eõ. I GO. I go. I go.
Review by Morten Andenæs.
It is a Latin word, which I am told, means I go.
The phrase points only to that supposedly final destination we all drift towards. “I go” signals no point of departure other than the I, or the eye in this case, the mechanic eye of the camera that receives waves of light reflected of oceans and train platforms, of men, women and children, or traces of men, women and children. I clearly remember a stage set among ruins and what appears to be an actor on that stage. There is a frantic camera roaming through a church and a warehouse, both seemingly abandoned, the moving images issuing from two monitors set above a video of the arctic seas, then train platforms yet again and fleeting images of woods and passers-by. Along the furthest wall of the gallery, double exposures from Disneyland have my eyes scrambling to make sense of this once coveted land, whilst at the other end of the room, Chris Marker’s film marks a spot on the proverbial flip-side of Disneyland’s bright and cheery coin, a Junkopia as the work is titled where amongst other things my eye clings to images of a small ship made from refuse that sails out to sea in grey, choppy waters, towards the horizon of what I later surmise is the Pacific Ocean, that unfathomably vast expanse of sea separating the west from the east and one date from the next. In a video by Andrew Amorim next to this, boys, I assume they are boys at any rate, on motorbikes strut their stuff on the highway or the byway accompanied by some lament, a cascade of vowels pointing strangely to the e and the o. The boys’ mastery and showmanship on these motorized bicycles is as fleeting to passengers in adjacent cars as the Tibetan Buddhist mandalas on some beach inevitably to be swept away with the tide and the sands. Waves swell and ebb in the works of two separate artists both named Janne, whilst the click clack clack of five slide projectors spinning around their own axis leads me back to the trains and the platforms, to train stations, the passing of each one marks a new spot on the map which is laid out on a table behind me next to a book titled fünfundvierzig. The German sounding names on the signs puts me in mind of all the movie-scenes I’ve seen of individuals and whole families being dragged away in the dead of night only to be crammed together a scene later like animals into small compartments not fit for cattle, the sounds of yelling and gates slammed shut, the screech of rusty iron gates welcoming the emaciated to their collective hell in so-called workers camps somewhere in Poland for example during the last three years of the second world war, and as I stand there taking in these scenes that Damian Heinisch captured and exposed from the train, I realise that having started off with the simple I go (to and from nowhere), I have ended up somewhere. This inevitable wanting to go somewhere, from some thing, has me feeling like I’ve betrayed a central tenet of the exhibition whilst at the same time, it puts me in mind of a photograph Robert Frank made in Mabou in 1989 that I recently came back to. In what at first glance struck me as being blood on the surface of a black and white negative, Frank wrote hold still / keep going.
There is no press release accompanying this exhibition, no list indicating titles. In fact, other than the information which the works themselves offer, all I have to go on is a quick note by the gallerist saying that all the works were made by the artists in countries that were not native to them. In a certain way, this is refreshing, and entirely in keeping with what I sense is the premise for the exhibition. We surround ourselves with what we think are explanations, with words, words, words and more words accompanying pictures all too often and rely on them in order to make of photographs fathomable, handy morsels to be consumed and disposed of safely. And yet, one could ask whether this lack, of words or attempted explanation, isn’t instead due to negligence, or a simple lack of proper preparation?
On the face of it, eõ seems a fancy way of saying what Instagram-posts, credit card advertisements and popular philosophy has told us for as long as I can remember: focus on the journey, not the destination. I say this with a certain reservation, with a on the face of it, because what these catchphrases lack (and which I expect to find in eõ) is a critical distance as to the meaning or veracity of what has in effect become a self-evident turn of phrase. The idea that the journey matters more than the destination speaks of course to the current interest in mindfulness, accepting your inner silence or any other number of trending explorations into Being. I too, because of my constant vacillations, because of the incessant din inside my head, often wish to be like the proverbial drop of water returning to the sea. I too at times covet just being there, like Chance the gardener. And yet I can’t help escape (for lack of a better word) the feeling that all this focus on being here and there and in the moment, mindful and present, is also a kind of fast-track to forgetfulness, escape and disengaging from the world.
