MARTINA HOOGLAND IVANOW – NEXTLEVEL GALERIE (2016)
Martina Hoogland Ivanow is one of few photographers who has successfully combined a career in both fashion photography and personal art projects. It requires an artist with skills and integrity. She attended Parsons School of Design in both Paris and New York before moving to London in the mid-1990s where she established herself in the fashion world, working with magazines such as Dazed & Confused and AnOther. She also created album and book cover design during this time and photographed for the big fashion houses. It was in the beginning of the new millennium Martina returned to Stockholm to focus on her own projects. You might remember first seeing her work in the exhibition ‘Fashination’ at Moderna Museet in Stockholm in 2004.
Today Martina Hoogland Ivanow is based in Stockholm, a city quite often described as an emotionally cold place with long winters. Although Martina holds another perspective on this northern capital; the fact that it is an exotic place compared to many other cities in the world. A sophisticated and cultural place with history, surrounded by forest and water. It offers her a certain stillness which will not demand attention and allow you to simply be. This view of her hometown touch upon an important aspect of our fast paced society, which is the luxury of being able to focus on things and as an artist the creative process.
Martina’s work speaks of both control and the lack of it, something we all may experience in our daily lives. It is an artistic statement describing the beauty which can be found when allowing things to unfold, and perhaps even be out of our hands to control, as we choose to open the doors for chance. When you first encounter Martina’s photography you might get the sensation of having your eyes blindfolded, as the way you “see” her work will appear to come from a different place within.
An artist’s technique is both complex and personal, but it is safe to say that Martina holds a supreme understanding of light and shadows. She often uses a dark aesthetic, using a soft grey scale, and her work captures the moment and subject in a way which creates a mood that one can experience that subject in. It is an invitation to your own inner dialogue. Her work will encourage you to reveal perceptions, emotions and to build confidence in your own creative spirit. Martina asks us to look beyond the immediate impediments, a reminder that sometimes the less we see the more we feel.
In many ways Martina Hoogland Ivanow foucs on questions, rather than answers; reminding us not to take everything for granted. To look in-between different truths and accepted statements. Much of her work explore the periphery, and she does this in both a geographical and human/cultural sense. In Martina’s recent work ‘Circular Wait’ (2010–2014), she focus on the relationship between man and nature.
“Circular Wait: the title instills a sense of peace and reflects harmony, which I associate with something positive. But together the two words instead become a claustrophobic state in which one is incapable of changing one’s situation, one cannot get out of it. This is what intrigued me – this was a good example of the ambivalent nature of humans: we know what
can be done but are incapable of doing it.” - M.H.I
‘The Circular Wait’ explores our, often artificial and contradictory, relationship with nature. Her images are drawing parallels to the society we live in today and these documentary elements are mixed with color and light abstractions using artificial colors creating a dream- like dimension. It is very much about the balance between humankind, culture, sustainability and nature. The fact that we are living in a time when much change will be expected from us, and at the same time the difficulty to live up to this. It is about our growing desire to live closer to nature, which often turns out to be both complex and contradictory. Martina’s photographic work explore this dualistic nature and how the self relates to the world.
November 12 - January 16, 2016, Martina is showing ‘Circular Wait’, ‘The Satellite’ and her new book at Nextlevel Gallery in Paris. The book is a collaboration with Livrasion books Art and Theory Publishing
8 rue Charlot, 75003, Paris
MARTINA HOOGLAND IVANOW SATELLITE + CIRCULAR WAIT (2016)
Martina Hoogland Ivanow’s images often evoke an acute feeling of something indefinite going on. In her photographic series Satellite (2009-2010) two women sit upright on sun chairs smeared in clay. Their faces are turned away from the camera towards a third person, whose legs we observe in the upper left corner of the image. But the final piece of the puzzle that might explain what we are witnessing is tantalisingly out of reach. We cannot even be sure that there is indeed such a thing as a missing explanatory element. Our optical mastery of the image’s narrative is short-circuited by the force field that Hoogland Ivanow’s framing and subtle play with light and shadow creates. We are left with a muted mystery felt on an emotional rather than logical level.
»I reduce until only a whisper remains,« Hoogland Ivanow says about her editing method. At first this sounds pretty straightforward. Hoogland Ivanow’s photography has always transcended the border between realism and fiction; and being reducible to neither one nor the other, it is not hard to imagine that her image making must require meticulous editing to tease out an essence. Her use of an acoustic metaphor is therefore apt since it implies the necessity of removing noise until only a core of visual truth remains.
That is all very well. But it does not do full justice to what it is like to experience her images firsthand. The catch in the quote is that little word »whisper«. Saturated with more meaning than it may at first suggest, »whisper« provides an insight into the mystery of Hoogland Ivanow’s art.
The whisper is akin to breathing. It can be seductive but also eerie. Think, for instance, of the uncanny whispers that reverberate throughout the soundtrack of Dario Argento’s 1977 horror masterpiece Suspiria. To perceive a whisper in a photographic image is of course acoustically impossible. But taken as a metaphor for the fragile it is possible to see Hoogland Ivanow’s aesthetic practice as one of making room for the barely perceptible. This presupposes a kind of emphatic, listening attitude. A finely attuned ear. What Hoogland Ivanow tunes up in her images is in a way what Roland Barthes once called the punctum of a photo: that singular aspect of an image that touches the viewer without becoming reduced to a message or a thing.
A case in point is the photo depicting three hunters walking across a mown lawn in Hoogland Ivanow’s photographic series Circular Wait. Appearing against the evening light as silhouettes with long, sharp shadows, the trio’s internal atmosphere is intriguing. The posture of the man to the left is relaxed to the point of lazy, while the man in the middle walks with a focused, almost arrogant resolve. The stance of the man to the right is more ambiguous. His step appears a bit hesitant. Is he captured in a moment of doubt? Or rather of contemplation? We cannot say for sure.
