Black is Light by Claudia Hausfeld and Klara Sofie Ludvigsen

Black is Light by Claudia Hausfeld and Klara Sofie Ludvigsen

Black is Light by Claudia Hausfeld and Klara Sofie Ludvigsen

The exhibition, Black is Light, by Claudia Hausfeld and Klara Sofie Ludvigsen is on view at Harbinger until the 24th of June. In the exhibition, black and white analog photographs are not as they appear on their surface. As one scans the surface of the images, the conflicting meeting place between the proof of the image and the imagination of the observer is constantly revealed. Both slight and blatant manipulations made by the artists disrupt the reception of how one usually absorbs a photograph, demanding a sharpening of the gaze. Such is the magic of painting with light in the darkroom, as well as the suspension of working in with darkroom processes which the artists shared with me in the following interview.

Erin: As I was looking around at the works and noticing how well they work together, the question I really wanted to figure out how to answer was: Whose is whose? I think it is because the photographs work so well together. How would you describe a way to differentiate between your works?

Klara Sofie: I think there are many ways of answering that question. One concrete thing is how we work in the darkroom. I work in the layer with the negative whereas Claudia works on the paper so that is a difference but you can’t really see that. It’s just something we know.

Erin: That is the exact kind of information about the work that I think is so interesting to know because it’s something we would never know, or see.

Claudia: I think you can even say that it is all darkroom images, which is a fundamental ingredient in our work, and that it is done in the darkroom and that it is chemicals and light which made the images.

Klara Sofie: It is important as this process is informing the outcome. Claudia is doing it on the paper like stopping the light from working on the surface whereas I am doing it with the negative by taking new negatives on glass or on transparent paper with different techniques. So I’ve always stopped the light when the negative is on a layer.

Claudia: The enlarger we use in the darkroom functions like a reverse camera. The paper we print on is like the negative in a camera, and the negative itself is like the thing you take a picture of. The higher up and further away the negative is from the paper, the larger the image. And by doing it Klara’s way, by putting a drawing or painting on glass together with the negative, you also enlarge the painting on the surface of the image, so you see these lines that were painted on glass or plastic were enlarged along with the image, whereas mine were printed directly on the images so it is not enlarged. It is more of a photogram, like a direct copy.

Erin: That really gives it a totally different sense. When I look around I feel like they have a totally different depth feeling to them.

Claudia: I was wondering about this one for instance. It is really difficult to tell what is image and what is negative.

Klara Sofie: I think it is lead because this is a negative combined with a positive. What you are looking at, the white part, is a positive, which comes out negative, which means it is a black lead lying on the foreground there as salt storage. That is the light blended into the other images which is a negative coming across as a positive.

Claudia: I just don’t understand this image. You know this thing with photography where you know you are dealing with something that was actually there but you just can’t believe it. Did you cut on the negative?

Klara Sofie: No, when I placed them on top of each other this is what came through because the salt is white and when it is a positive that is where the light shows through and it gave room for the negative to show.

Erin: This is the positive and this is the negative?

Klara Sofie: No, that is just the opposite. It is very easy to get dizzy when it comes to positives and negatives because part of the process is to constantly turn it which is what the title is playing on as well because what is black in the negative stops the light, and becomes light in the photograph.

Claudia: For this image I made a torch with this little nose out of paper, like a funnel. So the light only came out of this tiny hole. I placed the paper with a red filter so it didn’t expose it and then I switched it on the torch and went all over the place with it, making a drawing.

Erin: So you made black with light?

Claudia: Yes, because that is how the photographic paper is burned; it turns black.

Erin: And this is Claudia’s?

Klara Sofie: No, that is mine. But this is a strange one because it is also painted on glass in the same size as the negative and then doubled so it is a painting and a photograph. This is a special version because it is light leaked on the paper which, in a way, relates them even more to Claudia’s because it is not something I usually do.

Claudia: What I like is that it has this randomness in which you can see how light behaves in these stripes.

Klara Sofie: I don’t understand the logic of it. I don’t know how this appeared because it doesn’t really make sense the way it is placed.

Erin: How does it feel to work with something that you don’t always understand the logic of?

