In August 2008 I went to Norway for a three-month residency at Fylkeskultursente Kysten, Tromsø:
A picture of Northern Norway had been imprinted in my mind long before even considering working in Tromsø. Infinitely deep fjords and rugged snow covered mountains, a masculine landscape straight out of every mystery adventure I’d eagerly devoured throughout my childhood. The Scanorama in-flight magazine I flicked through on the flight to Tromsø confirmed this image, advocating it as a lifestyle. Seductive imagery of radiant couples clad in high performance fabrics out challenging the wilderness. Framed by the rotating airport doors my first gaze upon Tromsø was met by an iridescent sunset carved into by a jagged mountainous silhouette.
The city is located on a small island in the middle of a fjord the banks of which slope steeply up into mountainous ridges enclosing the city. Curiously the city’s architecture rarely takes advantage of it’s setting, but turn you’re head slightly away from the road and look between the randomly placed villas and you’re gaze will often met by fabulously dramatic scenery. Initially I found the lack of constructed visual hierarchy in the urban planning inhibiting. I was somehow not interested in photographing the city, probably because of the city’s proximity to the spectacular. It would have meant either using the frame of the image to fix a semi coincidental moment between setting and architecture, in some why redeeming the city. Or deliberately denying my formal impulse while photographing, and photograph in a manor that exposes the city’s random structure. I was however fascinated by the abundance of spectacular imagery of the city’s surrounding nature.
The nature seemed to be one of Tromsø’s major commodities both in terms of tourism and leisure. The idea of Tromsø as a polar outpost and the adventure of challenging nature play an important role in the local identity. The number of company names prefixed by the word Polar is astonishing as are the number of locals who every weekend, perhaps even every night, are out in the wilderness adventuring. Almost equally hyped are the Nordlys, or Northern Lights. They are however played mostly to the tourist market; depicted on postcards, in numerous books and posters, there are even tours offering to escort you out into the darkness of the mountain night in order to get a better look. I began to collect postcards from Tromsø, what began through an interest in one or two images spiralled out of control and in the end I think I bought almost every postcard of Tromsø available in the city. These cards would later play an integral part in the work I made. Altogether I was trying to understand the role the image of Nature played in relation to the City, its inhabitants and the Nature itself. Instead of investigating the construction of visuality engendered by a constructed landscape I was investigating the idea of Landscape as a construction and it’s comodification as an identity.
One of the ideas I came to Tromsø with was to collaborating with local volunteers. Soon after arriving in Tromsø Stein Erik Hansen, the Daly Leader at Kysten, introduced me to Åsa Sonjasdotter, the Programme leader at the Tromsø Art Academy. I approached the Tromsø Art Academy to ask if there would be the possibility of working with their students. Coincidentally they were looking for someone to run a photography workshop with the first year students introducing them to photography as a contemporary art practice. We agreed that I would run the workshop but with a dual purpose. The workshop would include an introduction to contemporary photography but I would be free to structure it as I wished and therefore able to use it in my own practice as a collaboration.
There were eleven students that I would be working with. From the collection of postcards I had amassed, I selected one for each student that was taken from or of a location within the city that I was interested in investigating. To each of these cards I associated a contemporary photographer and a piece of critical writing related to each photographers practice. I asked each student to chose one of the postcards they felt connected to. Each of the cards being a representation of a location in Tromsø, we discussed the image, any previous experience of the site and arranged a time to meet individually at the location from where the image had been taken. I asked the students to create a photographic work using the location in the postcard as a site and subject and the representation on the postcard as a reference or prior reflection on a way of approaching the site. In the forth week of the course, together with Stein Erik Hansen I organized and curated a public exhibition of the works produced by the students during the workshop. The exhibition was held in Kysten, where I was resident.
The residency was supported by a Standard Bijdrage Werkbudget from the FONDS bkvb
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