I come back to Robert Frank’s four words. What would it mean to hold still and keep going in our part of the world where it appears that denial has become the survival skill above all others, enabling us to turn a blind eye as populism has run rampant and mass migration, economic crisis and environmental disasters are about to tip an iceberg socially, financially, and ethically?
The phrase I GO could be said to mirror the human condition. We go, we move, we travel, migrate and accumulate if not wisdom, then at least experience, on the way, which is hopefully passed on. Movement figures prominently in this exhibition, but it is of a seemingly aimless kind. Movement spinning around its own axis, as orientation plain and simple, rather than the pathological, incessant movement where something is left behind in order to seek out somewhere, or something else; the answer, the right place, space, greener pasture or what have you.
As I go, eõ, I accumulate and assimilate. I absorb and reflect, I act and react and things and other people in turn act and react to me and things and other people again, and in this to and fro, acting and reacting as I go, connections are forged. Relationships between people and things are sealed as if by the blinding blaze of the welder, grafted on to our skin and memories, relationships which in turn develop into a continuum of collective memory, a body of knowledge we call it, of events that must not be forgotten that we in turn can pass on to those who were not there to witness it first hand. As I stand at Noplace in front of a small series of photographs by Behzad Farazollahi depicting among other things actors on a stage, apparently ruined as an effect of what I assume is either civil war or some coalition based military operation espousing freedom, I think of a telephone conversation I had years earlier with a good friend I seldom speak to, who explained to me the concept of object permanence. What makes peekaboo so endlessly fascinating for children at an early stage of development is that they are unable to understand that things, when not immediately within view, still exist. The face, that just moments ago literally dis-appeared and was replaced by a set of hands, appears just as suddenly again as if from nowhere. Out of sight, out of mind. I turn around and think of memory and its inevitable inversion, oblivion, as train stations and their names in Damian Heinisch’s works are projected on the wall and disappear just as quickly. I turn to the left and see Janne Kruse’s works on paper where photographs of the sea are set either above or below an equally prominent line, the gesture as an inscription has me aware that the world, for adults as well as toddlers, inscribes itself in mysterious ways into our being whether we will it or not. Even though we can not literally nor figuratively “re-member” a given scene, it leaves an indelible impression on us in much the same way as light etches its way into the light-sensitive material of the film or the sensor, leaving a latent impression.
I am not a particularly good traveller. I am timid and uneasy about asking for directions for example, and because of this, engaging with a new city or a given space, is not so much about finding the quickest route from A to B, but to begin the process of creating an embodied map of the space. Travelling or moving around, for humans as well as rats, is a way of stimulating neural circuits and establishing internalised maps of experience, maps emerging from a mix of smells issuing from lavish restaurants or public restrooms for example, of the hazy light experienced as the sun rises and gleams off the pavement still wet from last nights rain, of the unintelligible sounds and signs of foreign languages, and of photographs captured and processed days, weeks or even years later. Walking around a city or a church, travelling across the ocean, visiting a site of former or current atrocities or tracing the outlines of a small cell is not simply a means of orienting oneself, it is like the act of photographing, a means of constituting one’s surroundings. Photography is not simply the act of re-presenting the world as it appears, it is in effect to create and cement those appearances. Similarly, to travel is to make a space once only envisaged, real. It is rightly claimed that we live both in and through images to an extent hitherto unimaginable, and I think of John Berger who questioned what the all-pervasiveness of photography would do to our memory, and subsequently our imagination?
I just returned from Athens, a city I had only visited in pictures until now. I was awestruck by the early morning light as it hit the massive fragments of the Parthenon from the east, rendering the marble columns as glowing ivory towers against the hazy blue sky beyond, the thing surprisingly living up to my expectations about it, while at the same time leaving me fulfilled, complete. Having seen it, it was out of my mind. I was similarly struck by the lack of refugees in the streets, not only around the Acropolis, which was to be expected, but also around the ferry terminals and various train-stations. I walked and walked and was relegated to the realm of my imagination much as I had been before my arrival, trying to envision what those once fleeing bodies were experiencing in their newfound confinement, on the outskirts of Athens where I knew they were stowed together by the thousands. And because they were out of sight, they were most definitely not out of mind.