What Hoogland Ivanow skilfully brings out here is the vagueness of the relationship between the three men. She makes the space between them tangible. The unclear social dynamics that characterise this image can be seen as the image’s punctum. Like a memory of something whispered in a dream, it is this quality of Hoogland Ivanow’s art that lingers in our mind long after we think we have decoded her images.
MARTINA HOOGLAND IVANOW – SECOND NATURE (2015)
There is an unmistakable and highly personal inflection in Martina Hoogland Ivanow’s images emanating from their compact atmosphere and her distinctive way of dealing with shadows and light. The images are characterized by a soft grey scale. These muted tones become a filter between the image and the viewer, a filter that also lends a sense of timelessness to the images. Her process is primarily analogue and she prints a large amount of pictures. It is a slow process in which the choice of images is just as important as the moment in which they are shot. The main function of these photographs is, however, not as standalone works – how one image relates to another has become increasingly important in her work.
The realization that editing can follow a more evocative logic – in a similar way to the flow of images in her book projects – has recently awakened in her an interest in working with film. The work Annelise Frankfurt (2013) portrays the often overlooked dancer, choreographer, and doll-maker Annelise Frankfurt (1926–2007). As is so often the case in Martina Hoogland Ivanow’s photographic work, documentary elements alternate with poetical and associative ones in a game of light and shadow. Stagings, belonging, free zones, and places of refuge along with the contradictory and complex are at the core of her work.
The commonplace and familiar, a universal condition, and a striving to depict it without words are often points of departure for Martina Hoogland Ivanow’s photographic projects. She explores the border between staged photography and the documentary genre and reminds us that strictly speaking there is no such thing as real documentary photography – all photographs are the result of one or several conscious or unconscious choices. She plays with photography’s seductive and deluding claim to truth and its ability – or inability – to reproduce reality.
In her seminal work On Photography (1977) the American writer Susan Sontag states that “in a modern society, images made by cameras are the principal access to realities of which we have no direct experience.” She makes us realize that our human striving for truth, together with the photograph’s function as proof of an event having taken place, results in us replacing the past with a new reality that has been constructed through pictures.
Susan Sontag’s reflections raise questions regarding how one remembered the past before the breakthrough of photography. Questions such as these interest Martina Hoogland Ivanow more than answers; it’s about making us not take anything for granted. There are always parallel realities and it is precisely that which dwells between different truths and accepted statements that interests her. The events that occur on the outskirts of what is generally seen to be important. The images resist simplification, a characteristic that today is perhaps more important than ever. A keen interest in what is often called the periphery, in both a geographical and a human/cultural sense, is a common element in all her work. This leads to existential questions about our place as humans in the world, belonging and alienation, identity and identification. In the more recent series Satelilte (2009–2010) and Circular Wait (2010–2014) she explores this in-depth.
After attending Parsons School of Design in Paris and New York, Martina Hoogland Ivanow based herself in London in the mid-1990s and established herself in the world of fashion. This wasn’t an obvious choice for her, but the times were exciting, with magazines such as Dazed & Confused and AnOther seeing the need for renewal in the field of fashion photography and using photographers from outside the fashion scene to create something new. At the beginning of the new millennium she chose to move back to Stockholm to focus on her own projects. Martina Hoogland Ivanow is one of few photographers who, with her strong sense of integrity, has managed to combine a career in fashion photography with her art projects. Many of us first saw her pictures in the exhibition Fashination at Moderna Museet in Stockholm in 2004. With her at once playful and theatrical photographs she challenged the strict framework of the fashion world and its conventional view of what is beautiful and interesting, thus contributing towards making fashion photography more human and poetic. Just like in her own artistic projects it is the idiosyncratic switches between closeness and distance, the oscillating between light and shadow that characterize her commercial work.
Perhaps it was in this context that her profound interest in different human worlds and subcultures with their own specific codes was awakened in earnest. The often very problematic relationship of the fashion world to what is on the surface and what is hidden beneath, to reflections, groupings, individuality and identity would without a doubt be a rich source of inspiration for an artist like Martina Hoogland Ivanow. She discovered quite early on that she had the ability to understand how one could use light in different ways. Working with photography was a natural progression and her poetical shadow worlds grown out of documentary material already began to take shape during her studies. In her imagery the interesting things are often happening in the dark; it is darkness and shadows that are the focus. By limiting our access to information and putting the focus on something other than what we expect she gets her images to speak to our subconscious. Based on our collective image bank and personal experiences we add information where it is lacking and thus create our own meaning in the image.
Shadows are central to Western ideas and art, and have in different ages been seen to reflect human nature, as a mirror of the soul or an image of our own conscience. Drawing was born one day when a person traced the contours of the human shadow. In ancient Greece shadows were a metaphor for the soul and in Hades, the underworld, hordes of souls moved about in an eternal haze as shadows of the dead.
The Renaissance interest in perspective involved a new understanding of the importance of shadows to the composition, and the foreshortening of shadows from different angles was meticulously examined. Leonardo da Vinci studied shadows as optical and atmospheric phenomena and rendered the bodies of his models through light and shadow effects. Later, dramatic contrasts between light and shadow became characteristic of the painting of the Baroque period and one of the main preoccupations of artists such as Rembrandt and Caravaggio.
To the artist and filmmaker Man Ray, the shadow of a subject was as important as the thing itself. Shadows became vehicles with which to create drama in the image and he experimented with different photographic techniques, producing groundbreaking pictures in which the shadow is what makes the image. Shadows are also central to the American artist Edward Hopper’s paintings from the early 1900s, becoming a means of underscoring the feeling of alienation and anonymity exuded by the people he portrays.
Silhouette portraits became wildly popular in the nineteenth century and the practice spread throughout Europe before the camera became accessible to the general public. The contemporary African American artist Kara Walker references this predilection of the white bourgeoisie for silhouettes by producing shadow pieces that reveal racism, eugenics, and ethnic stereotypes in a historical perspective.
