Stian Grøgaard:Conversation with Stein Rønning
S.G. As colleagues at Statens kunstakademi (the Oslo National
Academy of the Arts) for nearly ten years, Stein Rønning
and I have had many interesting conversations. We quickly arrived
at our own open form of dialogue, one that constantly motivated
me in my work as a teacher. I was often irritated by how little
I remembered of what had been said and thought that the conversations
ought to have been recorded. The consolation was that a recording
device would have changed the character of the conversations.
And they shouldn’t be used for anything anyway. The most
important thing still remained, and that was an experimental dialogue
which never seemed to need any encouragement.
The following text is culled from conversations that took place
over the course of three mornings in the winter of 2008. We’d
seldom been so disciplined when we talked together, but this time
we’d agreed to talk about something definitive. We had a
recorder and an objective for meeting. The objective was a chronological
review of Stein’s works from the end of the 1970s through
today. The first was a series of photographs from 1978-9. We went
through the photographic documentation, and Stein explained:
S.R. These early attempts were about the
photograph as structure.
The photograph should appear as part of the landscape it’s
located in. I wanted to demonstrate this through revealing the
camera’s variables: the exposure, the work with the negatives
in the darkroom, the relationship between the paper and the enlarger,
and so on. When the photograph is a part of the subject matter,
it also becomes plastic in an entirely different, yet related
photograph is involuntarily figurative, but this isn’t about
figuration. It’s about photography as a part of the space
that it also testifies to. I want to show traces of the specific
working processes – shooting, developing, enlarging –
and then attempt to combine the different traces. In this way
I map out a place of action, and this mapping itself becomes a
space within a larger space.
For example, I went out to the ocean and photographed
the point where the waves break perpendicular to the camera’s
focal plane. In a series of shots I then gradually moved the horizon
vertically in the format. I consequently changed a vertical reference
in the picture plane. Back in the darkroom I copied the shots
along an axis in the same format. When reading the horizon’s
movement along this axis, a projection of the wave’s lengthwise
section emerged that had not been possible to read at the time
of shooting. The movement that describes the waves’ lengthwise
section follows movements in the space the photograph is a part
of. This also departs from the notion that the camera should be
frozen and neutral. I want to use the camera in a participatory
observation. The result becomes, if anything, a discursive photo
that doesn’t exist beyond its object. It exists, as in James
Gibson’s realistic psychology of perception, where the recipient
is a co-producer of the system he is observing.
The year is 1979; you are in your mid-20s and feeling your way.
First with photography. Then later you switch to the three dimensional
which characterizes most of what you have done.
These photographs are traces in a space that is representing
its own spatiality. In fact I also exhibited them as sculpture.
They were included in an exhibition titled ”Skulptur underveis”
(”Sculpture in transit”) and were shown in Oslo, Bergen
The same kind of exercise can be found in Richard Long’s
and Hamish Fulton’s work, but there the photograph is a
more ”neutral” witness to an intervention in the landscape.
I have, on the other hand, chosen to set the traces down in the
medium itself – a reflexive materialism.
The next work is three dimensional
and looks like
a bundle of sticks, but I understood
they were cast in another material?
The background for this sculpture was that I chopped down
a patch of forest for firewood. Ten years later I took out a tree
from the new growth that had come up in the meantime. From this
tree I made negative silicone forms that I then cast in epoxy.
Out of these forms there are a varying number of casts made and
arranged in groups, and finally painted matt black.
The substance poured into the forms is polyester or epoxy
resin, a ”reconstruction” of the sap from trees, which
will set into a fixed form. Polyester is made out of crude oil,
a carbon compound, the leftovers of life that are taken from each
other and recreated into, among other things, epoxy resin, which
is in the same family as the chemical in the tree I had in fact
taken the negative from. There is a kind of reunion in the material
both in terms of the substance and the figure, and at the same
time an explicit sculptural quality.
I saw this sculpture of sticks cast in the tree’s ”own”
stuff, resin, as a gnomon, a thing that ”knows” and
simultaneously demonstrates its knowledge. What happens in the
sculpture is concealed, and what you see is precisely about that.
