Beyond the Veil

Selected images from Geir Moseid latest series are exhibited at Noplace over two weekends this March. 

 Beyond the Veil, Geir Moseid

Beyond the Veil, Geir Moseid

Lisa Andrine Bernhoft-Sjødin: What are the implications of choosing the word ‘beyond’, as opposed to ‘behind’ the veil for the title of your latest series Beyond the Veil?

Geir Moseid: Since several of my works contain some kind of drapery, to use ‘behind’ would be a mere description of what you see and would give no encouragement to go any deeper. ‘Beyond’ brings ambivalent notions to the work. The ‘veil’ doesn’t have to suggest a covered-up physical space; it might refer to a different type of concealment that has to do with the mind and the body.

LBS: This new series has shed the more narrative framework of the Plucked series, shown at MELK, Oslo, in 2010. Where Plucked placed its subjects within the confinements of the home, Beyond the Veil has no such references or narrative. Its surroundings are neutral, allowing the subjects’ performativity to surface.

 Scarlet, Geir Moseid

Scarlet, Geir Moseid

 GM: Yes, definitely. The staged approach is a strategy to let the viewer know that the images have been made from nothing, and for a reason – in a sense it calls out for closer inspection. And by narrowing the storytelling part, I want to create an openness that facilitates the viewer's subjective notions instead of a specific reading as such. The unresolved scenarios help this approach along, as there’s no immediate interpretation to hand.

LBS: Your visual language brings to mind glossy mags and even soft porn, with a lot of unintrusive nudity. Why use this language?

GM: The challenge is to bring in a language rarely seen in the gallery, questioning what that kind of decontextualising or mixing of genres does. I mean, they might seem a bit too much, but that doesn't make them any less serious. My aim is to present something enticing, and hopefully it'll serve as a threshold for further readings, in this case about gender issues and the self.

LBS: Underscored by the use of mirrors in some of the work.

GM: Yes, I'm not that interested in the theoretical aspects of the mirror in photography. It's rather a tool for how we scrutinise our own selves and the selves of others; how we relate to being looked at and how we look at each other. Take for instance Double Exhaustion depicting a young woman mirroring half her body positioned on the floor, her legs spread on either side of the full-sized mirror. At first glance it's a sexualised theme, it plays with the male gaze, but for me her own gaze is just as important. In today's image culture how do we mirror ourselves? Through which eyes do we see? The image widens the series, which contemplates the human condition through a myriad of images.

LBS: Yes, because the other subjects within this series are male, so she adds complexity simply by her gender. It's not this one idea of masculinity, but in what way we view the images. 

GM: Masculinity and male sexuality have changed a lot in just one generation. My father and I had vastly different expectations put on us as young men, especially when it comes to ideals concerning the body. The male nude is a scarcity, and I decided early on that one of my focal points would be just that: semi-nude guys. It doesn't have to be about homoeroticism, though it is a possibility that it might be seen that way, which I have no problem with – I even find it fruitful. It underpins a big part of my project, dealing with how we read images in our everyday lives. It's interesting and unpredictable what happens when one starts to cross genres or decontextualise an image. It baffles people, but further still, it confronts the viewer's prejudice and self-awareness.

 Reflections, Geir Moseid

Reflections, Geir Moseid

Mattias Härenstam at The Vigeland Museum

 

The art of juxtaposition

An artist working in a range of media, Mattias Härenstam is taking on the Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland’s work at The Vigeland Museum in Oslo this February.

Text: Lisa Andrine Bernhoft-Sjødin

Lisa Andrine Bernhoft-Sjødin: Though the exhibition Weaknesses, secrets, lies is predominantly sculpture, there’s a thread that weaves its way through it connecting video, short film, installation, graphics and objects in natural stone. It’s quite an impressive oeuvre.

Mattias Härenstam: I guess so, though I don’t think it’s that unusual. As an artist you tend to work your way towards the same subject matter, and for me different media challenge both the artistic premise and the subject matter itself. My work revolves around questions about the fleeting or transitory in our lives, the way living things are constantly in juxtaposition with death, but which we find hard to get a hold of because it’s hidden somewhere beneath the surface.