These examples are in different ways relevant in relation and in contrast to the work of Martina Hoogland Ivanow. While the Baroque painter Caravaggio used chiaroscuro to create drama and emphasize the illuminated parts of the painting she uses the opposite approach. It is the darkness and the shadows that are the central points of focus. The light in the image is used to direct our gaze to what is happening in the darkness. And – although their images have only very few points in common – both Martina Hoogland Ivanow and Man Ray use shadows to divert attention away from the expected.
We can see parallels between how Edward Hopper and Martina Hoogland Ivanow isolate the people in their images with the help of shadows, and emphasize the spaces between them. It is the human condition that is the primary motif, alienation and belonging. They both have the ability to depict absence and presence simultaneously. With Kara Walker she shares her interest in places that in different ways try to hide away their dark histories as well as her use of shadows for their metaphorical potential and to reveal another reality.
A study of the work of the prematurely deceased American photographer Francesca Woodman in relation to Martina Hoogland Ivanow’s work is also relevant. They have in common their ability to create a completely distinctive visual language that is unmistakably their own, characterized by a movement without beginning or end. There is a certain aura around the people in their photographs, where the shadows live lives of their own and merge with the human figures. However, whereas Francesca Woodman mainly looks inward, Martina Hoogland Ivanow takes on the role of the all-seeing beholder, who, on our behalf, reveals the hidden yet obvious elements of our existence.
In 2010 Martina Hoogland Ivanow published the book Far too Close, an extensive project with images from far-flung places that she had worked with over several years. In Far too Close (2002-07) she explores her relationship with traveling and travel as a method in the creative process. It is about both physical and emotional distance, and, as the title suggests, about how much more difficult it is to describe what is close than what is geographically remote. This project coincided with her move to Sweden and came to also involve thoughts on returning to something.
For over seven years she traveled to far-away places marked by conflict and dark histories, such as Tierra del Fuego, the Kola Peninsula, and Siberia. The images range from the geographical periphery to the intimate and personal. Family portraits and interiors are interwoven with images of far-away landscapes. Far too Close shifts between proximity and distance in both a metaphorical and a literal sense and the distance from the camera reveals whether the images tell of the familiar or something foreign that is not grounded in personal experiences.
In the series Speedway (2001-05) a psychological state of sorts is depicted without beginning or end. The relationship between the driver and the audience is the focus, but also the body’s vulnerability and proximity to death. The images are marked by a feeling of waiting or anticipation and remind one of how the camera makes voyeurs of us all. A profound interest in what we see and experience is a pervasive element in Martina Hoogland Ivanow’s work. She uses familiar compositions but shifts the emphasis away from the expected and in so doing transforms a known phenomenon into something completely different. Here, as in the earlier series Sumo (1998), it is linked to a cultural event or a sport context. As is so often the case in Martina Hoogland Ivanow’s photographs, no faces are discernable, instead masks and protective gear testify to the human presence and lend a theatrical dimension to the images.
The comprehensive project Satellite (2009–2010) revolves around alienation and community, as well as how we define ourselves in relation to another. One of her starting points was Susan Sontag’s idea of how the relationship between two people can be defined by the gap between them.
Martina Hoogland Ivanow sought out places all over the world where people challenge that gap, that space between them, and in various ways question personal integrity. She sought out alternative forms of society and groups with an experimental social structure, places that in different ways express our human longing for the perfect, authentic life. Free zones and places of refuge such as these are often an expression for urban man’s constant dream of fleeing from the pressures and stress of the city. No matter how open these societies strive to be, they are unavoidably based on a state of flux between belonging and alienation, notions that are also central to more normative relationships such as romantic love and the nuclear family.
The original meaning of utopia is “non-place” or “nowhere.” Nowadays the term is mainly used to describe an ideal society in which everything is perfect and no problems exist, but the word is also used to refer to something unattainably positive. Utopia is a much-loved topic in contemporary art, but not entirely easy to approach without ending up in the spectacular. Martina Hoogland Ivanow avoids this trap by instead emphasizing more low-key details in the form of body language, clothing, and significant elements in the surroundings. By avoiding sensationalism and letting the features of the people remain in the shadows she allows the images to function as entry points into more universal questions pertaining to our living conditions, dreams, and the forces that motivate and drive us.
Just like Far too Close, Satellite alludes to the early history of photography, when one of its primary uses was linked to ethnography and seeking out and documenting remote places and their peoples. All too often it was used to reinforce the prevailing Western notion that humans can be positioned on a scale from the primitive to the civilized. The Western viewer was in equal parts fascinated and horrified by the authentic indigenous peoples and their exotic cultures that, through the entry of modernity, were presumed to soon disappear.
The interest in ethnographic photography can be seen in the image of two women on a beach with partially averted faces. They seem to be observing another woman a short distance away, whose heavy legs are shrouded in shadow with only her pale feet reflecting the sunshine. The bodies of the two women in the foreground are covered in clay, bringing to mind a ritual of sorts, but it could just as well be a spa treatment. The distance between them and the third woman seems infinite, as if different worlds meet. Just like in many of Martina Hoogland Ivanow’s other images, it is this ambiguity and the spaces between people that are key. Another image from the series shows two men sitting in a car. They seem to be waiting for something or someone and once again their faces are shrouded in shadow. A toy monkey dangles from the roof of the car, at once comforting and threatening. The space between the two men draws our gaze like an endless abyss, while the body language of the men speaks of a close relationship.
In Martina Hoogland Ivanow’s most recent work, the series Circular Wait (2010–2014), she has focused on examining our oftentimes artificial and contradictory relationship with nature – a relationship that is largely about control. Like Satellite, Circular Wait proceeds from the longing for the authentic and wild that is fundamental to many subcultures that to a greater or lesser degree distance themselves from urban culture. Seeking to live in harmony with nature is often exclusive and only accessible to a select few. Other problematic dimensions include issues of sustainability and gender. The wilderness is not big enough for everyone to live in and warm themselves by an open fire, and, in most cases, a return to a more “original” life involves a return to more rigid gender roles.