The sculpture demonstrates an internal or ”private”
matter. I wanted a genuine suggestion, not a picture of something,
no representation or abstraction. For me it solved the problem
of giving the object a stabile meaning without having to resort
to concepts. The structure bends in on itself and leads the perception
which otherwise is so open and indefinite in traditional modern
sculpture. The black paint doesn’t belong to the sculpture’s
interior, it’s a supplement. Nevertheless there is an awareness
of the structure in this black “skin”. The paint becomes
a gesture that points to something beyond the thing and is on
the verge of becoming a linguistic principle.
Two things strike me about your earlier works. Surrounded by neo-expressionistic
painting, you show the need to reduce the elements in order to
gain control of the creation of meaning itself. The other, for
example in the cast, black-lacquered stick sculptures, is your
interest in intensifying the reflexivity in the works. While at
the same time the “sticks” are of course three-dimensional
and patently obvious. The reflexivity is an obstacle the viewer
has to overcome, but it also provides a key to understanding what
he gets to see.
What he gets to see is something taking place in the space
that allows itself to be traced back to the same space and to
a local context. The point was to exist within something, in an
interior, that could operate locally and physically. At the same
time, such an interior is also a picture one can move around in.
In minimalism’s surfaces, to which you gradually orient
yourself, there is an increased sensitivity to meaning. This same
sensitivity distinguishes you in the context of the Norwegian
art world. Was it someone at the academies in Trondheim and Bergen,
where you were a student, who noticed this?
I began in Trondheim under Ove Stokstad who was carrying on the
local tradition from Gruppe 5 (Group 5). The Group operated somewhere
between abstraction and concrete art, and Stokstad provided this
midway position with a strong rhythmic accent. As a student I
was actually primarily interested in film. I was on the board
of a film club that arranged a comprehensive experimental film
program. We read Metz, Eco and Pasolini, and I learned that all
images are ideological and everything potentially is imagery.
An encounter with Peter Gidal’s manifesto for a materialistic-structuralistic
film was an important experience.
By the end of my studies I’d become attentive to how
Bård Breivik did things. He came from Anthony Caro and Saint
Martins which at the time was home to perhaps the most important
sculpture program in Europe. Bård had direct experience
with the things I tried to approach at a distance. He noticed
what I was doing and responded very generously.
Since you are neither a neo-expressionist painter nor a typical
three-dimensional concrete artist, it’s interesting to see
how you orientate yourself and how what you do maneuvers between
different positions and expressions.
I have been concerned with scaling the plastic and rediscovering
it in concrete connections. You do something and stop to register
the trail that’s been left, however small or limited it
might be. I read Wittgenstein and was preoccupied with this pragmatic
testing of the language. Such a way of relating to the act of
making traces, was entirely different than the culture that said
a bit more of this and a bit less of that, with regards to a norm
for how it should be.
You have said that it was reading four issues of the journal Studio
International that got you going. That’s modestly said.
The fact is you’ve continued to read, and to read a lot.
You are an artist who is drawn to the principal aspects in the
works you make.
As a reader I’m on my own, an amateur who learns along
the way. Ideas become a means of opening possibilities for determining
what I’m doing. It’s therefore important as well to
be flexible in relation to them and accept contradictions and
paradoxes. I work with three-dimensional plastic form and probably
bring the plastic into the relationship I acquire to ideas and
to verbal language.
That shelf sculpture
from 1983 can remind one of Judd’s minimalism, but it lacks
that which is typical for him, namely cubic volumes. The horizontal
form seems uneven as well?
The photograph shows one of three identical shelves in one
of three different rooms. The sizes and proportions of the shelves
are adapted to the rooms’ and my proportions. They were
constructed in standard building materials, stapled and glued,
spackled and sanded such that the particular plane or surface
is precisely made. Then white oil color was applied with a brush
and knife. On two of them the color was applied only on the horizontal
plane; on the third, also on the vertical plane. It took three
weeks to complete. The work consisted of applying coats and modifying
the oil color on the shelves along with filling in and evening
out flaws on the wall behind. I did this every day for several
hours. The point was to attune the eye to traces. When one fills
flaws in the wall, increasingly more flaws become visible; they
become smaller, but also more. Parallel with evening out the wall
was the concentrated application of oil color on the shelves.
These are two parallel gestures where the one cultivates what
is already there and eliminates traces. The opposite adds and
accumulates. The time-limited process created an axis through
the interior that came forward through modifying what was already
The notion of ”tact” was important here. Tact
is reflexive and is about holding back. The tactful will never
mention its own tact, but what is withheld and what is doing the
withholding? It is an immediately visible form, a kind of tempered
gesture, both a harmonization and an exposure of a phenomenon.