Athens, like eõ, is fragmented. A city of collective and unique memories, of ideas and utopias and, like Sverre Strandberg’s Disneyland, a mix of things both real and imagined. The fragmented or ruinous, that presents itself to us as unfinished or incomplete opens up for visions of an imagined whole. Fragments, and in extension absence, make us more than beholden, adoring beholders in front of an image of perfection, they make us participants. The works in this exhibition and the relations between them intimate and insinuate. They leave us to fill in the blanks, and because we are forced to give something of ourselves in order to receive, there is a possibility that the encounter will be an intimate one.
When Damian Heinisch goes by train, from Oslo to the Ukraine to visit the site where his father’s father is buried in an unnamed grave, he is passing through certain narratives or images if you will, that have, through the course of his upbringing, played an important role in determining how he sees himself. Making a train journey and figuratively retracing the steps of a man incarcerated by the Russians at the end of World War II, a train journey that also takes him via a certain route he himself travelled as a refugee with his parents in the late seventies when they escaped the Iron Curtain, he validates something. Though we, subsequent generations, can never know the horrors of those who suffered at the hands of prison guards in internment camps, be they in Germany, Russia or Cambodia to name just a few, though we up here in Scandinavia can not fathom what it must be like to be interned in a refugee camp on the outskirts of Athens in 2018, out of sight, we should keep in mind what it means to visit these places. Going through the motions of standing in the place where someone once stood, travel as they did and look upon the same stretch of land or sea, is a way of breaking out of the image and enabling a literally touching experience that film and photography often falls short of making manifest, and to this end, there is a certain kind of performativity to the works in eõ. To be present where someone once was, is not only to bear witness to their existence, their joys or sufferings, it is to inscribe part of that history into ones self, a history one in turn becomes the bearer of.
I consider this as I move to and fro in the space and notice that the works do not touch me in the sense I had foreseen. Instead of being sucked into the emotional landscape of each artist’s works and thoughts of whatever it is they are working with, I instead find myself becoming a traveller intersecting as it were with fellow travellers. The stories related to me become anecdotal and their importance resides not so much in what they divulge, as in the fact that they point to the importance of something as basic and often overlooked in our media-saturated age, of how vital it is to see things for one’s self. Whether it be taking school classes to visit former concentration camps with the white buses in Poland, standing on the shores of the Mediterranean, visiting the Chartres Cathedral or any number of exhibition-spaces or live-music venues, the importance of the first-hand experience, however fraught with problems that notion is, should not be underestimated. I go, I go, I go.
I force the E out in an elongated breath of air and feel it followed immediately by the deeper sounding o, reverberating at the back of my throat before I inhale again and the sequence can start anew. An image of a young girl in Athens breaks the sequence, the girl, no more than thirteen years old, fourteen tops, was shaking an infant girl to and fro, violently pressing the tiny face to her breast, a breast betraying its complete lack of nutrition to all the Saturday afternoon shoppers whisking past. E o, E o, the rhythm makes of it a religious incantation that could go on in perpetuum, like the steady stream of passers-by taking little if any notice at all, of this child’s struggle. E o, E o, I go and think of the images of this mother-daughter dyad, how they haunted me at first as they were so replete with injustice, with help and hopelessness. I go on my way and feel these visions of them fading from view. I return to the safety of my hotel room, the airport, the sight of my own family and recognise how the image of her desperation which at first held such sway over me will wither away like a muscle unless one remember to exercise. For better or worse, I could simply E o, E o until the characteristic, violent heaving rattle of death signals that the final lift and fall of this phrase has left the body along with its meaning, and I could go from this world for good.