In Circular Wait images from places such as eco villages, Rainbow Gatherings, and Teaching Drum – a stone-age survival school – are juxtaposed with different forms of outdoor life and encounters in or about nature, situations of contemplation or surveillance. The images of lone birdwatchers or hunters remind us of our own vulnerability while monitoring another, drawing parallels to the surveillance society of today. Documentary elements alternate with color and light abstractions in artificial colors that infuse the images with a dream-like, painterly dimension, while bringing to mind pollution, poison, and other forms of environmental destruction.
Circular Wait exposes the fragile balance between humankind, culture, sustainability, and nature. The title refers to a state in harmony with the cycles of nature, but by extension also to an inability to break a pattern. The images evoke questions regarding our human shortcomings and capture the anxiety of our times that comes from knowing what we should do from an environmental perspective while at the same time finding it difficult to live up to the expectations of real change. Another element is the exploration of the simultaneously regressive and visionary desire to live closer to nature. An interest in what is complex and contradictory runs like a common thread through Martina Hoogland Ivanow’s work, in which the photographic process becomes an investigation into our dualistic nature and how the self relates to the outside world.
Estelle af Malmborg
REFLECTIONS – MARTINA HOOGLAND IVANOW AND KARIN MAMMA ANDERSSON IN CONVERSATIONS
The two Swedish artists, photographer Martina Hoogland Ivanow (b. 1973) and painter Karin Mamma Andersson (b. 1962), met in Stockholm in March 2015 to discuss Hoogland Ivanow’s background and work focusing on the most recent books Satellite and Circular Wait. The conversation raised thoughts about their creative processes and the urge to explore and expand the field of their respective media.
Martina Hoogland Ivanow:
I started to focus on art and photography quite early on, when I was around fourteen, fifteen years old, so I have had quite a long time to develop my approach towards my work and the way I work with photography. As an eighteen- year-old I was too young to apply to the University Collage of Art, Craft and Design in the Stockholm and their photography postgraduate program – so I applied to schools outside of Sweden instead. But it was for the best, got me on my way.
Karin Mamma Andersson:
Where did you go?
I started at Parsons in Paris. I stayed for one year before I set off to New York, where I continued to study but also work professionally. I lived in New York for five years, London for three years and decided to move back to Stockholm in 2002, after a decade abroad. In 2009/2010 I was on a one-year residency in Berlin, and I continue to travel as much as I can. Spending many years in different places has definitely influenced and transformed me a lot – especially the time in New York, when I was at an age when one forms one’s identity in many ways.
Where in New York did you live? Several different places?
No, I actually lived in one and the same place the whole time. I found my place on Ludlow Street and Lower East Side quite quickly. What I realize now, in retrospect
– I was pretty young when I arrived there and did not really have much perspective – is that I arrived in New York shortly after AIDS had devastated a large part of the city and cultural life. I had come with certain expectations but I was met with a kind of vacuum. I wonder if it was some sort of depression in the art world, the prevailing generation had lost so many. In addition I was shocked by the racial discrimination in the USA and felt quite sad for the first six months. The Swedish kronor had devalued shortly before, so I had very little money and was forced to find a job as soon as I arrived. But all that was very important because it gave me a sort of survival instinct early on.
It was 1992/1993. It was a strange experience, because it gave me the feeling that the art scene had passed me by, like I had missed it all, kind of melancholy, bitter sweet. I was surrounded by people who were much older than me and so many had died. So those years were also kind of tough. But as a result I was in my own world, my own bubble more than ever and practically lived at the school and in the darkroom in those years. I became obsessed with printing in color.
That was very tangible even here in Stockholm, a trauma of sorts. But did you primarily photograph people?
Yes, exactly, or at least one could say that my artistic process paralleled my personal development process.
As it does.
I remember that I predominantly worked with how the eye moves and in which order it seeks out information. I used different color filters under the enlarger, adding, heightening, and coloring different points that to me were emotional zones. I was preoccupied with the vulnerability and strength in it. The end result was a kind of investigation of the body’s impermanence and pain thresholds, I think. I haven’t analyzed it to any great extent but I suspect that it mirrored what I picked up around me and became the basis and starting point for finding my own form of expression.
It’s interesting that it is so close to one’s own life, that one needs distance to understand it.
And now that I have worked with the same medium for a long time I think that I have more of a distance to it, and that I make use of it in a completely different way. More methodically. I often start with a question or a theme, and more rarely with the image itself – it’s become an entirely different process. It’s got a lot to do with observing and being observed. How about you? Can you make out obvious parallels with your own life?
Yes, very clearly.
Because you’ve also worked in the same medium all along. I wonder whether it becomes more apparent because of it?
In a way, but when you think of someone like Louise Bourgeois who has worked in a lot of different media, she has a very distinct line. I believe that it more likely is the result of working more therapeutically. That always sounds so disparaging, but I think that art often has that function. And if that’s the effect it has on you, then it probably also has the same effect on someone else who experiences your art.
I agree. The banal, or perhaps not banal but universal, that which everyone can relate to, is more interesting. If you can relate to something, so can others. We are not unique in our emotional register – our memories are shared with others and that is something that one can harness and work with.
It is interesting that one is so caught-up while in the midst of it that one almost believes that one is busy doing something entirely different.
But is that not in order to try to trick oneself into all manner of things? I usually do.
Yes, but when you get some distance it becomes so clear and obvious that this is actually about something else. But I do think it’s rather important to have a plan in order to have the energy to carry on and so that the separate works one makes tie in with one another in some way. It’s almost a survival instinct that drives one to make it be about something.
Like some sort of safeguard?
Yes, or a frame or something that encircles it all. That’s what I thought of when I saw your images: that they feel almost like a synopsis for a film, that one could read them as stills from a feature film. I feel distinctly that they relate to each other but with a widespread dystopian feel to it.
Are you referring to Circular Wait or both projects?
Both projects, actually; they jump in and out of one another. It's clear that they are two different projects but I still feel the presence of the one in the other.