LBS: Yes, and often what we find in your work under the surface is dark and disorienting, with the potential to be interpreted as grotesque and gory, although I read your work as about mortality without morbidity. For example, your installations I know you are there, first shown at Kunstnerforbundet in Oslo in 2012, and Sketches of a re-animation, which could be seen at the Sculpture Biennale in Oslo 2013: these are objects cut from wood in the likeness of human parts. While the objects in Sketches... are confined in open structures on whose ‘roofs’ are various homey and rustic objects, those in I know... are rooted to the floor like their original material – trees – but morph into humanlike parts.

MH: Yes, I let the material choose its form as much as possible. The grotesque has a lot of connotations that I don’t identify with, so you might be right about that. The question is rather: what’s pushing its way forth from the inside?  Our surface is a measure of control; underneath are various degrees of chaos just waiting for an opportunity to break out. I’m not interested in the chaos, as such.

LBS: And now, for this exhibition, you’re working with stone for the first time. Amongst the new objects is a 6-metre-tall wooden sculpture and three smaller, close to the ground stone sculptures. How do these correspond to Vigeland’s monumental and patriarchal sculptures?

MH: How indeed! I was thinking about shellfish when I started out: a hard shell and soft insides. It’s my first time working with stone. Though I’m always excited when working with new material, one of the foremost reasons to use stone objects for this show is the dialogue with Vigeland’s sculptures, which are cut from granite, and are as you say, monumental and patriarchal. I wanted to use the same material but render them the opposite. Stone is considered timeless and eternal: if something’s set in stone, that’s it, you’ve made it permanent. But I’ve used natural stone and worked with its natural curves, letting the material choose its shape. I’ve responded to Vigeland’s monumentality by allowing the stone a more fragile form; I’ve humanized it into a weak and deceitful form.

LBS: How do sculpture and video – 3D and 2D – compliment or diverge from each other?

MH: Thematically they compliment each other, as does my graphic work. What’s stunning to me is the divergence of the now in the two media. The now in a still or on camera is a treacherous one: since it’s happening in front of us, we believe at some level that it’s happening right now, though what we’re seeing is past, and often a long-gone past and sometimes a fictitious one. With sculpture, its tactility places it in the here and now. Working with the two forms, I realised that they harbour opposite processes: the video pieces change from living to dying, the sculptures are death trying to be life. This I think is the difference between the two.

LBS: Your installations often combine both, and also a lot of your pieces have some kind of passageway through which the viewer is transported or even transformed. In The diary of an unknown consumer, 2008, first shown at UKS in Oslo in 2008, you step through a door into a dimmed, narrow hallway. The walls on each side are covered with woodcuts of creatures morphing in and out of recognition for the viewer. At the end of the hallway, there’s another door, behind which is a video piece of a pair of arms grabbing for various domestic things that disappear before they can be grasped, surrounded by dark woods. This installation will be shown at Weaknesses…, but in this edition without the video piece.

  The diary of an unknown consumer , Mattias Härenstam, 2008. Photo: Halvard Haugerud. 

The diary of an unknown consumer, Mattias Härenstam, 2008. Photo: Halvard Haugerud. 

MH: I don’t think of the passageways in my pieces as symbolic; it’s more a question of form by way of confinement. The diary of an unknown consumer is evolving, and I think both editions work, but it’s a question of circumstance. For this specific show, it’s a freestanding installation in the middle of the room, with doors on each side. The hallway in The diary… leaves very little leeway, which positions the viewer in a situation that’s detail-oriented, but lacks overview. But then again, if you look at Reconstruction, 2013, the only perspective you have is the overview, leaving you with an immense lack of detail. You’re confined to one perspective, unable to get another.

LBS: You’ve included the video piece Portrait of a man reminiscent of my father, 2013, where you see the back of a man sitting in front of a window partly obscured by blind, crying so hard his back is shaking. Why this piece?

MH: This is the piece that I think is the most relevant to the exhibition, thematically, but also in a sense sculpturally. I’m trying to figure out the narrative of the sculpture and one of the things I think about is: where is my standpoint? This piece has a sculptural feel: it’s trying to widen the scope of 2D. Because the crying man is filmed from beneath, looking up at him, he assumes a monumental position for the viewer.

LBS: You’re also working on a short film, Twenty-four-seven, scheduled to be released in early 2017, about a depressed man of few words, failing in every aspect of life. But it´s all contained within him, or under the surface – we don´t really know what he’s thinking. The film ends with a disaster. Are you moving away from video art, as such, towards more narrative-heavy film-making?

