Nanna Debois Buhl, Christina Capetillo, Charlotte Haslund-Christensen, Trine Søndergaard
September 11 – November 9, 2019
Curated and organized by Steven Evans with Max Fields
“...Photography reveals in [its] material, the physiognomic aspects of visual worlds which dwell in the smallest things, meaningful yet covert enough to find a hiding place in waking dreams, but which enlarged and capable of formulation, make the difference between technology and magic visible as a thoroughly historical variable. “ – Walter Benjamin, A Short History of Photography, 1931
The fundamental dictum of conceptual art is the privileging of concept and ideas over the work’s aesthetic interests, formal qualities, and material variables. Traditionally, this way of art-making has eschewed conventional artistic tools for those readily available to anyone with imagination. These works most often take the form of written instructions, a series of documents or texts, ready-made images, an undocumented event or happening, or in many cases, an altogether immaterial something that lives solely in the mind of the maker.
Artists Nanna Debois Buhl, Christina Capetillo, Charlotte Haslund- Christensen, and Trine Søndergaard reference this art historical and theoretical construct in their practices, but rather than reduce their image- based presentations to the point of becoming a referential placeholder, they instead orient their lenses towards subjects that resist being imagined–much less being imaged. While their works are striking visual representations, they also challenge the notion that subjects within the frame can ever be fully captured, known, or comprehended. Through photographic interrogations, these artists probe histories, ideas, and issues that are unquantifiable, inconclusive, and at times, inconceivable due to the shear enormity of
their scale; across time and in space. They reveal the impossibilities of establishing clearly defined narratives, and in this way, challenge long-held beliefs that a photograph can represent or contain something entirely.
In her work Cloud Behavior (2018), Nanna Debois Buhl explores the horizons and the vast reaches of the universe beyond; interrogating relationships between materials that make the navigation of the sky possible and the psychic imaginaries that have inspired theoretical and poetic reflections on the seemingly infinite space above Earth for centuries. Buhl orients her camera’s lens towards the sky, looking for hidden traces of scientific, cultural, and philosophical histories in meandering cloud forms. For the work, Buhl created 170 unique photographs of cloud formations as they drifted through the sky, interacted with the atmosphere, and transformed into new textured forms. The artist’s works, ranging from neutral registrations to color- saturated photographs, suspend the perpetual cloud dérive, offering viewers a moment to interpret their abstract shapes. Presented as a series, the work functions as an ephemeral topology of the sky, highlighting the idiosyncratic nature of cloud movement and the unique textures that either precede or form during weather events. For the artist, this collection of cloud variations is not simply an examination of the formal aesthetics of her subject, but also a reflection the tension between scientific study and those mythical and mysterious forces that resist critical analysis.
Christina Capetillo’s series Continuum focuses on provincial towns found in the Danish countryside. The amalgamated urban spaces of these Danish towns, formed by successive generations, exemplify layers of vernacular architecture built over time. The often-eccentric arrangements of multiple generations of constructions lead to complex architectural vocabularies and spacial relationships that become evident through Capetillo’s ardent investigations of these rural towns. Commissioned in 2012, the artist spent a year exploring the Danish countryside in order to make the work. She discovered a composite urban fabric; the small cities interlace societies and successive seasons while undergoing a gradual, continual transformation. Some of the structures date back several hundred years, with multiple generations of renovation, extension, and refinement. Mostly unplanned and unregulated, irregular but composed, the layered structures of these small towns are akin to geologic strata for the new epoch known as the Anthropocene.1 Capetillo has written, “The heterogeneous and conglomerate nature of these Nordic towns made me think of them as family portraits–the different houses became characters that create a collective history through their individual statements... I am preoccupied with the interlacing of layers of time and space, and how we live in a place where others have lived in the past, and where others will come to live in the future: we live in a continuum.”
Hope and Fear(2016) by artist Charlotte Haslund-Christensen is a three- channel video installation comprised of hundreds of interviews featuring people from around the globe who are asked to respond to two questions: What is your biggest hope? And what is your greatest fear? These seemingly straightforward questions are complicated by the artist’s framing of her interview subjects against the backdrop of their hometown. As teachers, students, businessmen, artists, parents, and grandparents recite their hopes and fears to the camera, the geographic and cultural and contexts within which the interviews were collected come into sharp focus. Universally acknowledged fears of loneliness and hopes for a brighter future are juxtaposed against divergent surroundings and circumstances: a military checkpoint in Korea, a picturesque alleyway in Spain, an industrial area in Brooklyn, New York. Despite the universal language that these complex questions inspire, the collected responses are colored by the subject’s position on the globe and in society at large. Haslund-Christensen’s video portraits present an opportunity to reflect on the relationship between not only our hopes and fears, but also the relationship between our psychic imagination and our social, political, and material circumstances.
The figures in Trine Søndergaard’s series Guldnakke(2012–13) are presented to the viewer as proxy subjects of the Danish common class. In each image a female figure is dressed in contemporary casual fashion and posed with her face turned away from the camera, identity obscured by the artist’s intentional framing, and positioned against a dull grey studio backdrop. The monochromatic aesthetic vacuum that this darkened backdrop creates is interrupted only by the glittering spectacle of reflecting light and color emanating from the intricately designed 19th-century gilded bonnets that each model wears. In the 19th century, gilded bonnets served as signifiers of economic wealth and social status for the rural Danish Peasant class; their value gauged in direct relation to the hours of labor required to design, craft, and construct each piece. Søndergaard’s juxtaposition of contemporary fashion, vernacular studio photographic practice, and couture headdress draws attention to how images convey social, economic, and cultural value and the ways these values feed into social class structures. The golden bonnets serve as archival referents to material histories of feminine labor (both physical and psychic) and the models’ contemporary fashions expand those histories to the present day wherein privileged status remains largely defined by one’s ability to present oneself publicly in luxury fashions. Søndergaard’s carefully constructed images also imply the artist’s personal relationship to these histories and how these histories inform her thoughtful approach to artistic labor. Despite their material presence, these bonnets, clothes, and images have an equally immaterial presence via their visual circulation in public space and the resulting social attitudes towards class and labor these materials perpetuate. Søndergaard’s aesthetic juxtaposition serves as an interruption to the circulation of such attitudes by proposing a reading of materials for their embedded histories.
The artists featured in the exhibition represent a contemporary conceptual art praxis that seeks to unpack visual culture through research-driven inquiry. Each included series of work proposes an alternative reading of the materials presented within the frame, from clouds to couture fashions, drawing attention to the limits of objective visuality. For the artists, the photographic subject serves as a catalyst for conceptual interrogation of ideas and issues that are structurally embedded in objects, materials, places, and people. It is only with a critical eye and examination that these conceptual notions begin to take shape outside of the frame and outside of the field of view.
 See T. J. Demos, Against the Anthropocene: Visual Culture and Environment Today (Sternberg Press, 2017) for a comprehensive critical review of this universal term as it pertains to photographic representation. For recent in-depth reportage on the event, see: Nicola Davison, The Anthropocene epoch: have we entered a new phase of planetary history? (The Guardian, 30 May, 2019), http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/may/30/anthropocene-epoch-have-we- entered-a-new-phase-of-planetary-history.