Claudia: It is so exciting; I really love it. I guess I work like this because I do something on the paper itself. The thing is, you are in this room and you can have this red light on so you see quite a bit and you take out this white sheet of paper and you place it there and then you put some light on it and when the light turns off the image is still white. It seems like nothing has happened but you know that latently there is an image on that white sheet of paper. Then you take it and you put it in this tray and magically something appears; this moment is such magic every time.

Erin: It still has so much variation at that stage in the process of creating the image you want.

Claudia: Yes, of course. You can take it out earlier and you can switch on the light and change everything up.

Erin: How did you two meet?

Klara Sofie: We were paired together. We had never met before and we were asked to do a collaboration together. First we had an exhibition in a gallery in Bergen in April 2018. That was the first time our works met and we were pleasantly surprised. It was a very funny experience because we saw that they spoke so well together. We were laughing quite a lot.

Erin: Can you tell me more about this one?

Claudia: It is a little bit of an experiment because I wanted to illustrate the whole darkroom process in an abstract way; painting an image in layers. So I took that idea and decided to make shelves, also inspired by Klara who was making these shelves with glass. This sequence of images I made by walking around a hole and every step taking a picture. I wanted to make the hole three-dimensional to keep true to the process. In the darkroom, I placed this tiny piece of paper in the middle also and crumbled it smaller and smaller until it almost disappears at the bottom-most shelf.

Erin: There is a lot of illustration of the photographic process going on in the exhibition.

Claudia: Of course, because it is very process-based and also very playful. Actually, with none of the works was I preconceiving that I was going to make this kind of image or that one. I browse through my negatives until I find something that I’d like to play with.

Klara Sofie: For me, for years I found photography to be quite a stiff medium. It’s very formal because it has so many processes that make it feel very controlled, unlike painting, which is more improvised. I am working to make it more improvisational and playful because I wanted to have more fun, so eventually I just had to give up control. So, this way of working is just a result of this release of control and matching what I’m painting with different negatives and seeing what compositions appear and sometimes it clicks and sometimes it doesn’t but it does after a while. It’s just a constant process.

Erin: Photography does carry with it this heritage of stiffness.

Claudia: It is actually a theory that I would like to explore a little bit further. I’ve been looking for literature about this digital/analog dichotomy. Photography released painting because, after the inception of photography, paintings didn’t have to concern themselves anymore with the representation of reality and it could sort of fall back on itself and research itself. This was always the thing that photography had to deal with: representation and depiction of what was there. Now it is digital photography that has taken that in all forms like scanners and surveillance cameras. Now that everything is digital photography, analog photography can finally concern itself with itself. It doesn’t need to represent anything anymore. The need to show that ‘this is what existed’ is gone. It feels kind of fresh and free because now it is really painting with light.

Erin: It is being returned to its core, so to speak.

Claudia: It is so funny because it isn’t a painting. It isn’t a pure invention of my hand and brain. It is still real stuff but I can tweak it and play with it.

Erin: The way you are both manipulating the photographs in the darkroom process really disrupts the observer’s ability to ‘scan’ the image. It’s like you are dismantling the whole linear process of one thing leading to another and creating your own world within the photographs – breaking the spell of the photograph. Any final words?

Claudia: I would like to add that it is such a nice feeling knowing that people can work together, yet separately, on a collaboration. We just played on our own and it came together. Now, when I’m working in the darkroom I love knowing there is someone else out there doing the same.

Erin: Thank you Claudia and Sofie.

Erin Honeycut

The exhibition was on view from June 2nd to June 24th as part of a collaboration between Tag Team Studios in Bergen, Norway and Harbinger Project Space in the context of the B-Open Project ‘Norden TIL Bergen.’

Photo Credit:
Featured image: Erin Honeycut. Exhibition photos: Claudia Hausfeld.

Artists websites:
Claudia: / Klara Sofie:

The Importance of ‘What If?’

The Importance of ‘What If?’

The Importance of ‘What If?’

 Kwitcherbellíakin at Reykjavik Art Museum.

