old receipts are treated with as much respect as a photograph, they are automatically instilled with another value.
Through the aestheticization, each element is awakened; the interest in a receipt from the consumer cooperative or an entry in a notebook showing evident signs of use is renewed. The reader is invited to actively participate in the production of meaning.
Randi Annie Strand: 99/9 Vestervik, Levanger, LevArText 2019.
A book constructs no hierarchy between recto and verso, the front and back of a page, up or down, or right and left side of the contents of any given page. The medium of the book itself therefore plays a part in assigning equal value to each piece of information from the bookkeeping vouchers, a perspective of importance to the artist.
The photographs are family photos, taken by an amateur, but with a good camera and by a good photographer. Strand has nonetheless chosen to include both blurry photos and pictures with relatively random motifs, depicting somewhat trivial situations from daily life. There are, in other words, no photos of specific events that stand out and which photography historian Peter Larsen claims are commonly found among family photographs – and which therefore most probably were also to be found in this collection of photographs. There is also little posing. The result is a turning away from anything out of the ordinary – a small farm on the west coast of Norway in the 1950-60s – to embrace something general and universally human. We are thereby at the heart of the book’s intention: 99/9 Vestervik is a contribution to a current debate about sustainable development and organic farming.
The last page of the story about life on the small farm Vestervik is a facsimile of the text and melody of a well-known Norwegian hymn: “Fagert er landet” (“Fair is Our Country”), an arrangement for a mixed choir. It is intended to remind the reader that a hard-working, and by our standards, quiet life, also contained an abundance of good experiences. Those who lived here had abilities and interests with which to fill their work and free time, which made life richer.
If we keep leafing through the book, we come upon a blank page.
The literary and poetic story that is the core of 99/9 Vestervik ends here, with page of sheet music. What follows – a written reflection which Randi Stand has titled “Thoughts about Time” (“Tanker om tid”), and an essay by Svenn Arne Lie: “Jordbruk er bruk av jord” (“Agriculture is Use of the Earth”) – are addendums. These texts highlight the differences between the way of life depicted by the book and the way we live today. Using figures and statistics, Lie illustrates how the development in Norwegian agriculture – from small farms and a self-sufficient society to large-scale operations and cheap, imported turbo-feed rather than harvested grain and natural grazing – constitutes a blameworthy management of the earth and natural resources. Randi Strand expresses concern that we have forgotten important knowledge which we could find use for in the future.
Boka 99/9 Vestervik is also an integrated and important part of an exhibition. There the book is surrounded by jigsaw works and the receipts from the book are framed behind glass and mounted on the wall. The frames of the jigsaw works are stained in a variety of earth tones and decorated with carved motifs adapted to the message of the respective images. At the consumer cooperative Samvirkelaget, six kilos of timothy seed were purchased. The frame around the invoice is stained green, while the bottom list is broader and perforated to simulate small seeds, ready to sprout and grow. Hanging from the frame of an invoice for two rakes, a pack of baling wire, a ball bearing, an endless saw blade and silver solder, is a carved rake.
Randi Annie Strand: River, 2019, jigsaw work, 26 x 26 cm.
Jigsaw plywood-working is a long-devalued artisan technique, the potentials of which the artist was interested in exploring. The naive, direct expression is striking. The viewer experiences the work as playful and humorous but also as an expression of respect.
Both the book and the exhibition invite co-creation. Journalist Tor Martin Årseth both experienced and took great pleasure in how “the most important images are those you create yourself.” The activation of the senses triggers associations of a personal and shared cultural nature, based on both experience and knowledge.
The exhibition sharpens the gaze in terms of discernment of details. But the book is the core of the project. The aestheticization and care which the artist has invested in good craftmanship and in making the experience beautiful, reinforces the main idea of the book: societies such as 99/9 Vestervik represent something valuable that we have squandered somewhere along the way to the life we live today.
Several of Randi Strand’s artist’s books are so fragile that we can only view them from a distance, in display cases or by way of a video featuring a person’s hands leafing through the book. The artwork 99/9 Vestervik is also fragile, but we can buy it in the bookstore for the price of an ordinary book, keep it on the bookshelf, and look through it whenever we want.
 Drucker, Johanna. 2012. The Century of Artist’s Books. New York City: Granary Books, 287–307.
 Larsen, Peter & Sigrid Lien. 2007. Norsk fotohistorie. Frå daguerrotypi til digitalisering. Oslo: Det Norske Samlaget, 265.
 Translator’s note: The title can be translated literally as “Agriculture is Use of the Earth,” but the Norwegian title employs a word play by dividing the Norwegian word jordbruk, meaning agriculture or farming, into two words, bruk + jord, whereby a double or underlying meaning of this word “use of the earth” is produced.
 LevArt in Levanger 16–30 March 2019, Kystmuseet Rørvik 6.4.–31.5.2019, Norwegian Forestry Museum in Elverum 9.11.2019–1.2.2020.
 Namdalsavisa 04.04.2019.
© Vilborg Stubseid Hovet 2022
© Artist’s Book Creators 2022