All Articles
All Articles
CULTURE

Darkness & Light: Contemporary Nordic Photography

An exhibition featuring the wide range of depth and style from artists across the northern European region

by CH Contributor
on 18 April 2014

by Laura Feinstein

dark-and-light-1.jpg

Nordic countries aren’t known for their mild climates. Whether it’s the near-mythic winter darkness of the Scandinavian “polar night," or the periods of 24-hour light that characterize the Midnight Sun, this is a region of stark contrasts. "Darkness & Light: Contemporary Nordic Photography," now in its final month at NYC’s Scandinavia House, attempts to celebrate the mysterious effect this bipolarity has had on the region’s art and artists. Curated by some of the region's most celebrated cultural institutions, this survey presents over 30 recent works by 10 emerging and established photographers from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden.

dark-and-light-2.jpg

With two artists chosen from each of the Nordic countries (the term Scandinavian only applies to Denmark, Norway and Sweden), the exhibit offers one of this year’s most striking exhibits of contemporary photography from the area. As co-curator, Anna Tellgren of the Moderna Museet in Stockholm recently told us, “The title 'Darkness & Light' is a reflection on what people often think they see or expect to see in the works of artists from Scandinavia. You can find the landscape, nature and the scarcity of light in many works, but you can also find a lot of other tendencies and approaches. This collaboration has for all of us been very inspiring and is one of many examples of creative encounters between artist, photographers, curators, critics and scholars in the Nordic countries.”

dark-and-light-3.jpg

For this exhibit, pieces that made the final cut include Tonje Bøe Birkeland’s fictional portrait of photographer Luelle Madgalon Lumiére, an adventurous woman out of step with modern life whose solo journey to the remote Orkney Islands feels both timeless and heartbreakingly contemporary. For some of that distinctly dark Scandinavian humor, Tova Mozard creates a cheeky series of tableaus, including two literary-inclined lovers slouching mournfully over the graves of Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, as well as a melancholy psychological drama starring her mother, grandmother and a therapist. Some of the most dramatic images in the show, however, belong to Joakim Eskildsen, whose exploration of poverty in America—shot in New York, California, Louisiana, South Dakota and Georgia—comes from a distinctly Scandinavian perspective.

We met with María Karen Sigurðardóttir, Museum Director of the Reykjavik Museum of Photography to discuss how such an ambitious project was put together.

dark-and-light-4.jpg
How do you think the availability of light in the Nordic countries—or the scarcity of it—has shaped modern photography in the region?

Well, there is no scarcity of light here in Iceland from March to October, and in the summer we have almost no 
darkness; just endless light. But your surroundings shape you of course, and the darkness of the winter must influence people of the north—perhaps in a good way; it helps stimulate the imagination.

How did you decide which artists to include in the show? What set their work apart from their contemporaries?

For my part, it was not an easy task, there are so many good artists here in Iceland. But I tried to find pieces that were, in a way, distinctly Icelandic and had an Icelandic atmosphere, but at the same time addressed the rest of the world; something that was both Icelandic and universal.

dark-and-light-5.jpg
To generalize nations and art we simplify both the life and the arts.
What do you think is currently the most misunderstood aspect of Nordic art? What would you like visitors to learn from experiencing the show?

We all tend to put art into boxes, and the same goes for nations. We generalize the character of
 countries and their artists. Art that comes from Iceland "must," for example, be full of nature, darkness and
 wild characters. To generalize nations and art we simplify both the life and the arts. You can of course 
say—and in a way rightly so—that nature and melancholy characterizes Scandinavian art. But the Scandinavian artist is much more than that. The works of Pétur Thomsen have, for example, great power and a strange mixture of 
realism and beauty. The works of Bára have certainly an aura of sadness, but also haunting beauty and poetic dreams. 
What to learn from the show? That Scandinavian art certainly has something very special in its character, but it’s also
 very universal and human.

There was also a recent symposium held surrounding the show. What was discussed?

There was a talk about nature, both inner and outer landscapes, as well as urban-landscapes. 
There was a lot of talk about family history, the search for your self; and if the melancholy is, as in
 Nordic literature, a common theme in Nordic photography. There was some variance in 
the answers. The younger artists seemed to look at themselves as a more universal individual than older Scandinavians, 
more focused of their own story than that of the society.

dark-and-light-7.jpg
The Nordic countries are known for both their enduring legacy of traditional folklore and modern design. Are there any ways in which the two have come to intersect here, the fantastical and the practical?

Yes, I think so, mainly because there are almost no borders in art any more. Artists are not afraid to 
mix disparate things together. Pétur Thomsen used both traditional colors and very bright ones; Bára uses the ideas behind iconic still life Dutch paintings in her modern works. It’s a good thing; it´s always possible to gain new ground in art if you are not afraid to play with the opposites, the contradictions.

The market can be conservative and impatient with little tolerance toward seeking art, especially art without mass-culture appeal.
In Nordic countries the government and cultural institutions take a much stronger and supportive role in the arts than in the US. How do you think this has shaped modern art?