This kind of tact lies under a more comprehensive rhythmic size,
something the artist must be attuned to. It is tact that determines
I mentioned sensitivity to significance. Sensitivity is an aesthetic
alertness that one can’t expect of the average viewer. That
which strongly affects sensitive folk requires an extra effort
from a brutalized typical audience. They have to reset themselves
in order to be able to enter into frames such as these, which
at first glance are a kind of absent painting.
I think that sensitivity also has to do with the banal or
obvious in the works. An anticipation easily arises when one encounters
something entirely obvious. The obvious in plastic form bears
something original in itself and is an inexhaustible resource
for making individual traces. There are simple things that are
done, for example that frames are associated with painting, that
a frame has a form like a square, that they are made simply, by
hand in familiar materials; but one nevertheless has to know something
in advance in order to be able to get something out of these frames.
What one invests goes, in the end, back to interest in that which
These two bronze sculptures
have the proportions of a work by Richard Serra that moreover
resembles a work by Tony Smith. Serra’s works always follow
the shortest route to the simplest form, because that’s
also the true form. There is a reductive logic that seeks the
right way to a phenomenon and where the process is a constituent
part of the work. In Serra’s work steel is forged directly
into an entire block. Tony Smith welds together steel plates that
he lacquers. I worked toward a somewhat identical form, but with
two individually modeled blocks of clay that were cast, via lost
wax, in bronze. Where Serra follows gravity’s vector toward
the simplest possible form, the form here is more figuratively
representative, built into another process. The result is an imitation,
a reiteration, no pure form, more a model that resembles something
else. The imitation should be deconstructive, and it consisted
in infecting a hierarchy. There is an opening here accommodating
other ways of reading that goes in the direction of figure and
connotation, rather than a law that reduces the phenomenon to
a modernistic essence.
Explain the reasoning behind this floor sculpture.
The sculpture is a minimalistic pastiche in welded steel,
made in such a way that there is a gap between the back and the
floor. Even though the angle is right, the figure doesn’t
entirely rest on the floor. It has a complication that creates
a break in this simple economy. I imagined this exhibition as
a means for ”altering” a reductive practice, providing
for other values that were both more theatrical and more complex
than those that reside in minimalism’s heroic reduction,
where the point was always the shortest route between the thing
and the consciousness.
In that exhibition at Akershus
fortress in 1987 you used such dissimilar materials as dolerite,
respatex, steel, bronze, and concrete.
Instead of reducing, the point here was to add. This was
over 20 years after minimalism was completely formulated, so what
I’m doing is actually about style. The minimal became a
style phenomenon and something other than the radicalism of the
60s. I see this work as an exercise in decomposition after the
sculpture had reached the “zero point”, or after the
zero point begins to repeat itself. With the repetition a kind
of proto-idea of something is carved out, a writing or text that
opens a space that is defined by something other than the phenomenon
How are these small deviations registered in such a rustic and
It was a difficult space. The room was historically charged
and contrasted materials that in themselves were theatrical. It
was perhaps not disadvantageous for this form of deconstruction
of minimalism’s purity. Everything became theatrical. The
same objects were exhibited other places and worked differently
in each place.
What minimalism bequeaths to conceptual artists like Sol Levitt
and early Joseph Kosuth is a demonstration of how little meaning
is necessary for a work to be considered art. The less is necessary,
the easier one can control the meaning the things obtain. Perhaps
the things in your case have become more uncontrollable and a
little more painful?
The conceptual was no way further, but rather a departure from
the plastic, directly to the ideas’ linear affiliation with
language and history. Morphologically, then, it was a novelty,
and that’s of course interesting, but it provided no new
understanding of the plastic object. Today the conceptual lives
together with surrealist strategies and has a relationship to
theory that makes the theoretical most interesting and most plastic.
This cube is small, with
a discrepancy here down on the corner. This probably means that
you open the cube from this corner?
Yes. It’s supplemented there; the warm liquid wax that
is painted on two of the sides merges in the end and becomes a
contrast to or pendant on the cast concrete shell.
It disrupts an expected symmetry.
