Under Review: ‘The Legend of Ygg’


“The Legend of Ygg” is an arresting 15-minute thriller art film that merges ancient mythology with current circumstances. Ygg, a nickname for the Norse god Odin, is the name of the Icelandic pony that takes a young woman to a midnight rendezvous in the inky black winter darkness.

This is metaphoric language at its finest level.

Comprising gentleness, beauty and grace, Ygg and his rider merge into a single force detached from the accident they cause.

Marthe Thorshaug’s Norwegian production is as compelling, complete and beautiful as any art film in memory. Her use of dialogue is sparse and her capture of the playful horses in their own community reflects the sisterhood of riders who gather to ride these adorable ponies.

Each woman is trained to surrender to the rhythm of her horse’s gait. However, the goal is also to keep the horse calm as the ultimate test is faced.

“The horse should sense every breath you take. Ygg becomes hesitant when you hold your breath.”

Visually, the natural fullness of the horses’ manes is juxtaposed to the natural, similarly-colored fullness of the women’s hair. Well-groomed but unpretentious and fresh, both show a rugged yet deceivingly tender innocent beauty.

“Narrow is the path, where there is only room for one.”

In the end, the horse and rider stand as one on a narrow highway, practicing their hypnotic breathing, merged without fear, disregarding all other senses.

It is here at the end that the soundtrack creates a sitar-like effect with the use of electric guitars and a vibraslap, building a tension as the hypnotic sounds become louder and faster, in time with the rhythmic gallop of the Icelandic horse approaching the final test.

It is in this same moment that the viewer is bewitched, though it is also when a transformation begins. We allow ourselves, almost hungrily, to feel this merging of beast and human, this submission of the self.

And then there is The Reveal. What was earlier an innocent, even idyllic, pastoral harmony now unmasks itself.

A car comes down the road. It is either us, already identifying with the horse and rider, or the car that will move or be destroyed. Can we just step aside and avoid the disaster?

I’m not revealing the end of the film. You’ll have to go to American University’s Katzen Museum in Washington , D.C. to find out about that. But I can reveal a little experiment on viewer reaction.

Marthe Thorshaug, the film’s creator, had communicated with me from her home in Norway that “it’s really interesting to read about the reactions to the film. In my work, the great challenge is to have my films working on as many levels as possible.”

So, I sent her summaries of over 100 individual reactions communicated immediately after viewing her film. The responses indicated that Thorshaug’s goal of diverse interpretations is guaranteed.

Herd Mentality

The interesting part of this experiment occurred when I pointed out to the viewers, after they had already engaged in their own insightful reflections, what was written about Thorshaug’s theme in the museum catalogue:

Like the horses, the women had formed what may be called a herd mentality, sacrificing not only their individuality, but their own humanity in blindly following a construct that the rational mind of the individuals I interviewed found hard to accept. For example, the audience would work hard to ignore the ending or even change it so that their own analogy would fit.

But once exposed to Sveinar’s interpretation in the catalogue there was an “Ah-ha!” moment, the immediate and startling recognition that they had edited the metaphors to convey what they themselves believed about life and cut what they could not accept to be true (being that they had irresistibly identified with the horse and rider). In this same moment they also recognized and agreed with Thorshaug’s perception of “extremism” and its inherent malevolence.

“Norse Soul”

Marthe Thorshaug has been one of four artists chosen to represent contemporary Norwegian art at the current exhibit at the Katzen Museum , the most outstanding university art museum in the world. Dag Aak Sveinar, the curator, named the show “Norse Soul: The Legacy of Edvard Munch, Social Democracy, Old Myths, Anarchy and Death Longings.”

Thorshaug’s work is showcased on the cover of the catalogue and is an apt example, along with the other three Norwegian artists represented at the exhibit, of how the Munch Scream, still alive and well, has evolved into several separate frustrated screams. However, though more specifically defined, they all still reflect a dark, anxious recognition of pernicious forces in the world (or within ourselves).

The Katzen

There is never a show at The Katzen that does not confront and challenge the viewer to new dimensions of thought. Since its opening in 2005, Jack Rasmussen, internationally acclaimed curator and director, has showcased exhibits that represent a variety of perspectives like Fernando Botero’s works on American torture of Iraqis at Abu Ghraib, Israeli and Palestinian shows on contemporary art from a region in conflict, Ibero-American political cartoons and the recent outstanding exposition on post-war Lebanese expression.

This current exhibit, examining Norwegian art in respect to its historical, political, social and psychological evolution, lends itself to thorough introspection about our own perspectives on what influences, motivates and drives us.

Rasmussen has written that “in a city of museums and governmental institutions that preserve and protect the received view, our job is to question authority and imagine the present.” This show does that in a grand way.

“Norse Soul,” running concurrently with the Norwegian cultural festival, “Norway Comes to Washington ,” will last from June 12 through Oct. 17 at American University in Washington D.C.

Film Information

Director, Writer, Editor and Photographer: Marthe Thorshaug
Soundtrack: Dan Persson
Cast: Silje Kristin Gloppen, Kari Reigstad, Janka Stensvold, Maren Wedöe, Hanne Fjerdingstad and Tale Berntsen
Sound, animation and graphics: Christian Falk
Release: 2009, 2010
Katzen Museum:
Norse Soul catalogue:
Marthe Thorshaug:
All images are attributed to Marthe Thorshaug

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    Thanks to Dr. Questad for opening up a work of art for viewers and encouraging their participation in the interpretive process!

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