Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Dispatches from Denmark

Peter Funch, Joy and Waste, 2011

Two more exhibitions I saw in Copenhagen:

- The Fotografisk Center is hosting Myths of the Near Future - New Danish Photography, a group show of 11 Danish photographers, including household names like Joakim Eskildsen and Jacob Aue Sobol and less internationally established names with really interesting work, like Lykke Andersen, with what I would describe as her conceptual vistas, revolving on the conflict between real and artificial, culture and nature; Peter Funch with his beautifully (and funny) staged street photography, or Astrid Kruse, whose images look like pages from spooky candlelight tales.

Lykke Anderson, Cows #1, 2011

The exhibition itself maybe presents too many names and too little work by each artist (it has around 2 photographs each), but the photographs and the gallery space are definitely worth the visit.

- The Fotografisk Center's exhibition also had two images by Trine Søndergaard and Nicolai Howalt's How to Hunt (above), which last year was released in a book by Hatje Cantz. Howalt was also on show at Martin Asbaek Gallery (I literally saw the last 15 minutes of the exhibition on the closing date) with his latest work Slutninger, images of human ashes after cremation which Howalt photographed to draw a parallel with the dust scattering into space after the explosion caused by the death of a star.

© Martin Asbaek Gallery

The work is presented in its two formats, with very large murals paired with small prints. The images feel very different in the two different formats, and I find the large ones simply far too large, clashing with a physical limited perception of detail (read overblown) when watching the prints from a close distance, while the smaller prints preserve the analogy with the stardust, as no matter how close we look at them them, it always feels like there is more to discover among those constellations of human remains.

Nicolai Howalt, Slutninger nr 3, 2011

Or maybe this dichotomy is exactly what Howalt wanted to show: "When a human being dies, the functions of the organism cease and rigor mortis sets in after a few hours; if the choice after this is a cremation, the body is burned at about 900o. The ash from this, which consists of about two kilos of elements, is at first gathered in a zinc box. An inorganic and non-degradable mass which in terms of the original paradoxically contains an infinity and an independent being in the universe. But if the zinc box is emptied and the elements for example come into contact with soil, they will once more enter into new compounds – in a new cycle."

© Martin Asbaek Gallery


Friday, October 21, 2011

Behind a desk

The Nikolaj Copenhagen Contemporary Art Center, formerly the Nikolaj Church (fascinating reconversion), is currently hosting an interesting exhibition, Bureaucratics by Dutch photographer Jan Banning, a journey through hundreds of state civil administrations across eight countries, showing how much the same recurrent image of a person sitting behind his or her own office desk can reveal of the country that those people are supposed to serve.

In Texas you might have two embalmed deers looking over your shoulder during your daily duties, in France you might work for a 51 residents' community, in Liberia you might be a policeman with no phone, no car and earn 15 euros a month.

All images except installation views © Jan Banning


Thursday, October 20, 2011

'City by the Sea'

What do Sexual Healing by Marvin Gaye and Karl Marx's Manifesto of the Communist Party have in common? They were written in the same place, Ostend, a coastal city in Belgium where Victor Hugo and Arthur Rimbaud also spent some time of their life.

Photographer Stefan Vanthuyne left Ostend when he was eighteen, at a time where the place was descending into what he calls 'a downward spiral', losing its mundane life and becoming a melancholic 'last stop'. His City by the Sea is a revisitation of Ostend today, a visual exploration where his personal memories flow through the roads and the buildings like a cold salty wind.

'Baby I got sick this morning
A sea was storming inside of me
Baby I think I'm capsizing
The waves are rising and rising'

It's easy to imagine Marvin Gaye writing those lyrics while looking from his window on a rainy winter day, while the sun has been hiding behind thick clouds for weeks and weeks.

All images © Stefan Vanthuyne


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Painting with numbers

It has been a long time since I last mentioned Mathieu Bernard-Reymond on these pages, and he has been producing some excellent work over the last few years. One remarkable series is Monuments, a sequence of black and white images in which Reymond transformed financial charts and other kinds of statistics into physical objects placed in the landscape, shown as pieces of land art or as memorials (just a remainder: check this old post to find a strikingly similar work by Michael Najjar).

Monuments perfectly represents Reymond's idea of photography, the contamination of a consolidated tradition of natural and urban landscape with a highly sophisticated use of digital manipulation. The goal is to create a new level of vision, where the openly unreal content of the image is presented in such a realistic fashion that it becomes plausible.

The use of digital made by Bernard-Reymond is one of the best examples of how photography can finally learn to stop worrying and love it once and for all, setting aside speculations on which should be the truest form of the photographic image and using digital as the instrument allowing the photographer to imagine a photograph and then proceed to create it as freely as possible from physical constraints.

Photography has often been naively described as the act of using a paintbrush of light, but perhaps with Bernard-Reymond we have one of those cases where the definition finally fits, as his images share the clinical precision of details we ascribe to photography, and yet they take us to a different dimension, where the world as we know it is silently reinvented.

All images © Mathieu Bernard-Reymond


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Danish Prospects

Christen Købke, View Outside the North Gate of the Citadel, 1834

While it once used to be a crucial topic, these days we have pretty much stopped thinking about the relationship between painting and photography, as if the two have stopped stepping on each other's toes a long time ago and now share little if no common ground.

But then you discover the work of Christen Købke, a Danish painter from the mid-19th century, and you really have to wonder if he may have played a key role in shaping what we call the great American color photography. I tried to google 'Købke + Sternfeld' to investigate, but I did not come up with much.

Joel Sternfeld, Glen Canyon Dam, Page, Arizona, 1983