The two week installation Kwitcherbellíakin ended the last weekend of October at Reykjavik Art Museum as part of the Occupational Hazard project, a think tank which evolved around the former United States Naval air base, Ásbru. In the project, the former NATO-base plays a role as both a geographical place as well as a rhetorical meeting place where local Iceland meets global affairs. The site has now been reinvented as Ásbru Enterprise Park, a business development center for science, education and innovation. As Ásbrú is a poetic term (from the Snorra Edda) to describe the rainbow bridge leading to the home of the gods, it is a fitting description of the transitive identity of the place as a means to another place. The Occupational Hazard project focuses on the use of speculative fiction to rework past narratives and imagine future scenarios and conditions of being. A place such as this acts as a non-place in which to both rely on as a structure and to formulate the breaking of that structure through imaginative speculation.

In the installation put together by Hannes Lárusson, Tinna Grétarsdottir, and Ásmundur Ásmundsson, we see an amalgamation of Land Art and Glitch Art meeting cultural detritus. Other artists collaborating in the installation were Pia Lindman, Unnar Örn Auðarson Jónsson, Skark and Ato Malinda/The Many Headed Hydra. The digital collages within the installation contained historical events, icons, and innuendos mixed with a wide sweep of Western Art historical iconography. The symbology juxtaposed with historical imagery spoke of the contemporaneity of the situation as the historical events’ power and influence was still as much a part of the current dialogue.

I continually returned to Foucault’s notion of heterotopias when attempting to unpack the layers of meaning involved in the installation and its context within the wider speculative project. Foucault’s heterotopia is one in which the suspension of time and place holds infinite possibilities of past and future. His account of institutions of power produce a contrasting space in which several incompatible spatial elements are juxtaposed in the same plane of possibility, encapsulating discontinuities. Time becomes weightless in the heterotopian conditions. Embracing seemingly everything but art, the installation makes an account of the condition of being spliced between neoliberal ideologies and capitalist junctures. Aesthetic engagement can bring a more sophisticated take on the reality which we are grappling with.

No title, 2016 (Ásmundur Ásmundsson, Hannes Lárusson og Tinna Grétarsdóttir)

In 2011, the artists created the controversial exhibition Koddu which highlighted political and socio-cultural changes taking place in Iceland since the 1990s. Their aim was to thread the relations between iconography and ideology in contemporary Iceland before and after the financial crisis and to address core ideas of national identity. In their analysis of Icelandic cultural politics, they brought into discussion some of the ways in which artists are used in the redefining of Icelandic culture to suit the needs of corporate branding, which can lead to a distortion of reality. In Kwitcherbellíakin, the artists continue to explore these themes in the direction of a model which aggravates the focus on utilitarian outcomes of art.

In conversation with Tinna and Hannes after the closing of the installation, we spoke further about their intentions, inspirations, and the processing of reactions. Hannes spoke about how the installation openly addressed elements that continue to play themselves out in the arts, such as the local/global interaction, which, according to the artist, is a continuation of the agenda that began with Iceland’s independence from Denmark in 1944. World War II not only marks the turning point in the history of Iceland toward modernization; the blast of the atom bomb in 1945 marks the beginning of the Anthropocene. As Tinna pointed out, “the promises of the ‘good life’ of modern progress has turned into times characterized by precarity. It is not just the soil that is exhausted – the social structures and human rights that are supposed to secure human and non-human well-being are increasingly dysfunctional and ignored.”

The installation was a camp in many ways, something which Tinna brings to the wider sociol-political sphere in noting how the term has been used to characterize today’s socio-political developments. The notion of the camp has been described by the philosopher Giorgio Agamben as “the fundamental biopolitical paradigm of the Modern” (see Homo Sacer. Sovereign Power and Bare Life). The sociologist Pascal Gielen uses the term to describe the art world and the false sense of freedom that it evokes, as the encampment of the art world is continually defined by the inevitable enclosures of capitalism. Tinna notes how Kwitcherbellíakin was the name of a camp in Reykjavík whose commander planted two palm trees and gave it this name. Other camps had very different names after generals or military history. As stated in the introductory text, it could be seen as the first art installation in Iceland, and the first contribution to the local scene.