While you are reminded of a film synopsis, I think more associatively about how I place images next to each other and in which order. They are like a chain of thoughts in what they convey together.
I believe we have a lot of collective images saved in our minds that many can relate to, that there is something universally human in some images that one can hone in on and use. If I change the order or number of the images it becomes a completely different language; the order and selection are always very specific for me, especially in books. I lead the viewer and at the same time I want to keep some parts open. I trust in the fact that the situation that I react to will also affect someone else. Naturally.
But this thing of having a framework... For a while now I’ve been drawn to topics that are relevant and important right now in our current times. They may be difficult to use, mainly because they can become quite simplistic, but I try to circumnavigate the problem and find another entry point into what interests me about them. Above all, I try to convey their relationship with the emotional state that permeates our society.
That I find very interesting, i.e. how one deals with one’s times, because regardless of whether one chooses to go with or against the Zeitgeist one is inescapably a part of it.
I chose to paint at art school when its popularity was at its lowest. It has never been as bad as in those times; one was almost made to feel ashamed of being a painter. So I chose to become a landscape painter. That was a statement in itself, but it doesn’t matter whether one makes such a choice or not, one is nevertheless always a part of one’s times. I eat my dumplings and I eat my sushi and I listen to my Spotify – I'm part of all of this in any case. Regardless of what I think of it. You just have to acquire a different filter.
I think it's interesting to find the balance, because at the same time I get most excited about artists who have one foot in universal issues – those kinds of questions that we sooner or later have asked ourselves throughout history.
Those questions that recur.
Yes, we always return to those questions but at the same time we also always take with us something specific from our times. I think that is one of the reasons I got involved with photography and why I have stayed with it. It is a form of collaboration with what is around you.
What I find interesting about your images is that they are hybrids. There is a very clear genre within modern photography that is extremely arranged and very studio-like.
When I look at your pictures I can sense that they are not documentary in nature, but they are not staged images either, they are in-between the two and that is probably what gives them that cinematic feeling. Because it does not feel like you’ve gone out and photographed a street in Stockholm, a demonstration or a tented camp. They whisper of something that one cannot really identify.
That's probably also because I remove information, I reduce until only a whisper remains, or a detail; the most essential detail of that specific image remains.
Sometimes it switches between being a holiday photo from a warm summer’s day and people in flight; one cannot make out what is happening, whether it is a war zone or a harmonious scene. There is a feeling of insecurity that sneaks in there.
Yes, but I work very consciously with that.
That is self-evident, but I think it’s nice that one cannot put one’s finger on it.
I suppose it probably also comes from my fundamental belief that you cannot take anything for granted. That even the most embedded things have something precarious and frightening about them.
That is another thing that has interested me: impermanence, wanting to hold on to happiness, and what is happiness anyway? Is the best happiness the biggest unhappiness?
It is both, don’t you think? I feel that life is complex – being human entails both
the one and the other. I often see people trying to simplify existence by doggedly asserting that everything has a specific way or order but that’s absurd. I cannot say that. In a way photography helps me to make this clear to myself – that life is wondrous, there are no answers, there is space for contradictions. It is all about letting that possibility in.
It has been the same for me, I suppose. I'm also at times drawn to the beauty in pain. Another recurring theme for me is good intentions and how they can go wrong.
Yes, they are both frightening and somehow reassuring. But I don’t know whether that is an innate attitude or if I have been influenced by my upbringing.
I’ve found titles very amusing all these years – it has been my little literary thing. At times I had very long titles and recycled parts from the works of poets. Then I had a long period of very ambiguous one-word titles.
When I was really young in the ’80s, it was very common for painters to title their works “Untitled” and I remember being very irritated by that. I just could not understand why anyone would pass up the pleasure of playing with a title. And then there were those who just described their paintings. “Woman in Red Dress” – that just makes me think: go to hell – everyone can see that!
I am drawn to titles that are multifaceted. For example Circular Wait: the title instills a sense of peace and reflects harmony, just like nature with its cycles, and “wait” evokes patience, which I associate with something positive. But together the words instead become a claustrophobic state in which one is incapable of changing one’s situation, one cannot get out of it. This is what intrigued me – this was a good example of the ambivalent nature of humans: we know what can be done but are incapable of doing it.
And there is something sad about it, but also a pragmatic stating of facts.
Throughout the ages humans have always moved forward – that is why we are a developing race. This is also due to the fact that we have had a linear perspective with a clear development in everything, a backwards and a forwards. But not a circular movement – that is something we have been quite afraid of. But in actual fact everything is built up around a circular movement.
Just like the year and the moon, the seasons, the cycle of life with children and grandchildren, the fact that one ages and dies and then new ones come along. And all the new people must go through the same experience; every woman who falls pregnant believes she is the first woman on earth to carry and give birth to a child. You always have that feeling: how am I supposed to cope with this. But if you look around you see that all these people are born of someone.
And I think that’s quite nice, because when I start to think of it as circular rather than linear, then the work process is more forgiving, because sometimes I wonder why I am back at square one, a place that I actively decided to leave fifteen years ago. And there you are suddenly confronted by the same thing, or at least something similar... And I find there is something forgiving in all of that. So it is rather a good title.
I was on a one-year residency in Berlin at Künstlerhaus Bethanien while working on Satellite. I had already formulated the project and knew roughly which track I was going to follow: a very basic question, how one defines oneself in and through an encounter with another. I started to think that the nature of a relationship is partially defined through the space in between and I wanted to try to photograph that space. I then started thinking of places where people consciously or less consciously experimented with this space such as in the New Age movement.
Yes! I thought there was something New Agey about it!
It’s that boundlessness. Encountering a space in which people so consciously overstep boundaries is very exciting, but it is also very interesting as a phenomenon because it is so visually theatrical and distinct. It felt like a good example of the crossing of interpersonal boundaries. Then I started thinking about the more normative aspects, like in romantic love and family relations where one does not always respect or even know where the boundaries lie.
