Dualities - Contemporary Norwegian Photography

An exhibition made for the Sol Mednick Gallery in Philadelphia. It opens February 2007. Below you can read the curatorial statement (English only)



Contemporary Norwegian photography is a diverse field of expressions, untangible in many ways. We have brought together six young artists and their respective work, and so this exhibition is one possible response, out of several available, to the question what contemporary Norwegian photography is.

Photography is a relatively new medium on the Norwegian contemporary art scene. It had a hard time being accepted as an artistic medium during the beginning and middle of the last century, but through the foundation of Forbundet Frie Fotografer (The Association of Fine Art Photographers) in 1974 and Fotogalleriet (The Photographer's Gallery) in 1977 things changed. Today photography is an integral part of the contemporary art scene in Norway. Photography and video were accepted as artistic mediums in the mainstream contemporary art world simultaneously in Norway which lead to a fluidity between photography and video as mediums of expression. The last decade or so artists working with photography will just as easily choose to make video as pick up their photographic camera. Or they might choose to produce their imagery with the help of a computer, and not render anything remotely like a depiction of reality. These are tendencies reflected in 'Dualities - Contemporary Norwegian Photography'.

In Norwegian art there is a strong landscape tradition, so too in the photographic tradition. With a population of 12 people per square kilometer, there is a substantial amount of nature around. This has led to nature being one of the key focuses when developing the national self image. Norway has now been independent for one houndred years, we have entered a new age of communication, and we see a slow shift away from the traditional landscapes in contemporary art. It is refreshing to be able to see new photographic works surfacing. In this exhibition the curators propose that the landscape tradition might be loosing ground in Norwegian contemporary photography. The works rather discuss themes relating to general human experiences and not only to the experience of space and nature. Misanthropy, optimism, conflict, hopes, utopias, experiences, relations etc. are themes touched upon in the exhibition 'Dualities - Contemporary Norwegian Photography'.

The focus lies on projects dealing with human responses to the world surrounding us. The selection is full of contradictions and arguments, and together we hope to achieve an exhibition discussing what it is to live in a contemporary society in the north of Europe.

We also sense that more and more artists working with photography go to different g e o graphical regions to photograph. Both to contest the strong landscape tradition, but also to take advantage of a diverse reality which is not as present in the still very homogenous Norwegian society where the idea of equality is still one of the strongest forces. Having this in mind, the exhibition's secondary discussion is the globalized world that more and more people have an opportunity to take in, exploit, oppose etc. and how this might affect the everyday.

Roar Hatteland's image "Golden black holes" is a photographic paraphrase over Jaques-Louis David's sketch 'The Triumph of the French People over the Monarchy' from ca 1789 set in a contemporary non-descript landscape. Today are turbulent times, just as during David's life. He wrote in 1792 "The history of no other people offers anything as grand or sublime. I have no need to invoke the gods or myths to inspire my genious". This quote is in part transferable to "Golden black holes", but today the reporting of wars and disasters are overwhealmingly more rapid and the visuals are disturbing to a point where artists tend to remove themselves from the life-like depiction of reality to discuss the events unfolding in the news every night. Hatteland has digitally created a frieze discussing the American presence in Iraq, the arrest of Saddam Hussein, individual's resistance, personal and collective suffering and media coverage.

To match Hatteland's work, which deals with current affairs and the effect the outer world has on the individual; Are Viktor Hauffen's 'Faith Hope Air and Water' takes a look at three individuals trying to have an effect on the outer world. This can sometimes be difficult because of the laws of physics. Through a video in three parts, divided in several sequences, we follow three men in Austria and Canada who share a passion for their beliefs in altering the way we perceive nature. In many ways they try to combine ecology, religion and science into one common field of knowledge. They have strong interests in developing scientific ways of using undeveloped energy sources, such as ways to extract energy from vortex, rivers and different constructed models. The video work poetically describes their beliefs, devotion - and love for their work, as well as the problems they encounter trying to merge their philosophy with the laws of physical reality.

The laws of physical reality are also connected to the human body. In Kjetil Kausland's images from the series "No Holds Barred" we see a selection of fighters pushing the boundaries of what is physically possible for a body. Through these still images the artist discusses issues of vulnerability, masculinity, violence and sexuality. Arne Skaug Olsen writes in the catalogue "No Holds Barred" (published autumn 2006, CTRL+Z Publishing): "This is never about documenting or displaying a social environment from the inside, but rather about telling stories. More about mediating an experience of presence in the world."

The quietness in "Ho Holds Barred" is different from the quietness we see in Heidi Nikolaisen's "places I've been happy". The artist wants to, through a large selection of photographs and texts from Japan, to lead the viewer down a path of memories; both real and constructed. Memories which are difficult to attach to one single person or one single place depicted. Spending time with this piece is like taking on the role of a detective looking for clues, but at the same time trying to manage a mental space belonging only to the viewer through his or her own memories connected to situations and scenes similar to the images and texts.

The play with photography and fiction, reality and text is something that is also apparent in Hilde Jørgensen's "Hunters Game". The artist steps into the role of "Hunter", her alter ego. Hunter hunts for images from the social environment in Northern Norway, but to know about the geographical location is of secondary importance. More important are the references to the paradoxes of documentary and staged photography, reality-tv-galmour and lived life, secularity and religiousness. There is a curiosity for the people in the images, but questions about their lives are not answered directly.

In Liv Ragnhild Kjellman's video "Loius V." on the other hand, we get to know too much if possible about the life and thoughts of the character portrayed. It is with mixed feelings we hear his opinions about how he perceives the world. Through a very particular and interesting balance between reality and fiction we see a WASP expressing his likes and dislikes, although mostly dislikes. This is a clever piece which potentially draws up a balance sheet of contemporary life in Northern Europe.

With this selection of work by young photographic artists the curators wish to introuce samples from the Norwegian art scene to the audience of the Sol Mednick Gallery.

The artists featured in the exhibition 'Dualities - Contemporary Norwegian Photography' are artists who, disregarding their age, already have had success with their different approaches. Because the Sol Mednick Gallery is situated in an educational institution, we found that to collect young artist would bee the most fruitful for this occasion. This way the students at the University of the Arts can take a closer look at their Norwegian contemporaries. It is not an historical exhibition, but more a dive into the Norwegian photography scene as it is today. The curators have thus avoided the 'usual suspects' because we believe this selection will give a more correct view of the underbrush of artists about to blossom and set their mark in the future. All the artists have exhibited both in national and international group exhibitions, and some have already had their first solo exhibitions.

The curators Anne Szefer Karlsen, Malin Barth and Sissel Lillebostad have been invited by director Harris Fogel of the Sol Mednick Gallery in Philadelphia, USA, to curate a group exhibition mapping tendencies in Norwegian photography opening February 2007.