Fotograf Magazine

Magical, Ironic, Blurred. photography from the north

Initially, a tour of the exhibition conveys a rather homogeneous picture. Small-format works predominate, and the black and white image obviously plays an important role. Some installations involving the medium of photography submit to the restrained impression given by the show as a whole. Many of the participants start out from very personal perceptions, experiences or questions. The works exude severity, distance and a lack of pretension, but they are never sentimental.

But what is important to the artists? Photography arrests brief moments of reality, captures them in prints and so stops time. The participants in the exhibition employ, continue or counter this aspect of coagulated time in very different ways.

In his series Weekends, the Latvian Gatis Rozenfelds captures the ways in which people spend their free time. These are banal activities which he holds onto in snapshots: fishing, mowing the lawn or taking a walk. But what is concealed behind the everyday quality of such weekends? Rozenfelds is searching for the special, the mysterious, perhaps the magical in everyday life.

The Norwegian Knut Asdam also employs everyday scenes in his sequences of projected slides. Two women are shown outside a modern housing complex; buildings which appear inhospitable and empty. As if waiting for a bus, both turn towards the street, and yet they are communicating with each other. They seem aimless. By contrast to Rozenfelds’s work, the mysterious aspect here is not concealed in ritual, but appears directly: in a story which is then left untold. Using a distantly positioned camera, Åsdam transports the two women and so opens the sequence of scenes up to a wide variety of associations.

While Åsdam pulls a veil over the special and the private, Irma Stanaityte from Lithuania employs the opposite approach. Travelling in Holland and Germany, she takes an indiscreet look into her hosts’ cupboards and drawers. Do rolled-up socks or old photos stand for the private sphere with its aura of the alien and the fascinating? And what happens when these silent witnesses to home life are brought out into public? Stanaityte questions the myth of the private that repeatedly feeds our longings.

While some of the works in the exhibition have autobiographical
backgrounds, this is only seemingly true of the work by the Finn Jari
Silomäki. The figure shown in his untitled black and white series is not really the artist, although the hand-written captions beneath the pictures maintain so. What is shown is a young man before the background of constantly changing landscapes and public places. What he fails to do in life, he succeeds in doing by using the photographic medium: he holds on to an unattainable lover. We always see a small white circle with which Silomaki surrounds an almost indiscernible figure in the background. Here the viewer’s sympathy and the intended irony combine to create a quite original form of humour. The figure of the likeable loser also embraces the idea of the artist who portrays himself so often and so willingly in the course of the story.

The German Wolfgang Ploger works with images that have become implanted in our cultural memory. His installation North by Northwest shows an alienated still from Hitchcock’s film of the same name, as a slide projection. Ploger adapts the scene in the desert during which Cary Grant flees from an aeroplane that is threatening his life. At one side of the projection, a solar-run model aeroplane has been installed. This throws its shadow into the picture, replacing the aeroplane that has been erased from the film still. The movement of the aeroplane and its humming noise appear to bring the temporal and acoustic dimensions of the film back to life in the projection – only the plot is missing. Time and space are infinitely extended. The scene is submerged in a seemingly remote blue and one tends to see the desert as the ocean. Cary Grant is not fleeing, he appears to be looking almost longingly into the depths. Hitchcock’s scene of pursuit is thus transformed into a romantic image.

In the work of Miklos Gaál, also from Finland, the alienation effects do not develop – as in Plöger’s work – from a found artefact, but before this in the production of the image itself. His beach panorama counteracts the human capacity to see. Using technical manipulations of the camera, Gaál succeeds in making things that are on the same spatial level appear sometimes absolutely sharp, sometimes blurred. As an installation, the beach image is supplemented by several small photos which supposedly show sections from the panorama. However, efforts to discover these puzzle pieces in the large picture mostly prove to be in vain: they are taken from other works and are merely similar to the panorama image.

At first glance, the exhibition does appear homogeneous. But if one looks more closely, the disparate nature of the works predominates. But the different positions are not arbitrarily juxtaposed. The exhibition creates repeated links: through themes, through formal aspects or through the artistic strategies employed. In this way it illuminates a field in which artists work in very different ways, yet all using the medium of photography. In the context of such a large number of very convincing works, one does not take exception to those individual pieces which, viewed in isolation, might appear less consistent. But the exhibition does not offer a definite answer to the question What is important?
I am happy to say.