But I also think there is something about the New Age movement that is really frightening. Frightening precisely because of what we just spoke about... They are on some sort of a quest for happiness.
That was also one of the questions: why those who seek and are so concentrated on finding light carry such immense darkness.
When I have come that far I usually start deciding on the premises for each project, how I should describe it and I start looking for locations, situations, and examples of where this sort of a thing can possibly take place. Then I try to find out what sort of lighting I should use in order to accentuate the thing I want to get at. Since a face tends to dominant an image, I tried to find a way to abstract it away with shadows using strong sunlight. This became a framework for the Satellite series in a way. If you take the faces away the gaze can rest elsewhere. Here I wanted to emphasize body language and the setting of the environment. Lately I have also been thinking about how while shooting I really carry my experience from being a professional photographer with me, of taking on different situations, throwing myself into them.
I almost always have that feeling when it comes to photography – especially the kind of photography that interests me. The photographer must in a sense become part of the context in order to be believable.
To me I think it is a mixture of curiosity and a sort of longing to belong, as well as the privilege of being able to contemplate the belonging of others. But I am also grateful for and at times surprised by the welcome the camera receives. Without it I wouldn’t have gained access to a whole lot of situations.
I suppose being an invited outsider is partially a method, a self-chosen outsiderness. At the same time it is about how one deals with the whole situation – it’s a sort of trust. But this is about different examples from real life, which makes for the documentary element as a method to amplify. The alternative lifestyles shown in Satellite for example are a reaction of sorts to society as a whole.
It was these pictures in particular that I associated with New Age and the hippie movement.
Towards the end of the project I attended a so-called Rainbow Gathering in Finland. Rainbow comes from the hippie movement and the one I went to had up to 2,000 people gathering out in the forest, living together for a certain amount of time. It is actually quite fantastic and fascinating. Speaking of boundaries and how one maintains them – apparently everyone is extremely open and friendly for about three weeks but after a month they start to fight and I found that an interesting phenomenon to explore. The Rainbow Gathering is especially interesting because it is about sister- and brotherhood, i.e. a dream and a longing for a sense of community. Something that there is not a lot of right now.
They are against all things rational and effective.
Although the pictures were taken in very different locations there is a common denominator beyond this. Sometimes I think about all that consumer hysteria – that is not rational either, is it?
Destructive behavior, extremely destructive, and it is also an expression of something else, some sort of frustration.
Many people who are in the consumer cycle believe that there is an efficiency to it. That is just fooling yourself. Then you have not taken as clear a stance as when you move out into a mud hut in the woods. I made an exhibition that I called Dogdays, where I thought of our times as being the planet’s dog days with everything about to rot away. We carry on until things fall apart in all possible ways. We empty our seas of fish, we fart out our cars, everyone must have a coffee machine, everyone must have a car, everyone must have a fridge, everyone must wipe their asses with paper, everyone wants an apartment, a summer house, everyone should have the freedom to fly to New York, Tokyo, Rome, everyone has to see the Mona Lisa, everyone must do everything.
SATELLITE - IMAGE 01
The story behind this image is quite funny. I saw these two men outside a nudist beach. The engine of their enormous camper van had stopped and they asked if I could help them start it with my little rental car: “We will give you five bucks.” I wasn’t entirely sure that my car could handle it and told them money wasn’t necessary but maybe I could take a portrait of the two of them instead? So there was a bit of trading favors happening on the parking lot.
Did they get it to start? It is really great with that crystal there and the monkey.
Yes, sure, it started up but I immediately noticed how the interior of their car seemed to reflect their relationship.
And it was also interesting how they reacted to my proposal: the man on the right immediately said, “Yes, sure, but I don’t mind if you only want to photograph him – he is much better looking.” He pulled back whereas the other one was quite self-assured, though kind of irritated and I somehow find that the balance of the two is evident in their body language and reinforced by the chain, crystal, and the monkey, more than if one had seen their facial expressions more clearly.
And because the gaze moves away from the expected, and the periphery becomes the center of the image.
How did you start working on the Circular Wait project?
I took a lot of long walks after coming back from Berlin in 2010. It is interesting how Stockholm, and Sweden in general, is so constructed, with different ways of trying to patch up the relationship between humans and nature. I am thinking of the walkways along the water with their small paths and buildings along the rocky cliffs – a way of making nature more accessible and at the same time an encroachment. This plainly shows how constructed our relationship with nature really is. I did not have a specific plan but I saw how the different things and the material that I had collected over a certain period of time had a common direction.
Swedes are marked by the legacy of Carl von Linné – all you have to do is fly over Stockholm – there is no other city in the world that has this much forest between the buildings. It is extreme and our longing for nature has no boundaries or at least had no boundaries. I think we are busy moving away from this.
Away and back again, because it finds its expression in different ways. The nature in Sweden is in many ways peaceful – there’s nothing really frightening there. It is seen as a place where humans can recover. A very romantic image. At the same time, considering the population explosion on our planet, new information shows that it might be more sustainable if everyone lived in cities, took the bus, and left nature alone. There’s an ambivalence there and it’s this contradiction that I find interesting. What I wanted to show above all was this vulnerable relationship that moves between control and lack of control.
However, Circular Wait probably deals most of all with the dual nature of humans – our relationship with nature is a good example of our inability to change our behavior. Later I included images of birdwatchers, hunters, nature reserves, the Global Seed Vault on Svalbard, and different subcultures that more or less distance themselves from city life.
The last thing I did was a series of images on Fårö in strong artificial colors that one could imagine represent what nature actually looks like, poisoned. They are at once seductive and uncanny in a way. But it wasn’t until they came about that all the material fell into place.
CIRCULAR WAIT - IMAGE 04 KMA
This one looks like a poison mushroom.
Or like a warning signal.
CIRCULAR WAIT - IMAGE 02
This one is very funny. These birds no longer exist, they are extinct and then a dead tree behind. And then that guy who is standing there, looking straight into nothing.
A bit of absurdity never hurts.
