Stein Rønning’s pictures of boxes
Why am I so enthusiastic about Stein Rønning’s photographs of boxes that I just never forget them? Since 2008, I’ve followed, with a growing fascination, the development of these images moving from one exhibition to another – in Arendal, in Oslo, in Kristiansand, and once again in the Norwegian capital. I’ve also written about them on several occasions. When Objektiv asked me to contribute to the "On my mind”-column, Rønning’s “object photographs”, which the artist himself has called them, were the first pictures that came to my mind, even if it’s been a while since I’ve seen them outside of the internet.
For those who don’t know them, these works might seem dry, almost evasive in their ascetic elegance. For whoever gives them time and attention, there is much to discover and reflect further upon.
The creation process is complicated: The artist, originally known as a sculptor, and who still exhibits physical sculptures in addition to the photographs, first makes the boxes. He then places them together in continually changing combinations and photographs them. The photographs Rønning presents are also processed digitally – the same box can, for example, be seen in several places in one and the same photograph. Under changing titles, throughout more than a decade, the artist has worked with what is fundamentally the same project. There is nonetheless variation: in colouring, scale, composition, and the creation of space. Some of the photographs give associations to painting and consequently open for reflections on a third medium.
I think my enthusiasm for these images has to do with how they bring together so much of what interests and excites me. First of all, there is something arch-modernistic about the universe of forms in Rønning’s works, which mobilizes my fascination for the entire history of modernism. Secondly, the box project is an example of an art that is exciting to look at and interesting to think about at the same time – visually striking and intellectually stimulating in equal measures. This is not at all an obvious combination in this day and age. Third of all, these motifs have something markedly architectonic about them, which agrees especially well with someone who has always had parallel interests in visual art and architecture. The Rønning photographs steer the thoughts both to the adults’ Manhattan and to children’s building blocks. Like many of his modernist colleagues, in his art, Stein Rønning points at the potentially great significance of the small difference – and at the richness that reduction and concentration can lead to.
Kåre Bulie is an Oslo-based art critic.
In our very first issues, we invited different people to write about an image they found memorable, under the headline ’Sinnbilde’, a column inspired by FOAM Magazine. Now, in Objektiv’s 10th year, as the ocean of images continues to swell, we’re reigniting this column online.