MH: I might be. Showing lengthy video work in a gallery is becoming frustrating, and not just from an artist’s point of view, but from the viewer’s as well. Also, with the digital technology today being so good, the leap is much shorter from video artist to film-maker. I really enjoy making longer narratives, as with Twenty-four-seven. Video art is a more form-heavy work, and for me, something that works from one angle. Short film adds angles, widens the narrative space and allows for more motion.

  Portrait of a man reminiscent of my father , Mattias Härenstam, 2013

Portrait of a man reminiscent of my father, Mattias Härenstam, 2013

Mattias Härenstam is an artist working with sculpture, video, installation, graphics and narrative film. His upcoming exhibition Weaknessess, secrets, lies will be shown at The Vigeland Museum in Oslo from 19 February to 15 May. 

Ocean of Images

 Edson Chagas (Angolan, b. 1977). From  Found Not Taken, Luanda . 2013. Installation of inkjet prints on pallets. Each print 18 7/8 × 26 3/4″ (48 × 68 cm). Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa. Courtesy the artist; APALAZZOGALLERY, Brescia; and Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg. © 2015 Edson Chagas

Edson Chagas (Angolan, b. 1977). From Found Not Taken, Luanda. 2013. Installation of inkjet prints on pallets. Each print 18 7/8 × 26 3/4″ (48 × 68 cm). Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa. Courtesy the artist; APALAZZOGALLERY, Brescia; and Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg. © 2015 Edson Chagas

Hammering out new territory

MoMA’s Senior Curator Roxana Marcoci took the time to talk with Objektiv a few hectic days before Ocean of Images: New Photography 2015 opens to the public.

Interview by Lisa Andrine Bernhoft-Sjødin

This Saturday, the New Photography series returns to MoMA in its 2015 edition, marking its thirtieth anniversary. On this occasion, New Photography has amplified its physical and conceptual premises, featuring the works of nineteen artists and artist collectives from fourteen countries, and including several installations commissioned or made specifically for the exhibition. Always diverse, the exhibition is in constant dialogue with critical ideas in contemporary art, and committed to highlighting individual achievement, rather than summarising movements or trends. The 2015 edition explores contemporary photo-based culture, focusing on connectivity, circulation of images, information networks and communication models. The artists included collectively redefine photography as a fluid ecosystem, a format without traditional notions of medium specificity, a porous field where digital and analogue, online and offline, virtual and real dimensions cross over.

Lisa Andrine Bernhoft-Sjødin: There’s a great sense of excitement and anticipation surrounding this upcoming exhibition. The photographic medium is pregnant with challenges facing artists and curators. The institutions/cultural spaces tend to categorise and create fixed ideas, but defining what a photo practice should be or what photo art should state overlooks the fluidity of the photographic idea. You’re engaging in these challenges, so what I’d like to know is where this exhibition will take the photographic discourse?

 Natalie Czech (German, born 1976).  A Poem by Repetition by Allen Ginsberg.  2013. Three chromogenic color prints, overall 55 3/16 × 96″ (140.1 × 243.9 cm). Courtesy Capitain Petzel, Berlin and Kadel Willborn, Düsseldorf. © 2015 Natalie Czech/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

Natalie Czech (German, born 1976). A Poem by Repetition by Allen Ginsberg. 2013. Three chromogenic color prints, overall 55 3/16 × 96″ (140.1 × 243.9 cm). Courtesy Capitain Petzel, Berlin and Kadel Willborn, Düsseldorf. © 2015 Natalie Czech/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

Roxana Marcoci: The question that Ocean of Images: New Photography 2015 asks is not ‘What is photography in the twenty-first century?’, but more broadly and critically ‘What is contemporary photo-based culture?’. Photographs have the power not only to depict or represent the world, but to be its co-creators. If you want a particular image, chances are it already exists. Reality now widely consists of images. In the age of digital connections, one is always engaging, interfacing, interacting, communicating or processing within some telematic milieu. And when we delink ourselves, the internet still persists offline as a mode of life. Probing the image-based post-internet, post-production reality, Ocean of Images examines various ways of experiencing the world: through images that are born digitally, made with scanners or lenses in the studio or the real world, presented as still or moving pictures, distributed as zines, morphed into three-dimensional objects, or remixed online. 

The exhibition underscores a new sense of the materiality of images and the birth of parallel worlds. Its title refers to the internet as a vortex of images, a site of piracy and a system of networks.

LS: Is this vortex of images we’re experiencing unique to our time do you think?