CIRCULAR WAIT - IMAGE 03
This one is interesting. It’s very peculiar.
It kind of turns ingrained conceptions inside out: the sun is strong, the body is vulnerable; it is almost painful but at the same time we need the light. The shade provides protection both from it and from the gaze of the viewer.
I think we are quite similar in that. I thought of it when you said that you did not want to include faces because they take too much power away from the rest and one wants to be able to see what is next to it. It has very much worked like that for me, that I have almost always turned my figures away in my paintings; sometimes I have simply painted over them. So, they are actually quite irrelevant. And then, of course I find black very alluring – that is as a color that blots out – and so do you.
Blots out or makes space for something else? I never think of it as something dark. I think of blackness as something restful.
In a way I do too, but to me it is also inhabited by something aggressive. And it is at once beautiful and frightening. The darkness in the image is necessary as a counter-weight. I am thinking of that image with the parasol where the woman is lying there and tanning – it is actually the dark shadow of the parasol that is the main character in the picture.
The shadow is the protagonist and it is the same in my images. I often spray over surfaces and those surfaces then often become central to the work.
It is uninteresting to fill in everything. Someone has to be able to read it too, read it in their own way.
The things one expects to see but then chooses not to show. I often think of it as speaking in half-sentences, staying in the realm of the unspoken.
This and our ability to become fascinated with a place, a context, or a situation – those are the major elements we have in common.
For me it is sometimes a complete coincidence. In Satellite, for example, it started when I saw a group of older hippies on a beach in Mexico where I reacted to the bad atmosphere between them. This got me thinking about integrity and transgressing boundaries. I observe a specific situation and then build on that.
Exactly. I’m very interested in the artificial worlds we construct to resemble real ones, like props for example, stage sets, while at the same time I am incredibly interested in crime-scene photography without being interested in the actual crime scene.
Your work makes me think of parallel pockets of time.
When I said to you that I think your pictures are like film synopses I could say the same of my work, because I always feel as if I am making a film since I collect material over such a long period of time. I gather very many pictures, and then the further down the line I come in the process the more I reduce until in the end there is a group of some twenty images left spread out on my table and based on those I start to paint. In the process of painting I replace certain of them as I am not interested in them any longer, I change things around and bring in other things, but I can feel that these images come from very different directions.
Our processes are also very different. For you it is very much about the moment, capturing a moment and in that very instance filling it with your visions, dreams, and thoughts related to the image. All you have is those seconds when you take the picture of those two guys in the car for example.
But there are of course also a variety of processes before and after.
I get that, but in the very moment of photographing, that is just a matter of seconds or minutes at best. In that aspect my process is different because I can always retrace my steps and change, go back and forth but that also means that I am held captive for a much longer time; I cannot free myself. At times I feel envious of those with a camera – you have a vision, you have an idea and bang you shoot the image and it is done. Okay, there is still work to be done afterwards but it cannot be compared to this tortuous process.
Every medium has its challenges, I suppose, but for me they are no longer single images and therefore I have a different dilemma. Part of the process can be fast and when that happens it is very special and amazing but that picture that I just shot doesn’t work by itself, it needs another to mirror itself in, so it still continues and instead I sometimes agonize over how I should achieve that. Something is missing and what could it be? My editing process can travel over a couple of years, so I would not say photography is always a quick process for me.
In painting there is that aspect of having material that one has started working on and that one has to make something out of and finish. Quite often one has to abandon the whole thing despite having put two months’ work into it. It’s not so unusual actually, but it can be damned painful when you’ve been immersed in it and felt it start to sizzle and thought, now it’s turning into something great and then you do something that just wrecks everything and you can’t go back because it was based on that thin glaze or that material that was very fragile and that you just painted over with thick blue paint or whatever, and then you have to start over, start over in a completely different way. It’s quite an excruciating process. I sometimes hate this arduous process while also loving it. Even if I carry on painting for the rest of my life I would need two more.
For me the making of my work can in certain periods feel exclusive and some days I question its purpose. But I always seem to return to the same conclusion – it’s better to continue and work with what you’ve started and it really requires my full attention. I also sense that art has an especially important place among us right now – I would not like to look back and realize I had wasted time doing something else.
I’ve wasted a lot of time.
It is not wasted.
SPEEDWAY – GRUNDEMARK NILSSON GALLERY (2014)
Speedway is Martina Hoogland Ivanow´s second solo exhibition at the gallery Swedish Photography but is one of her first series (2001-2005). The idea took her through Germany, Finland, Mongolia, Siberia and Sweden and the result become a series focused on the highly precarious sport of speedway racing.
As her recent series, each of her images are imbued in a dark mesmerizing aesthetic which conveys in her images a heightened presence as real as it is poetic. ”I’m not aware of constructing a technique, lighting a selection of subject are choices that every photographer makes, that combined to make a personal statement. If I choose a very soft lighting, it is to capture something that’s very hard to take in”, says Hoogland Ivanow.
Speedway is a statement, a series with almost alien-like figures in a fictive world but at the same way very human. Her works often deal with reflections and personal definitions. The portraits of drivers with the masks on are very strong and almost frightening. The connection between you as a viewer and the audience at the Speedway Arenas are tight. One image – at night of course- you find the arenas lightning reflecting in shoulders. Like from a sublime flash or like knights in shiny armours. Another shows a man on his knees, like in a ritual on the icy track.
There is a thread between Hoogland ivanows former series all the way through to her newer works. Her excellent skills of defining odd groups, societies or subcultures, like in her series “Satellite”, and making sublime works out of it, are enacted in the series “Speedway”.
SPEEDWAY – LIVRASION BOOKS (2013)
In the frozen dead of night a group of speedway riders circles a dirt track. Gathered under the racetrack lights in an almost ceremonial fashion, they seem like a secret society engaged in an enigmatic ritual. Yet, any clear answer about what we are actually witnessing keeps slipping away, like rain on a windshield.
