Man in the age of reproduction
By Erlend G. Høyersten, Director
Sørlandets Kunstmuseum (2008)
From observer to executor
Charlotte Thiis-Evensen (born 1968) was invited to exhibit at Sørlandets Kunstmuseeum a little over a year ago. She was invited on account of her personal approach to art, and her self-revealing projects, transcending art as genre. Her work represents a new expression on the Norwegian contemporary art scene.
Charlotte has a Master’s degree in literature from the University of Oslo. She currently works as a cultural journalist on national television, but has in later years steadily progressed from an observer to an executor of art. In her projects she is preoccupied with the relation between artistic content and journalistic form. A text written by art historian Kari Brandtzæg states that “in Norwegian art context Thiis-Evensen is still solitary in her approach to art via journalism […].” (1)
Thiis-Evensen is an artist concerned with the public on the receiving end. In her case, this constitutes not as much a rebellion against the innate nature of the art scene, but rather a heritage she carries with her from her journalistic background. Brandtzæg further writes about the artist “Thematically it [her art] explores the expressional qualities of film, and its ability to convey emotions and empathy in the sphere of the private and intimate.” (2) At the same time her work corresponds to a tendency among several young Norwegian artists where the relation to the public and spectator is of increasing importance, thereby down-playing the position of the traditional art institution.
The work she presents at Sørlandets Kunstmusem is the installation My father tried to call my mother. In this piece she abandons the media of film as such, but remains focused on art’s “[…] ability to convey emotions and empathy in the sphere of the private and intimate.”
1) Text by Kari Brandtzæg in a pamphlet on the occation of Charlotte Thiis-Evensen’s exhibition at Porsgrunn Kunstforening, automn 2007.
When you, as a spectator, enter the show, the first thing you see is the large exhibition hall. Approximately 150 square meters, the ceiling 6 meters high, its proportions may best be described as those of a giant shoebox. It is a grand room, well suited to exhibiting paintings and sculpture, as well as screenings of video art. However, it is a demanding room, lending itself to art of a certain caliber. At first encounter, we see none of this grandeur in Thiis-Evensen’s piece. At the room’s far end, as distant from us as possible, she has created what might be described as echoing the exhibition space itself; a box shaped construction measuring 4x5 metres.
The white cube, placed on the light coloured concrete floor of the white exhibition room creates a visual duality, carefully balancing between the monumental and the barren. Bathed in a flat, white light the room assumes clinical properties. In its purity and size, and not least through its placement at the far end of the room, the construction’s monumental character is reminiscent of a mausoleum in terms of architectural language and symbolism: A symbol evoking associations of power, impotence and loss.
The only thing immediately visible to us is the cube’s white outer walls. Encompassing the built room is a relatively narrow passage on which one can maneuver. Entering the passage might provoke a slight feeling of claustrophobia, simultaneously enhancing the construction’s monumental quality. The sense of claustrophobia is created by a correlation between the passage’s width (2,4 metres) and the permanent room’s 6 metre high ceiling. The passage has two audio sources, but one does not immediately understand what one hears. The end of the passage leads on to a second passage where one discovers that the cube is not closed, but rather equipped with a door that one may enter.
One can choose to go in, or to look on from outside. Going in, one can study the nine medium sized images mounted on the walls at close range. Vividly couloured, the motifs are not obvious at first glance. The images are photographs, enlarged to the extent that the pixels are highly visible, and the quality grainy. Gradually it becomes apparent that the images represent an interior. In a corner a film flickers over a television screen, showing fragments of footage captured on a mobile phone. The interior is the same as on the photographs. In addition we hear sounds from the recording. The sounds are muffled; sometimes pulsating as a beat, sometimes a slight buzzing.
But what is it that we see? When entering the passage, the public has access to a short text that reads as follows: “Two years ago my father died. He left behind a mobile phone containing 100 photographs. These photographs were taken because my father was trying to call my mother. He was hospitalized, very ill, and never knew he took them.”
We now realize what we have been looking at. The images and video clips are recorded by the artist’s father while he was in hospital. Letting this sink in, we realize that the room’s dimensions recall those of a hospital room. The narrow passages are transformed to empty hospital corridors.
The encounter between Thiis-Evensen’s story and the public’s personal experiences are startling. We all have, or have had, a father. Absent or present, warm or distant, living or non-existent. The significance, or insignificance of the father figure and the parental role becomes a central element in our appreciation of the piece. The work has transcended from an exercise in architectural psychology, to concerning deep inter-human relations.
What today stands before us as a work of art, touches upon, through its use of the subject matter – namely the mobile phone images – the role of technology today, as well as the subject of communication, or indeed, lack of, communication. The distance between the personal sphere and the mass media is short, both for the producer and consumer of text. Passive or active, we have all become producers of images through the same means of technology, even on our deathbeds.
Thiis-Evensen’s work creates an emotional paradox. Initially, one is overwhelmed by the room’s physical proportions and presence; the monumental accompanied by an occasional tinge of claustrophobia. The subsequent feeling is of a more sentimental nature, witnessing the tale of a dying father, who repeatedly tries to contact his wife. On a more cerebral level, we are struck by the incomprehensible loneliness of man in the age of reproduction, where most people do not communicate, but merely reproduce. In this manner Thiis-Evensen succeeds not only in conveying a personal account of relevance on a relational level to human beings. She also tells a story of how we live, or perhaps more pertinently: how we choose to live in our own time.