Image: Kwitcherbellíakin,  Reykjavik Art Museum (Court yard). Ingvar Högni Ragnarsson.

The ‘camp’ composed in the installation consists of a variety of elements each carrying a plethora of messages with which to assimilate into a consensus, but perhaps the heterotopic nature is best put into context here where the aesthetic statement is one of disjunction, certainly not an easily quantified outcome. The scale of the installation is immense for a two week time frame: 81 pieces of cloth painted as a rainbow by asylum seekers at Ásbrú during a separate project (the Broken Rainbow Project) hang on the railing amongst pieces of “trash” (none of which is made locally), 15 enlarged digital collages held up by 20 used Lazyboy recliner chairs resting on 40 tonnes of soil. There was also sound installations, videos, a diesel electricity generator, freezers, a compound microscope for viewing the tardigrade – one of countless organisms living in the soil, and three tonnes of stones from the demolished turf house, Litlabrekka.

Tinna described the reactions to the role of the soil in the exhibition space and how reactions to it were a case in point:
„While entering the exhibition space the audience becomes part of the installation. They need to find their feet to move around in the space ‘wearing’ blue plastic shoe covers – a telling image of our relationship with the soil and non-humans others. The 400 square meter exhibition’s soil-covered floor seemed to irritate many of the museum staff – they saw it as creating mess, infecting other spaces of the museum etc. Children were the most enthusiastic about the soil – curious and relating to it and its inhabitants. Soil is not simply a base of life. It is a world of relationality – a ‘multispecies muddle’ to use the words of Donna Haraway. The urgency of our times has called for reconfiguration of how to live with the planet and its inhabitants. Moreover, understanding the multiple temporalities of soil, its organisms and ecological assemblages might prove valuable to disrupt and resist the Modern progress of the anthropocentric, capitalist timescale.“

No title, 2016 (Ásmundur Ásmundsson, Hannes Lárusson og Tinna Grétarsdóttir)

While all of the digital collages in the installation are untitled and meant to be seen as a continuous iconography, it is possible to look at them individually. This image is meant to mark the beginning of the worldview that began with independence from Denmark in 1944. World War II was taking place at the time, a fact that the artists feel the impact of which is missing from historical narratives. In using speculation about the past the artists have the ability to bring up discussions about the commonly held narrative that has not been very present in public discourse. In the image are references to these global affairs such as the Russian tank and the American pin-up postcards on the table where the document is being signed. The absence of women at the signing is notable, although one of the men wears a woman’s hat from the Icelandic national costume. As the image tries to contextualize the place of Iceland in world affairs at the time, the dire situation is painted with humor. According to Hannes, “Iceland is always in dialogue with colonization, something which is not from Iceland, but the rest of the world. Even in current affairs,” he says, “the idea of maintaining independence while taking part in the global economy is a constant struggle.”

Images: No title, 2016 (Ásmundur Ásmundsson, Hannes Lárusson og Tinna Grétarsdóttir)

The frivolity which has marked the media sensation of the US presidential elections can be seen in these two images representing the dichotomy that has become the figures of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Their respective icons have become synonymous with certain ideologies mashed together to create their monstrously heavy identities. The exhibition was held at the same time as the Icelandic elections with the US elections on the horizon; a precarious temporality, which in hind-site seems worlds away. The condition of time in the camp of the exhibition is effectively multilayered to address this sensation.

Like figures from the collective subconscious, they are composed from an array of sources that the viewer may not take into consideration consciously. The Medusa from Caravaggio is wearing a skirt from Degas that covers the tail from Nina Sæmundsson’s mermaid sculpture. Her outstretched arm is holding the balls of David from Michelangelo. Tinna notes that the male anatomy here is more like a handbag, which poses the question of how we are going to inherit this history: “…what kind of luggage are we going to bring with us into the future?” Thinking about future speculations and what kind of future we have ahead of us, this is why the Medusa is so important in this image. She pops up and has been used in philosophy and cultural discourse throughout history. As the original ‘nasty woman’ she has been brought up in the US elections as an allegory for Hillary Clinton. There are again many narratives to choose from. Tinna notes that these two images “…are not just the state of mind, the state of the world, or the state of art, but the state of the post-human…” The amalgamated figures are barely human, a branded interspecies pair who de-center the human from the Anthropocene.