It’s not about one thing; or the thing participates
in a kind of game ”about” itself. It displayed a shift
to the side of the symmetrically reductive and pointed to a situation
that one could neither maintain nor abandon: a paradox and a very
At the exhibition at Kunstnernes Hus
(Artists’ House) in 1988 you showed these ”boxes”,
which in a sense resemble the ”frames” from the year
before, in plywood painted white, layer upon layer. Again, you
chose an extreme expression.
It was perceived that way, but I can’t see the extreme
in it. The reductive form has of course been here a while. Loos
and Bauhaus have become a part of our sensibility, and there are
of course the same figures in the architecture of Kunstnernes
Hus. I see these boxes as entirely obvious in relation to the
place they were shown.
One can say that you accentuate the location’s own order.
The boxes are small in relation to the room, but they have a large
form that in a way clarifies the sense of space there.
I borrowed from the space in order to establish a proportion.
The next photograph is
from 1990 and an exhibition at Samtidskunstmuseet (The Museum
of Contemporary Art, in Oslo, now a part of the National Museum
of Art, Architecture and Design).
I showed two boxes, the one is one and a half percent smaller
than the other. The rooms they occupied are moreover equally large.
The point was to notice a difference in the two rooms, and I think
one did. The perception of these ”bodies” was about
an experience of the borders of difference. The boxes are circa
160 centimeters high and were open on top. Some can see down into
them and others cannot.
Then the difference between the boxes can also be rendered neutral
by a difference between genders or between adult and child.
There’s no such thing as aesthetic equality. The individual
difference is the constitution in the aesthetic area of experience.
One box got a kiss mark on it. There was a big red mouth and it
was probably as high as this person could stretch.
Barnett Newman once said that the young artists in his time just
called the workshop and got the art delivered to the door; he
was surely thinking about Dan Flavin and Donald Judd, while he
didn’t even manage to order the Chinese take-away he wanted.
But these boxes you’ve quite simply constructed and painted
It’s rather simple and doesn’t require any particular
sensitivity on my part. The work is just a manual attachment to
the distanced ideal object. When minimalism rejects this attachment,
it’s in order to rid itself of an irrational element, something
that in fact doesn’t allow itself to be explained logically,
and that raises questions such as: Why do it yourself, and why
are twenty layers of paint necessary, why not ten? The answer
is that the manual here takes on a negative value in comparison
to the factory-produced and rational. It has to do with the object’s
procedural side; the question about the time the form takes, about
proportions, about what is big or small, about what is good enough,
and finally, how it’s possible to pose such questions when
it nevertheless is about something so small. Actually, it’s
a question of scale, and about providing for the “real scale”
that Barnett Newman sought, and perhaps closed off. It can be
that I am attempting a re-Europeanizing of American scale, and
making it into a composite of several proportions, not just a
reductive, phenomenological and universal staircase. There is
this notion of the universal in the reduction, but there are also
traces of standardization and perfection, of the power to reduce
and to guide the use of the reduction. In this way minimalism
is also a part of a complex historical picture.
You are making these ”boxes” at a time when everyone
is painting, and you paint them, to the extent that you can, monochromatically.
Nearly as though the point is the contemplative in the procedure,
and what it is to display a private or non-public space.
At the same time these boxes are entirely obvious, fundamental
and crude with the quality that they display, or allow for; things
that aren’t anything other than themselves. And they endure
a lot precisely because they bear such an openness. That this
openness is both coarse and contemplative speaks to a tension,
but not necessarily a contradiction.
Let’s take a look at the black,
organic forms from 1989-90 that are important in
your oeuvre. Is what we’re looking at on the white pedestals
done in metal or clay?
I modeled these small ”gestures” in clay. They
should not be just pure aggregates of mass, but have a rhythm.
The forms were modeled with long steel rods with a spoon-like
form at the end, which more or less functioned as distancing prostheses
in the modeling. The spatial distance from the figures in the
making of them was important. One goes around and forms the clay
at one and a half meter’s distance without reference to
anything else than the treatment in and of itself. The distance
changes the material into an optical phenomenon. It becomes a
miniature, and implies an image category. That which at a 1:1
scale would have been a concrete trace, here gets a symbolic function
as well. The steel rods I used were heavy, and that lends inertia
and its own quality to the plastic. The movement seems slow and
foreign. The tactile is translated into an ambiguous space which
exists midway between a sign and just an aggregated mass.
