Five artists, five days, five colours and five hours for the fifth issue of The Plantation Journal.
Text by Christian Tunge, images by Christian Tunge, and Istvan Viraq / Fotogalleriet
For a week in August, Fotogalleriet turned into a photography studio and creative working space where five artists were invited to explore their own practice in relation to a specific space and set of materials. Vilde J. Rolfsen, Sara Skorgan Teigen, Petter Berg, Johan Rosenmunthe and myself were all presented with the same set of materials: a plinth, some geometrical wooden figures (painted a different colour for each artist), as well as a stone and a mirror. The studio was equipped with a Canon 5D mk II, a 50 mm, two flashes and five different back drops, one for each artist. We were each given five hours in the studio to make a set of pictures. During the days, the space was open to the public. One picture from each artist would be presented in an exhibition the following Friday. The others will appear in a publication that is being released during Oslo Fotobokfestival in September.
FOTOSTUDIO is organised by The Plantation, a London and New York-based art initiative best known for its series The Plantation Journal. Over the past years, parallel with the growth of the photobook into a strong artistic genre, its founders Trine Stephensen and Elevine Berge have curated a series of these thematic publications focusing on photography. Even though they are called ‘journals’ they can be seen as pieces of art, where the curators have removed the artists’ works from their original context, form, printing techniques and materials and put them in new constellations. The FOTOSTUDIO exhibition can be seen as an extension of this artistic project.
I wanted to respect the concept as much as possible, so I had made no plans prior to my day in the studio. Much like the contestants in the reality show The Survivor, we were allowed to bring a personal item, so I brought a laser level. As the first artist out, what surprised me most was the competitive form. We had our own team colour, a set time and the same mission: one picture, printed the same size, based on the same objects. It felt as if our art had suddenly taken on a value that could and would be measured at the end of the week. Instead of starting with an idea and choosing the materials and techniques based on this idea, the tables were turned.
The challenge for all of us, coming from a background of still life or studio work, was to avoid making a beautifully lit aesthetic composition. We would have to somehow take it further – even just for the competitive element of the exercise. At the same time, it seemed far-fetched to try to develop and execute an interesting concept within five hours. In any case, I’d rather photograph in search of an interesting image. In general I’m a bigger fan of exciting images than smart concepts.
If the curator is the new artist, the publisher is the new curator.
During my hours in the studio, many people – friends, media and members of the public – came by. I felt like an artist and a circus artist simultaneously: I was working as I always do, but on assignment and with the materials and equipment linked to commercial photography. At the same time, everyone could watch what I was doing and Instagram me live like they would a sportsman. A group from Norwegian School of Creative Studies stopped by and were curious to know how I label myself: visual artist, photographer, sculptor who photo-documents, lens-based artist, image-maker or performing photographer? The Plantation could call themselves ‘curators who use photographers’ and in this project they wanted to invite the audience to witness a day in the artist’s studio – a good way to see how the process works.
During the weekend, the project had got a lot of coverage in art magazines, blogs and mainstream media. The opening of the exhibition on the Friday was well-attended and people had a lot to say - both positive and negative about the show. Most of the critique was directed at the limitations of the project. It seemed hard for people to talk about the pictures on the wall as just pictures on the wall, rather than discussing the circumstances under which they were made. Others were concerned about the motivations behind the project. The artists involved are young and not yet established and I got the feeling that some people interpreted the project solely as a way to showcase new talent, and they suggested better ways to spend the money.
I believe, however, that the idea of FOTOSTUDIO is interesting, even for established artists. I’d like to see how far one could push it: limiting the time, space, equipment, materials and not even allowing any personal items. I don’t think it’s productive to analyse the curatorial idea, the single images, or the motivation behind the project separately. When economic structures force galleries to plan their exhibition programmes years in advance, spontaneous projects like FOTOSTUDIO bring a welcome pulse to the scene.