The Belt of Venus and the Shadow of the Earth
A view. A number of hands holding phones in front of faces, obstructing the sight of the mountains. The phones’ built-in cameras can not capture the details of the grand view but filters in instagram can boost its effect and the geotag will transmit the “I Was Here” to the picture story of one’s life shared on social media.
In their practice, Inka and Niclas Lindergård have consistently observed and investigated this process of a contemporary perception of nature and how the photograph is a bearer of stylized landscapes.
The exhibition The Belt of Venus and the Shadow of the Earth at Grundemark Nilsson gallery is the duo’s first solo exhibition in Stockholm with photography, video and sculpture from the last few years. The works present investigations of nature as a cultural construction and photography’s role in that construction. The title refers to what may be the most photographed landscape motif – the sunset. The Belt of Venus is the name for the pink glow that appears when the sun sets or rises and the Earth’s shadow can then be seen as a blue color above the horizon.
Inka and Niclas Lindergård travel to places around the world associated with spectacular and wild nature. In particular, they’ve repeatedly returned to America. The country with the superstar views – marked on maps and signs as ‘Vista Points’. During their fourth trip between these panoramas they got the impression that the thousands of exposures taken at these locations somehow wears down the landscape. Signposted photo views could be regarded in the light of the dominant value system of our contemporary world – consumerism.The act of pointing the camera in a certain direction generates more cameras pointing in the same direction. The landscape in the Vista Points series is concealed by a black hollow shape in the center of the images. In actuality a quarter dollar is attached to the camera lens, a coin that can activate the tower viewers found at these locations. The obstacle of consuming the landscape is twofold. The coin never activates the binoculars nor can the memory of the view be saved as an image. The clues in the edges of the photograph are enough to allow the imagination to fill the void. The motif is very familiar – as if it would be pre-programmed on the human retina in the west. The agreement on the photogenic image that we’re looking for in nature began to be constructed long before National Geographic’s creamy color pictures or before Ansel Adams ever visited Yosemite National Park.
Ultimately, their work revolves around these sought-after landscape motifs. They regard the almost automated influx of them to our screens as a contemporary ritual and try to approach the complex mechanisms that gives a sacred character to panoramas. In the exhibited works the idealization of nature has gone into spin and the landscape has become fluorescent. Remains of an idealized nature aesthetics have abandoned the two-dimensionality of the photograph and reached matter again. The belt of Venus has in the exhibition space emigrated to the inside of a cave, a tree burl, stones and a podium. The mystique that may seem encased in northern lights or in the sun’s glow on the horizon is demonstratively staged in the works as to reach a crescendo.
The staging of the photographed scene is also emphasized in the series Family Portraits in which the duo for the first time are in front of the camera. In Family Portraits the duo anew relate to the photographic ritual of traveling, posing, photographing and sharing. Selfies and posing in front of a camera are acts that originate within the core values attributed to the photographic medium; as a witness, memory and token of identity. But by wearing reflective clothing, Inka and Niclas Lindergård hinder the photograph’s testimony and prevent an “I Was Here”. The three characters shines through the picture as eerie, dazzling phantoms or beings of an occult narrative. As if in a broken up partnership, the memory of one party is cropped out of the picture. Nature remains and retains its spellbinding power for herself.
Soon forty years ago, Susan Sontag stated in her famous collection of essays On Photography (1977) that the photograph is a way of certifying experience but at the same time refusing it – by limiting experience to search for the photogenic and converting experience into an image, a souvenir. The spectacular cliffs or sunset are valued primarily after the experience, when the photograph is edited and shared. Well aware of this chronology, the duo carries out a reverse action and the focus of their artistic process is what happens before and during the moment of exposure. Only a few color corrections are being made after the photo session. What is seen in the picture was what the camera registered and could not be seen with the human eye. Again, the duo accentuates the specific functions of a camera and the essence of the photographic image. By performing small actions in consonance with nature during the exposure, such as arranging branches, throwing reflective powder to the wind or illuminating a cave with color flashes the duo detaches the photographic reality from the physical.