CLAIRE DI FELICE
Photographic Sublime in Inka & Niclas’ works
Since the 18th century the fascination with nature and the relationship between man and nature has played an important role in art. At the beginning of the 20th century, renowned pictorial artists like Edward Steichen wanted to revolutionise landscape photography by transforming mere documentation photography into painting-like art. Later, photographers like Ansel Adams created landscape photographs trying to preserve and conserve the wilderness in the image, filled with the aesthetics of the sublime. Since the New Topographics exhibition in the 1970s, landscape photography has sought to show nature altered by man in various ways, between documentation and artistic interpretation.
Following this progression, contemporary artistic duo Inka (1985, Finland) and Niclas (1984, Sweden) Lindergård explore the medium of photography, with their work revolving around the theme of nature and the relationship between nature and human beings. In a way, through their unconventional style and imagery, this artistic duo rethink landscape photography by adding different elements such as light and colour to create an atmosphere reminiscent of the sublime. The word sublime characterises first of all a type of terrifying natural spectacle: thunderstorms, storms, eruptions, avalanches, floods, fires, etc. In the 17th century, it became an aesthetic category in its own right, in the same way as the beautiful or the picturesque. The Irish philosopher Edmund Burke published the founding essay in 1757, describing the sublime as “an artistic effect productive of the strongest emotion the mind is capable of feeling such as stupefaction and terror”.1 The sublime according to Burke is based on the feeling of insignificance towards the vastness of nature, a vastness that can be found in Inka and Niclas’ photographs. It inspires fear but through this fear the observer gains some degree of pleasure from knowing that the object is not an immediate danger to them.
In Inka and Niclas’ work, the addition of glowing lights and formless entities to these landscapes transforms them into something that seems dangerous, uncanny and irresistible. Covering a wide array of subjects and using a variety of techniques, the element that is recurrent in their work is nature. The addition of glowing silhouettes, colour and external elements play with this aspect of the sublime and gives a supernatural side to their works. In their series Family Portraits, the lighting of human silhouettes evokes an element of fusion between the human beings and nature without making them completely disappear.
In the couple’s works, there is an aspect of the Romantic era that comes back giving a mystical aspect to the photographs. Pink- and orange-coloured oceans and palm trees, images of flowers with an astrological dimension, natural elements floating in the landscape, all create a supernatural scenery reminiscent of the sublime, beautiful yet scary at the same time. There is a certain duality concerning the reality and the artificiality of the elements represented in the image, like in the series 4K Ultra HD, transposing the viewer to a state between fascination and uncertainty, evocative of the uncanniness of the sublime.
In Inka and Niclas’ work, another important element is the presence of the human being, even if not always explicit, thus emphasising the relationship between nature and mankind. In another of their series called Luminous Matter, the human hand appears through the retro reflective powder that was thrown into the scene of Swedish flowers, illuminated by a flashgun. The artists here recreate a scene reminiscent of popular space imagery, common astrophotography, highlighting the mystical dimension of their work. The coloured powder appears as a magical, surreal element leaving the viewer to question the origins of that powder and the reality of what is seen.
In the series Becoming Wilderness, natural elements such as tree branches, water, and black clouds float in the middle of the picture as if they appeared by magic. This unexplainable aspect again refers to the idea of fear from which the observer gains some degree of pleasure from knowing that the object is not an immediate danger to them.
Similarly, in Vista Point, an unexplained element arises in the centre of the photographs. However, here it is not a natural element but rather an unknown component resembling a black hole that the couple created through overshadowing the subject of the landscape by inserting a coin on the camera lens. Through this approach to landscape, incorporating a black hole in the centre of the image, the artists bring another dimension to the much-photographed scene, questioning the genre of landscape representation. While on the one hand, the black hole in a way destroys the landscape as an image, creating an absence inviting the viewer to fill the gap with their imagination, on the other, this unknown component is also suggestive of the sublime, between fear and admiration.
Through their creation the couple rethink landscape and nature, emphasising the value of its preservation at a time when nature is marked by overexploitation. In the 21st century, an epoch called the Anthropocene, these works attempt to recreate a link between mankind and nature, allowing the viewer to reflect on their impact on our environment. Exploring landscape through different techniques, going beyond the medium of photography and
creating photographic sculptures, the couple through their artworks affect the viewer on different levels be it emotional or intellectual, provoking an environmental awareness amongst the public. While these images subtly address a frighteningly topical subject, they are above all aesthetically beautiful, transposing the viewer into an ulterior world between sublime and beauty, magic and reality.
EMOP Arendt Award 2021