No title, 2016 (Ásmundur Ásmundsson, Hannes Lárusson og Tinna Grétarsdóttir)

The Anthropocene, the epochal term that is marked by significant human impact on the earth’s systems, plays a large part in the exhibition. Covering a very broad timeline and embracing many system’s processes, it gives us glimpses of the role of speculation and imagination as a powerful tool in coming to realize the tensions inherent in any narrative. This embrace can allow a consideration of a wide spectrum of potential futures. To answer one of Tinna’s questions, “What can artists do in this system?” I think a potential answer is to continue wielding a way of thinking and creating that pushes the boundaries of our imagination where systems of oppression and fear would have us encapsulated by small-mindedness. We can turn judgment into curiosity and use fear to rouse empathy. In continuing to let “What if?” permeate our convictions and narratives, a plethora of possibilities and perspectives is opened. As political dichotomies seem to be approaching radical opposition in many places in the world, the need to break out of this binary thinking seems more important than ever. Speculative tools, as these artists have shown, can lead to different realities, some more dystopian than others, but it is the ability to be adaptable and authentic in our thinking that could make all the difference.

Erin Honeycutt

Featured Image, overview of courtyard: Ingvar Högni Ragnarsson

Photography and Geologic Time – an inquiry into the perception of time

Photography and Geologic Time – an inquiry into the perception of time

Photography and Geologic Time – an inquiry into the perception of time

Normally, we think of rocks as dead material, but on a microscopic level they are in constant growth, animated by invisible chemical processes. The formation of lava rocks is namely an active process from the outset that continues to develop throughout their life cycle. The project revolves around how one can expand the perception of time by looking at the internal structures and processes of lava rocks.  (Veronika Geiger)

image_1smallDetail of Hraun (2016)

Geology and photography are seemingly two fields of thought and action running in parallel streams that rarely intersect with the other except when photographs are taken to rely scientific information about geologic structures. However, both have the ability to relay contemplative inquiry into the perception of time through simple data. Both photography and geology hold a return to origins, a seeking out of the bedrock from which we can know what we know. They both relay a simple equation of cause and effect, whether in the darkroom or through larger processes like the shifting of tectonic plates. Veronika Geiger’s approach to these two fields is inspired by Land Art practices and in this way photography becomes an extension of Land Art. With a background in Fine Art photography from Glasgow School of Art and a recent MFA from Iceland Academy of the Arts, Veronika delves into her experiments with the compulsion of a hypothesis being tested. Methodologically she follows her curiosity with the balance of imagination and chemical fact, reality and speculation.

Hraun (2016) No. 6281 and 6285, Gelatin silver print, 100 x 150 cm, Rock type: Gabbro xenoliths from silicic tuff, Place: Kambsfjall, Króksfjördur, Vestfirdir, Iceland, Age: 10 million years old, Petrographic slides borrowed from the Icelandic Institute of Natural History

For five days at the beginning of August 2016, Veronika and I followed a group of geologists with a variety of research focuses in the Askja area and especially in the new lavafield, Holuhraun. Holuhraun lies just north of Vatnajökull in the Highlands. On August 29, 2014, a volcanic eruption began that produced lava spreading over 85 square km by the time the eruption ended on February 27, 2015. The original surface of Holuhraun was an older lava flow from 1797 (Icelandic Meteorological Office.)

Holuhraun lava field

With the expertise of Morten Riishus, a danish senior researcher in volcanology and geology at the Institute of Earth Science, University of Iceland, we got the priviledge to get insights into geological research methods in the field. Three overlapping research projects took place; the first was looking at the geomorphological and geochemical processes of change in relation to how volcanic glass, dust, and sand from Vatnajökull is transported towards the Northeast across the dunes in the desert landscape north of the glacier; another project looked at the microbiology and colonization of barren land at Holuhraun, i.e. the first signs of life on new lava; the third project aimed to create an analog of the Mars Curiousity Rover’s gigapanning scheme, a camera that creates a matrix of images with the ability to be zoomed in up to 800 times. We were grateful to be allowed this chance to follow the geologists’ work in the field, asking them questions and documenting their process.