 John Houck (American, born 1977).  Copper Mountain.  2014. Pigmented inkjet print, 22 × 27″ (55.9 × 68.6 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Photography Council Fund. ©2015 John Houck

John Houck (American, born 1977). Copper Mountain. 2014. Pigmented inkjet print, 22 × 27″ (55.9 × 68.6 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Photography Council Fund. ©2015 John Houck

RM: No, the mass-media explosion of photographic images first occurred in the 1920s when artists began experimenting with montage and dynamic modes of media production, which led the Weimar media sociologist Siegfried Kracauer to refer to the new phenomenon as a vital, though negative, step towards enlightenment. In his essay ‘Photography’, Kracauer argued that this ‘blizzard’ of images was catapulting the photographic archive of modern life into the realm of allegory. Then, in 1983, a few years prior to the launch of the World Wide Web, the Brazilian-Czech theorist Vilém Flusser noted in his treatise Towards a Philosophy of Photography that human civilisation has seen two fundamental turning points since its beginnings: ‘The first occurred approximately during the second half of the second millennium, B.C., and may be defined as “the invention of linear writing". The second – we are witnessing it – may be called “the invention of technical images".’ He argued that given the transformation of textual into visual culture (from the linearity of history into the photographic dimension), a large part of our perception and interpretation of the world came to be shaped by transformations in photographic formats and image flux. 

LS: Given that the ambition of the New Photography series is not to identify a movement, what has been your rationale in choosing these artists? 

RM: The new generation of artists included in Ocean of Images is informed by a network ideology that falls under the rubric of ‘post-internet’. Exploring digital, informational and software systems, the artists in the exhibition are not concerned with the question, ‘What is the picture of?’, but rather, ‘What decisions constitute the image?’

LS: And thereby they’re highlighting a reconfiguration of photographic language.

RM: Yes. Ocean of Images includes several installations and a few analogue and digital book projects that engage the dissemination and mutability of visual forms into a newly reconfigured language as you say.

LS: Can you give some examples?

RM: A group of freestanding photographic cutouts of animals and symbols culled from online sources constitutes Katja Novitskova’s contribution. The works are on view both inside the galleries and in front of the large windows in The Agnes Gund Garden Lobby. Novitskova’s work considers the connections between bio-diverse life forms, evolutionary processes and human expansion. She finds digital images of the natural world online and isolates, edits and combines them, examining ecology and information systems. Here, her subject is a recently described species of peacock spider found in Australia. This image was taken in 2013 by one of the species’ discoverers and posted on an image-sharing website. Not precisely representations of nature as much as representations of information networks, Novitskova’s works signal a contemporary shift in which digitally circulated images evolve with an agency of their own.

 Mishka Henner (Belgian, born 1976).  Astronomical.  2011. Twelve softcover volumes. Courtesy the artist and Bruce Silverstein Gallery, New York. ©2015 Mishka Henner

Mishka Henner (Belgian, born 1976). Astronomical. 2011. Twelve softcover volumes. Courtesy the artist and Bruce Silverstein Gallery, New York. ©2015 Mishka Henner

Also, in his 12-volume Astronomical (2011), Mishka Henner maps out the solar system in book format. Playing with the narrative expectations of the viewer/reader and the immensity of outer space, he recreates the spatial relationships between the celestial bodies at human scale, with each page of the book representing one million kilometers. Seeing the individual pages, one after another, transports the viewer into seemingly endless darkness, undermining the multi-volume encyclopedia as a genre of knowledge gathering.

Adopting a different approach, David Horvitz explores appropriation and viral imaging in Mood Disorder (2015). Having taken an image of himself, head in hands, he uploaded it to Wikipedia, linked to the page on mood disorders. The rhizomatic quality of image-sharing on the internet took over: the picture was fast featured in news articles, blogs, and forums, and uploaded and downloaded countless times – a process that the artist documents as a book, repeating and expanding the cycles of dissemination and publication. This viral process is irreversible and unending: the photograph still continues to appear in internet searches and posts. Along the way, the circulation of the image reinforces Horvitz’s pose as cultural shorthand for emotional or mental illness, tracing the ways we oversimplify and stereotype in order to understand.