There are two things I notice in these sculptures. The one is
that the sculptures display a kind of appropriated geometry that
seems melted down. The other is again the taste for a principled
problem. Of course in this case it’s objects with a particular
production history, but everything principled has such a history.
It nevertheless does not remove the traces of reflexivity. Something
in your works is always about the works.
It becomes itself and about itself. The starting point here was
a generic idea about abstract sculpture. By which is meant an
abstract sculpture that is assembled, like a kind of “species”.
Where the cubes presumed the exhibition space and were grounded
in a concrete situation, these sculptures are grounded in a conventional
notion of sculpture. Nonetheless there is no doubt about the proximity
to the convention in these sculptures. They were full of references
to Rosso, Fautrier, Fontana, Tucker and Kirkeby, who all adapt
a figurative reference in addition to the materiality itself.
It’s thus the iconic in them that also emerges as plain
I find an Orphean element here. It’s about moving down
in a darkness and bringing something back from there, something
that doesn’t die in the light and at the same time shows
something new. The point was to reveal a kind of antibody, that
something becomes visible by being read from the back side. The
movement didn’t progress from a specific material to an
absent idea, but rather the opposite, from a specific idea about
something that isn’t there, to this specific material.
Sculpture is work, ergon, but much of what you have done has something
frame-like or “parergonal” about it, that is to say,
has the character of being an encircling or a framework. You build
frames around a work, and when you finally formulate yourself
“ergonally” or on the level of the work itself, as
in these abstract sculptures, it’s, as you say, through
an antibody and the notion of absence. Of course these are objects,
and they are positive formulations of something small, made with
distance and an awkward tool, but the objects demonstrate a convention
that frames them in. Nevertheless this is the closest you have
come to traditional sculpture. I see a shyness in you in relation
to the sculptural object.
I don’t know about that, but everything has a shadow.
What strikes me is that these sculptures are unbelievably effective
when they are in a room. They become intense and obstinate, kind
of dissenters in the surroundings. It’s also a way of obtaining
space for its own presence.
At the same time there is, as you emphasize, a gestural work,
even though the tools you used made it difficult for the gestural
in these works. And then, it simply stopped?
Yes, but what was done also paved the way for the next possibility,
the next step. The way forward was to respond to the material.
The very first of this first generation of sculptures had something
about it that was worth taking further to the next production
stage. It was about responding and dividing, for it became a premise
that such an al prima construction has a limitation. The first
sculptures were a way into the material, and afterwards it became
a kind of ”daidai” as it’s called in Plato’s
Timaeus. I thought that the last part, which of course is time
in Plato’s model, could also become a link in the chain
of the physical object. Plato takes the identity of something,
then the difference to the same thing, subsequently the identity
of both, and in the end he combines all three into one uniform
quantity. He divides this quantity so harmonically that the three
elements can be positioned together again by crossing, module
for module. This is an ur-plastic that is always relevant, with
the exception that in traditional modernist plastic one didn’t
have the idea of putting the modules together again. In these
objects the formal elements were redundant, but when they were
combined with each other into second generation objects, something
unique arose which concerned the generic yet at the same time
provides a resonance within itself. This project’s figurative
resource also resides in this resonance.
Is it so, that second generation objects
are more complicated?
By replication the empty forms acquire something self-evident
about them. The forms had to do with the extension of themselves,
so to speak. There is consequently a somewhat empty gesture that
becomes something else, and positive, by being replied to or combined
with itself or with parts of itself. It also broadens the traditional
idea that lies in the al prima gesture.
This is from 1995 and contains yet
another generation of the object?
One can of course divide up and piece together ad infinitum,
so the impulse is gradually weakened. Soon it became rather obvious
which resources lay there. That was when I got the idea of digitalizing
the entire process. An old industrial robot was used, a kind of
long arm with a sensor, not unlike those tools I had myself modeled
with, which read off the form as a series of points in a tri-axial
coordinate. The form was modified by the computer that controlled
the robot, and only a few, not terribly significant changes were
made. The same arm that had held a sensor now cut out the form
on the basis of the digital model.
Next generation objects were opened even more. After the digitalization
they were separated, re-modeled, cut on the horizontal and vertical
planes, and painted with oil color. Finally the objects were torn
away from everything but their own origins, even though they still
are clearly elements in a particular and stable class of ”abstract
When you continue to model on
digitally processed objects, is it not the form but the generalizing
poetics that becomes complex? Your interest in the generic is
notable for a shift of emphasis toward the poetics or the method.