It has definitely shaped modern art, and in a very good and stimulating way. 
There are not many artists who can live only by their work, and that goes for all over the world, but especially in not-so-crowded countries in the Nordic sphere. Some acknowledged artists have good incomes and can therefore 
focus on their works without big financial worries, but if you want to have a fruitful art scene you have to support it. If artists don't have to worry too in-depth about their finances, they are more likely to take chances in their creation. 
The market can be conservative and impatient with little tolerance toward seeking art, especially art without mass-culture appeal. Support guarantees us diversity, better arts and therefore a better society.

"Darkness & Light: Contemporary Nordic Photography
" is on show at NYC's Scandinavia House now through 26 April.

Images courtesy of the respective artist

The CH25 is a showcase of creators and innovators from a broad range of disciplines who are currently working to drive the world forward.

LaToya Ruby Frazier

Documenting the slow, troubling change in Braddock, Pennsylvania

Read More
I am not a journalist, I am a conceptual documentary artist using my visual expression for building narratives that are unseen and unheard

Marcus Weller

Using technology to turn motorcycle helmet design on its head

Read More
I was taken aback both by the number of people that doubted it, and by the equally large number of people that got behind it

Pauline van Dongen

The Dutch designer blazing the wearable technology path

Read More
I’m fascinated by concepts of change, movement, energy and perception; since they are closely related to the way we experience the world

Sabine Seymour

A future where smart clothes are as ubiquitous as zippers

Read More
In the future you will not buy a piece of 'functional' clothing without SoftSpot

Lulu Mickelson

A civic leader bringing change to NYC through design

Read More
Human-centered design is one of the many tools that we can use to better engage the public

Kathleen Supové

The NYC performance artist who’s radically reinventing the piano recital

Read More
I like pieces that are virtuosic, that show off the piano and what it can do, and are awe-inspiring

Tal Danino

The bioengineer who’s programming DNA to fight cancer

Read More
[Manipulating genes] is very new, people are just learning how to program these organisms

Meredith Perry

How searching the Internet helped a 22-year-old invent wireless electricity

Read More
It’s not about where the information is, it’s about how you use the tools

Cynthia Breazeal

How an emotional, empathetic robot named Jibo stands to revolutionize communication

Read More
The thing that's so provocative about social robots is that it's fundamentally a community technology

Sarah Kunst

The entrepreneur single-handedly changing the landscape for women in tech

Read More
People who live on a planet that is half women but can never seem to find any when they need one, I have solved your problem

Corinne Joachim Sanon

The chocolatier bringing social change to Haiti and bean-to-bar chocolate to the world

Read More
Seeing the poverty surrounding me and the lack of jobs and opportunity bothered me

George Arriola and Monohm

An heirloom electronic for the post-smartphone era

Read More
We agonized during the design process as all hyper-obsessed craftspeople should

Joshua Harker

Pushing the boundaries of sculpture with intricate 3D printing

Read More
My intent was to explore and depict the architecture of the imagination, to interpret and share forms evident in the mind’s eye

Eelke Plasmeijer

The locally driven restaurant that’s upending Balinese food culture

Read More
We really try to keep things simple and let the produce do the talking

Alex Kalman

The tiny museum in Manhattan that’s redefining museums

Read More
The mission is to put this small simple and powerful tool into the hands of as many people as possible

Roxie Darling

From un-shampoo to transgender identity, the NYC colorist boldly defining the next chapter of hair

Read More
Hair color is as much a science as it is a craft

Kegan Schouwenburg

Revolutionizing orthotics through 3D-printed insoles

Read More
What orthotics do is they effectively change the geometry of what your alignment is like

Douglas Riboud + Justin Guilbert

How a mission to create great coconut water led to a whole new way of doing business

Read More
We’ve made a conscious decision to be as transparent and honest as we can, and let people decide for themselves

Vanessa Newman

Redesigning pregnancy for the post-gender generation with Butchbaby & Co.

Read More
I want my customers to feel comfortable and unchanged, in that becoming pregnant didn't take away from or compromise their identity

Dan Barasch + James Ramsey

A quest to make the future brighter—underground

Read More
We both share a passion for groundbreaking technology and a shared love of New York

Matt Kenyon

Fusing art and technology to disrupt concepts of corporate America

Read More
I want the work to live in the world and circulate, so it can generate more dialogue

Leopoldine Huyghues Despointes

The young filmmaker and non-profit founder who just wants people to follow their dreams

Read More
I feel confident and ready to accomplish so much more, the movement is on

Jonathan Sparks

Reinventing electronic music by inventing multi-disciplinary instruments

Read More
Recorded music is becoming so cheap, so the value of music is now in live performance

Tarren Wolfe

The next-generation appliance making kitchens greener—literally

Read More
Our goal is to provide food for everyone in the world, and the best place to start is in our very own community

Melissa Kushner

Addressing the needs of orphans and vulnerable children in Malawi through microenterprise

Read More
Poverty is complicated, there is an increasing temptation and pressure in the development space to oversimplify things
Loading More...