Geologist Morten Riishuus and microbiologist Anu Hynninen at work

One day we rode with the geologists through a valley that is flooded daily with glacial runoff. These glacial rivulets arrive in tiny trickles from a great distance. With light sensitive paper placed gingerly in the path of the rivulets, Veronika captured an aspect of their movement and aesthetic that a normal photograph couldn’t capture. Her ‘photograph’ of the glacial flood rivulets were from the actual body of the rivulets, their weight and flow appearing on the paper in different shades. The paper has received its color and patterning directly from the water, with immediate impressions of the light and weather-conditions present on the day they were made.

Geologic tool

Another day we trekked with sheets of handmade paper to Viti, a crater filled with warm cloudy blue water situated next to the larger crater lake, Öskjuvatn. The plain of black sand that we crossed before arriving at the crater gave us a good sense of the surrounding landscape and its vastness. Taking the papers one at a time, some more porous and thick than others, they were let into the silty, mud bottom of Viti’s edges where they gathered directly onto the paper an impression of how sediments are transported. In an expansion of the photographic moment, an impression was taken that included movement, weight, and porosity.

Víti Crater

Later that day we followed the geologists to an area where natural springs created a flowing creek among new lava and old lava. Here, algae that had grown in the spring was placed onto the light sensitive paper and set directly in the sun. Again, the weight and body of the algae created an impression on the paper. In places where the algae blocked the sunlight, the paper remained a distinct shade from the parts marked by sunlight. Any chemical variations resulting from reactions between the water, the algae, and the paper will be seen later in the laboratory.

Hiking on a trail marked through the edge of Holohraun, the two year old lava was distinctly loud under our boots, the brittle whisps of once fluid mass strung across larger bodies of lavarock. In some areas, deposits of sulphur, white and yellow, formed along the mouths of cavernous openings. Attempts were made to take impressions on these deposits, as well as on the sun-heated surfaces. Taking samples of these, as well as of the fine lunar-like sand, Veronika hopes to find a chemical means of fixing them to the image.

Later in Reykjavík, we recorded an open conversation between Morten, Veronika, and I, each representing the approaches of geology, photography, and art history/theory. The intention was to learn more about each of our research interests, the craft of each of our fields, and how they overlapped. It offered me the opportunity to reflect on the idea of the geologic time period of the Anthropocene as an aesthetic event. The Anthropocene opens up an epochal way of thinking about time as well as narrative. The narrative involved in threading the events of an epoch shows how we create meaning in the space between the encounter of different temporalities. This is the encounter that is crucial in Geiger’s project. An example of an encounter in geologic time-scales is presented by Morten Riishuus in the following excerpt from the interview:

As you’re driving from Akureyri east, you’re driving through a volcanic succession that is tilted, layered and packaged toward the Southeast…. If you think about it, you’re driving east and the landscape you’re driving through, this tilted strata towards the East, means you’re driving forward in time as all the layers disappear into the earth. (Morten Riishuus)

Lava from Holuhraun eruption

The media theorist, Jussi Parikka writes about the term deep time which was first used by Siefried Zielinski in the discussion of aspects of media. Parikka’s new materialism of media emphasies a different notion of temporality and spatiality by pointing out how media technology is tightly linked with natural materials. Expanding the temporal use of the term deep time, Parikka uses it to combine the geological materials enabling media processes, and the temporality of the earth, which consists of billions of years of build-up and break-down.

In this way, Veronika’s experiments with photography continue the narrative of material processes of the earth out-of-ground, cultivating the temporality of the earth in a new medium that includes the human senses. In her project at Holuhraun she continued her focus on how one can expand the perception of time by looking at the internal structures and processes of lava rocks. By observing the physical layers and traces of time in the rock, the tension between the geological time-scale and biological time-scale becomes concrete.

Erin Honeycutt

Here is a link to a transcription of the interview in its entirety: interview-transcription


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