I recognize the generic when I see it, and know that it depends
on the image being connected to something more than itself. What’s
more, with the digitalization an alien element enters, a concealed
central or “black box” that leaves particular traces
in the material. The traces are visible, but we don’t know
where they come from. This is a common feature of the image of
materiality around us, and art is not unrelated to this image.
At the same time, these objects are also classically sculptural
because they are about proportions, and proportion implies a question
about affiliation. It is easy to accept a method or procedure;
it’s quite another thing to accept its effect in a local
physical form, where it is closer to home. The form here has something
to do with the general and statistical, something that renders
itself, an autopoiesis, a figure that is partly its own rational.
These small, dark sculptures express a melancholy permanence;
sometimes one is reminded of well-composed metal slag, an alchemical
mulatto, a phase of the connection between mercury and sulfur
which I think Strindberg experimented with in Inferno. At the
same time they are powerful objects that become almost majestic
on a pedestal. I remember that you displayed them on white pedestals
at Galleri Riis.
Perhaps the sculptures possess a melancholy, but there is
also something immediate and present about them. They gravitate,
as I see it, toward a type of site-specificity in the symbol,
and the symbol that’s concerned is abstract sculpture, physical
bodies that can be something other than themselves. It was also
one of the preconditions for them.
There is a strong focus on an unassuming object that is unrelated
to the surroundings in an entirely other degree than the white
frames and boxes. The dark sculptures stand out as expressive,
but still self-immersed objects. Nevertheless it’s not long
before this plea becomes problematic, and you work yourself out
of this project.
It means in no way that the form or the material is exhausted.
I mean, I’ve been working with it for 15 years. There is
still a potency intact in the material, in the finished works,
and in the battery of cast forms that were left as parts of a
grammar. But whether the artistic procedure is a prolongation,
a break, or as here, an infolding, art is a modern idea that is
dependent on reinterpreting oneself. The new resides in being
able to think art at all. If art wasn’t new, it would just
be communication, good or bad, and maintain an identity that regardless
is not art. What’s problematic about an artistic process
is thus something that generates itself.
Let’s talk about the most recent
project, the exhibition of photographs at Trondheim
Kunstforening (Trondheim Art Society) in 2007. It’s fascinating
to try to find a hint of the subjectivity in modern repro-technical
media like photography, a subjectivity that is even more precarious
now that the photograph has been digitalized.
Jean-Luc Nancy lists four different subjects within photography,
where the first subject is that which photographs, and the second
that which is photographed. They are both objects of the photograph
as event; something occurs between them, and they stand in a direct
relation to what occurs. Then it’s the awareness of the
photograph that includes the onlooker and the historical-photographical
memory, and finally it’s the medium that is an object for
practical and technological development, and thereby becomes a
In this work it’s about weakening the second subject and
replacing it with an aspect of the first. In this way I can play
with a perception of proportions. This brings in the third subject
as a type of awareness of photographic conventions, which here
is disrupted because the second subject, that which is photographed,
is reduced to something so obvious that you both see and overlook
it. Photography has a tradition and a form of consciousness that
associates new images with earlier ones. There’s a difference
here in comparison with sculpture which still stands there and
is what it is, while a photo is less ”grounded” in
the object than in the traditions of expectation and ideology
which the object is the bearer of. The connotative moves more
easily in an image on a flat plane than in the body of a sculpture.
In the photograph the symbolic function is already at work long
before the actual individual image. It is just indirectly a fact
on the wall and is first and foremost about something. The photographs
in this exhibition should to the greatest possible degree be visual
facts and least of all about something.
In Trondheim you showed synthetic photographs. There is of course
a reference for them, but they are further manipulated with Photoshop.
The photographs began with a sheet of paper being torn to
a certain size and laid on a table at a certain distance within
reach. On the paper, a rectangular form was suggested in pencil,
based on a sense of proportion. Then I clarified the drawing.
This is about consistencies more than whether the drawing is “correct”.
The next stage was to cut these proportions in wood veneer. Format,
grain and pattern gave the surfaces texture. They were built to
different volumes in the same scale and set on a table of the
same material. Then they were combined and moved in relation to
each other. Everything is done in front of a studio camera that
tracks the combinations. Some are more interesting than others.