But perhaps the most striking example is that of the art media collective DIS. Founded in 2010 as a ‘post-Internet lifestyle magazine’ the New York–based collective, comprising Lauren Boyle, Solomon Chase, Marco Roso and David Toro, has since branched out into a range of practices. In a special commission, DIS collaborated with the curatorial and marketing teams at MoMA to create a signature image for the advertising campaign featuring Conchita Wurst, who rose to international fame after winning the Eurovision Song Contest in 2014, becoming both an icon of the European pop world and a controversial figure among the conservative factions of the continent. With this image, DIS investigates Wurst’s status as a viral symbol of celebrity culture through imagery emphasising the flawlessness of her public presentation. DIS affirms the impact a single person can have through global networks of communication and image sharing.

 DIS.  Positive Ambiguity (beard, lectern, teleprompter, wind machine, confidence).  2015. Commissioned by The Museum of Modern Art

DIS. Positive Ambiguity (beard, lectern, teleprompter, wind machine, confidence). 2015. Commissioned by The Museum of Modern Art

LS: And there are also works that connect with the exhibition spaces.

 Katharina Gaenssler (German, born 1974).  Model for Bauhaus Staircase.  2015. Site-specific photo installation (work in progress). Laser prints and wall paper paste, 12′ 5″ × 32″ (378.5 × 975.4 cm). Installation commissioned by The Museum of Modern Art, New York. © Katharina Gaenssler and Barbara Gross Gallery, Munich, Germany

Katharina Gaenssler (German, born 1974). Model for Bauhaus Staircase. 2015. Site-specific photo installation (work in progress). Laser prints and wall paper paste, 12′ 5″ × 32″ (378.5 × 975.4 cm). Installation commissioned by The Museum of Modern Art, New York. © Katharina Gaenssler and Barbara Gross Gallery, Munich, Germany

RM: Right. Katharina Gaenssler, for instance, has created a photo-wallpaper installation – composed of hundreds of pictures – that explores the relationship between MoMA and the Bauhaus, the influential modernist school of art and design founded in Germany in 1919. MoMA’s Bauhaus Staircase is based on the famous stairway at the school’s main building in Dessau, designed by Walter Gropius, its founding director. Gaenssler has collaged photographs of the original staircase, MoMA’s Bauhaus Staircase and two paintings in MoMA’s collection that reference the staircase: Bauhaus Stairway (1932) by Oskar Schlemmer and Bauhaus Stairway (1988) by Roy Lichtenstein. Her work deconstructs and reconstructs this transitional space in the Museum, tracing the history of the Bauhaus’s monumental contributions.

LS: MoMA´s large photography collection holds more than 35,000 images. Archival material from the past New Photography series is now online. It’s a great resource for the viewer in contributing to the identity of the photographic.

RM: MoMA’s collection is indeed an early pioneer in presenting and conceptualising a history of photography. The online platform that you mention is live and features selections from the archive of the New Photography series, including documents and images from its thirty-year history. It’s a great resource that speaks of the changing DNA of photography. 100 artists from around the globe were presented early in their careers in this forum, including such well-known names as Judith Joy Ross, Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Rineke Dijkstra, Rachel Harrison, Thomas Demand and Wolfgang Tillmans. A few years back, the New York Times wrote that if we were to compile a catalogue of the works included in this exhibition series, we’d end up with a compendium of contemporary photography.

 Lieko Shiga (Japanese, born 1980).  Rasen Kaigan 45  from the series  Rasen Kaigan.  2012. Chromogenic color print, 63 × 61″ (160 × 155 cm). Courtesy the artist. ©2015 Lieko Shiga

Lieko Shiga (Japanese, born 1980). Rasen Kaigan 45 from the series Rasen Kaigan. 2012. Chromogenic color print, 63 × 61″ (160 × 155 cm). Courtesy the artist. ©2015 Lieko Shiga

Ocean of Images: New Photography 2015 will be on view from 7 November 2015, to 20 March 2016.  Artists exhibited: Ilit Azoulay, Zbynek Baladrán, Lucas Blalock, Edson Chagas, Natalie Czech, DIS, Katharina Gaenssler, David Hartt, Mishka Henner, David Horvitz, John Houck, Yuki Kimura, Anouk Kruithof, Basim Magdy, Katja Novistkova, Marina Pinsky, Lele Saveri, Indre Serpytyte and Lieko Shiga. An expanded, biannual format will be on view throughout the Edward Steichen Photography Galleries, as well as The Agnes Gund Garden Lobby and Bauhaus Staircase. The longstanding exhibition series, a vital manifestation of the Museum’s contemporary programme, is its first with Chief Curator of Photography Quentin Bajac at the helm.