This Friday the exhibition Awakening opens at Kristiansand Kunsthall. Here an interview with Charlotte Thiis-Evensen and Josefine Klougart about the collaborative book project.
By Lisa Andrine Bernhoft-Sjødin. Documentation photos by Arne Vinnem.
Lisa Andrine Bernhoft-Sjødin: Charlotte, you work with video art and documentaries, while Josefine, you’re a writer. The other artists involved in Awakening are photographers Marie Sjøvold and Arne Vinnem, and composer and writer Eivind Buene. Everyone was invited to contribute with individual projects in relation to the theme of awakening. You circulated your four-page contributions amongst each other, so that each artist could add to the previous contribu- tion, but these contributions were concealed. Did you have any restrictions on subject matter or form?
Charlotte Thiis-Evensen: We had no restrictions either on how these projects would be presented or in what ways they related to the overall theme. But there had to be some kind of framework. Each contributor was given four pages and two weeks to complete their contribution. The pages were concealed using paperclips, put in a designated box and handed over personally to the following artist, in no particular order.
LABS One of the many exciting aspects of this project, specifically for this issue, is its interdisciplinary character, engaging both text and photography.
CTE There’s a lot of text, which was somewhat unexpected. We see this with all the participant artists. My project, for instance, is both text pieces and photography.
LABS Still, do you consider this a literary project or a photography project? Is it even a question to consider?
CTE The particular vantage point you take alters how you read the project. My standpoint is that the project is a photography book, not necessarily as opposed to a literary book, though I do consider a photography book more of an art object than the latter, it feels more precious. Also, I wonder if the photograph allows for more of an open contempla- tion, exactly because it’s devoid of words. Because the project is more text-heavy, it’s been crucial for us to find a complementary balance between text and photography.
LABS In your contribution, you’re combining unedited and documentary photographs and short texts describing two vexing situations in your neighbourhood. The texts are sober, purely descriptive. How did you weigh this particular balance?
CTE I’m first and foremost a documentarian, which means I’m always thinking about the story I want to tell. The photographs are a temporal expansion of the texts, and not merely illustrating them. As a photographer friend said when she saw the texts: ‘These are photographs!’ and I agree with that. The texts have a level of sobriety to them that further widens the narrative scope and leaves meaning open to the viewer’s perspective.
LABS And you, Josefine, when you were first asked to be a participant to this project, did you know that it was primarily a photography project? If so, how did this shape your contribution?
Josefine Klougart: I was aware of the nature of the project, but it didn’t really shape my contribution in a particular way. I was first and foremost excited about how the different disciplines were coming together, challenging the smoothness of thought. I’ve always been interested in the image. My understanding of literature isn’t formed by literary science alone. It ́s more informed by the shared fundamental ideas of art expression than ideas surrounding the nature of our digital age.
LABS Definitively. Though conversely, there’s an overwhelming amount of images today being rapidly shared on various social-media platforms and beyond. The image offers a fragment of a situation or emotion, in some ways reduced to a minimum so as to be easily readable. Text, on the other hand, is different, isn’t it? Especially when it comes to literature. We expect the narrative to expand. With this stream of information we’re experiencing, do we have room for text, or are images taking over?
JK In my opinion, it’s more a question of sociology than a strictly aesthetic one, although a brilliant image can, in principle, catch a lot of people’s attention through the new platforms and that’s fundamentally a good thing. The problem is that it’s seldom the brilliant images, or texts for that matter, getting this type of attention.
CTE I think that if it’s done right, text and image contribute different layers of specific subject matter. Then again, my text pieces, as of the latest edit, also perform as a literary text, because it’s similar in form to certain poetry genres. To answer your question, my notion is that both the image flow and social media have changed our image reception, but also, how we read. This constant exposure to an ever-flowing, speedy image stream reduces our tolerance to the slower stream of text. Conversely, we’re seeing a rise in people opting out of this image-chaos, away from the digital all together, and turning to a slower-paced state of mind. So in this regard, I’m not totally convinced that the image flow is a pressing matter for textual potentiality; instead, it sharpens how we think of these and opens up for new ventures within text.
LABS As we discussed earlier, your texts perform even more like a photograph, given the overall context of the projects within.
CTE Text definitively becomes unstable in relation to a visual language and literacy. They’re different types of fragments, eventually coming together to form an unstable whole, whether it’s pieces like this project or within the mind of the viewer. Klougart’s handwritten pieces have become negatives, because her handwriting was in itself so sculptural and fragile. It transformed into an ornamented image with the original text written plainly on the opposite side, contrasting the two. Buene’s work was more visual from the start, juxtaposing text and image within the same frame, suggesting three languages: musical, written and visual.
LABS This is understandable when it comes to art photography, but what about images created for the ever-faster consumption of easily readable meaning. Are they more definable as closed circuits?
CTE Have we become so trained in the visual language, that we’re a bit jaded? Platforms like Instagram or Facebook depend on that jadedness. Images in that context are constantly pushed further down your feed. They’re totally dependent, more than anything, on catching your eye instantly. Is that irreconcilable with the unstable feature that text can bring? I don’t know, but it’s interesting.
LABS Do the images within this project take on this challenge?
JK Generally, one should be careful to think that everything has changed or is changing for the worst. Instead, it would be better to look at what these changes reveal about what kind of stories we’re telling and what kind of images we’re creating in this environment. The various art disciplines share a lot of fundamental ideas and concepts that are relatively easily transferrable from one discipline to the next. Art expands what it means to be a human being and the human ‘zone’, at the same time continuing to degenerate the very norms that society rests upon.
CTE Still, a book is different: it can resemble an image-stream, very roughly speaking, but it allows for more complexity. Considering this particular project, we’re on the other side of the scale, leaning towards the slower-paced notion of photography. And putting the photographs into a book with text pieces is a way of forcing the viewer to slow down and consider more aspects of the imagery.
The exhibition Awakening opens at Kristiansand Kunsthall on the 5th of November 2016, and at Kunsthall Grenland in January, 2017. This text is from our latest issue, The Flexible Image Part II.