Then the images were digitally manipulated, cut and finished.
Some were copied right from the negative. They are printed out
photo-chemically in the ”correct” size for the sake
of scale, and hung on a wall to be seen.
So in fact they’re objects you place on a table, and it’s
in every sense a physical, analogue business. That then gradually
is put into Photoshop and edited. Just like Morandi, who painted
pictures of bottles he’d painted first, and then presented
as a motif?
Yes, why not. Like Morandi I work anthropometrically, limited
and concrete. There’s no universal goal, only local and
shifting. I move the boxes according to what I find to be a rhythmic
order in the room, and shoot the film as I go. I make an excerpt
of the space that’s being worked on and then photographed,
without completely knowing what it looks like. Regardless, it
will just be a resource to build on.Then
in the end it becomes a film that is developed and scanned into
the computer. The film is perhaps under or over exposed, or it
has a “cast”, but all this is characteristic or information
that is just potential in relation to what’s on the wall.
These images do not allow themselves to represent anything. As
soon as they fall outside their localized scale, they lose almost
everything. As reproductions in a book they’re useless.
They’re infinitely reproducible, but hardly let themselves
represent because their iconic aspect is as good as gone.
Here is an example of a blue “cast”.
If one knew the origin of this image, one would see that it is
something wrong with the color in the picture. The cast is due
to the daylight, the afternoon and the film’s qualities.
A local color in the structure arises from the inherent possibilities.
Computer programs are also local in terms of color and drawing
possibilities, which is an area that again can be interpreted.
The discolored film can with manipulation be given a clear blue
tone that has its own value in the final situation, without seeming
like a mistake.
In the catalogue text you relate some reflections on photography’s
historicity. The photograph is increasingly more about itself.
It’s as if all art photography from the 1990s first of all
confronted the medium with its own mortality.
One sees this in all the staging in photography, including
press photos. Everyone knows that a photograph is not “true”
in and of itself. Even the illusion of truth is gone, and with
the digital, just forget the eye witness function. What were once
exciting images of something you hadn’t seen before are
now trivia from the information screen’s generic phenomenality.
What once depicted a world now depicts a medium. The photograph
has been numbed, and barred from saying anything pressing. Yet
there is still a shadow in the photograph that at least accommodates
a kind of truth about the medium, perhaps even a deeper truth,
which enables one to see how the medium constitutes a consciousness.
The photograph still has charm, but this medium has also become
redundant. It has acquired something ideological or subconscious
that you start processing as soon as you get into it.
The photograph has become profane. It can no longer be sworn by.
An expansion of the time mechanism in Roland Barthes’
Camera Lucida has occurred, hasn’t it? The past hasn’t
just overtaken the subject. It’s overtaken the medium itself.
The photograph makes an event into a part of the past. It’s
my experience that what is put forth here is concrete, alien,
artificial and completely transparent. One sees everything there
is to see in a mere second. The temporal is irrelevant and the
special magic in the photographic medium has become trivial.
Nevertheless the photograph is still a powerful time mechanism,
even to an increasing extent. Time moves faster, but what’s
in time is weakened. Here the photograph reveals something ideological
which is true, even though it is a mimetic or functional quantity.
I read Benjamin on capitalism as a cult, and then an excerpt of
Werner Hamacher’s and Agamben’s discussion of this
text. One can conclude with the notion that the photograph in
capitalism is an implicit ideological tool that ”pumps”
time and produces the fleeting as an illusion of the possible.
It’s perfectly suited to a capitalistic system that always
seeks its own excess.
So these are in a way photographs without historic time? They
are neither true nor false.
There is an excess in these photographs, even though they
are completely uninteresting – because they are photographs.
The excess makes possible something that isn’t there, a
ghost in the medium which is generated by prejudices, ideology
or subconsciousness, and which puts in motion something more than
what’s happening in the picture. The photograph “separates”
like milk, as Barthes writes. One never sees “the photograph”,
one sees it after it has become its own trace or sign. In the
photographic sign there arises a plastic space where the physical
and the optical can meet. Either in an open discord as in effective
iconic representation, or in a tighter interaction with the discord,
as I attempted in these photographs. A representation always reinforces
something, and I attempted to reinforce that which eliminates
the distance in effectively representative photographs. It’s
here that this exhibition touches on a typically sculptural problem.