This is the darkly opaque universe that Martina Hoogland Ivanow’s »Speedway« beckons us to enter. A world of minimal molecular motion. A landscape of ice, snow, dirt and night. One in which shadowy speedway bikers – almost as an afterthought – seemingly race to outduel the overwhelming forces of nature rather than compete with each other. Perhaps just to keep themselves warm. But nature is indifferent and unforgiving. It keeps on winning, forever on the verge of turning everything into an arrested state of ice and darkness.
Moving from one image to the next we hope to get closer to the real action. But the deeper we immerse ourselves into this universe the slacker the ties to the real world become, allowing the fictional dimension of photography to take hold. The unfamiliar overlaps the familiar. Without realizing it we find ourselves in a twilight zone where reality meets the dream and the drivers turn into leather-clad, one-gear, no-brake ghost riders.
The primal scene of Hoogland Ivanow’s images is a fitting metaphor for the estranging effect that »Speedway« has on the viewer. The race track is after all a loop where the start and finish are arbitrary points. Working along the lines of this logic, Hoogland Ivanow’s images tell a circular story without a determinable beginning or end. The viewer ultimately decides exactly where this story starts and finishes, with every such decision being radically subjective and provisional.
Thus, if there were an ideal way to navigate through the Möbius-like trajectory of »Speedway«, it would probably be a kind of sideways approach. Viewing the images can start anywhere and follow its own particular rhythm, decreasing and increasing the speed of viewing, not unlike the speedway racers themselves broadsiding into the bends of a race track. The story ends when you turn your gaze away from the images. Glancing at them again you soon realise that a new story has already begun to unfold.
FROM HERE TO REALITY – KULTURHUSET (2012)
Reality meets the world of dreams in Martina Hoogland Ivanow’s silent, evocative, almost turbid images. The process of taking photographs has become her way of becoming aware of the relationships that exist between these two states. With her idiosyncratic imagery she explores worlds that she both belongs to and is excluded from.
One of Hoogland Ivanow’s best-known art projects is Speedway (2001–2005). Over a period of several years she photographed Speedway drivers in Mongolia, Siberia, and Northern Europe. The series depicts different modes of contemplation between the drivers, the audience, and the photographer, and in the cold wintery landscape we are met with a state seemingly without beginning or end.
Hoogland Ivanow has also had periods where she has explored her own relationship to travelling. She made her way to various no man’s lands, deserted areas in Siberia, Tierra del Fuego in Argentina, and Murmansk and found that the places that were geographically remote were easier to photograph than that which was emotionally close by. Center and periphery becomes polarized on a deeper level. The photographs were collated in the suite of images entitled Far too Close (2008).
In the series Satellite (2010) Hoogland Ivanow sought out different communities, such as eco villages and other alternative-living communities. She has always been interested in relationships between people and how we can define ourselves through others. The people in Hoogland Ivanow’s images seem to have their heads perpetually turned away or hidden in the shadows. The photographs represent humans per se rather than individuals or relationships.
In the on-going series Härifrån till verkligheten [From Here to Reality] (2005–2013) Hoogland Ivanow explores the relationship between man and nature—a relationship that oscillates between control and a lack thereof, where the unfathomable instills a security of sorts. This exhibition includes her new video work Annelise Frankfurt (2013), which deals with the life of the dancer, choreographer, and doll-maker who was active in the 1950s and 60s and who has been largely forgotten. Annelise Frankurt’s (1926–2007) fate is fascinating and links in to Hoogland Ivanow’s interest in opposites, the in-between, and human relationships. This work will be shown for the first time at Kulturhuset Stadsteatern.
Martina Hoogland Ivanow (1973) grew up in Stockholm and later studied photography in Paris and New York. Her international breakthrough in the 1990s took place primarily in London through many commissions. Over the past ten years, Hoogland Ivanow has been entirely focused on her own artistic projects. Her work can be found in a wide range of collections including Moderna Museet, Museet för Fotokonst in Denmark, and Statens Konstråd.
Curator: Maria Patomella
This exhibition was produced by Kulturhuset Stadsteatern.
FAR TOO CLOSE – HERMÈS FOUNDATION (2012)
It’s been a long time since I’ve seen images that were so quiet. If they were to speak, you’d only see them moving their lips.
— Johan Croneman
Traveling is to lose sight of the familiar. But sometimes the familiar—back at home—is too close to see. Martina Hoogland Ivanow explores this dichotomy by combining remote landscapes with portraits of her family and domestic interiors in Stockholm. She presents this series, Far too Close, for the first time in the United States at the Gallery at Hermès.
Taken over seven years, Ivanow traveled to and photographed what seem to be the edges of the world, including Siberia, Sakhalin Island north of Japan, Tierra del Fuego on the southern tip of Argentina, and the Kola Peninsula in Russian Lapland. She explains that the series is “a play with the idea of closeness and distance in a geographical, emotional and symbolic manner. It started as an investigation of my relationship to travel and ended with return to home, giving me new thoughts on family and how we are either identified or alienated within it."
Both the pictures from near and afar share the weight of history and together construct their own narrative, albeit an emotional one filled with half sentences. Why do we see things differently from a distance? Why is it so hard to describe the familiar, intimate parts of our lives? Ivanow’s distinct dark palette turns our focus to scale: an epic, aerial landscape, two women whispering, an off-kilter chandelier. Sometimes things are too close to see, but Ivanow’s pictures remind us to keep looking.
Martina Hoogland Ivanow, born in Stockholm in 1973, moved from Sweden at the age of 18 to study photography in Paris and later New York. After an early breakthrough in the mid 90’s living in London with many commercial commissions, she has spent the last ten years focusing on her artwork and exhibitions. In 2010 she received an IASPIS grant and a one-year residency in Berlin and a Scanpix photo prize for her project “Satellite.” Ivanow’s work has been exhibited at Moderna Museet (Stockholm), The Barbican (London), Brandts Museet for Fotokunst (Denmark), Gun Gallery (Stockholm), Fotografins Hus (Stockholm), and Künstlerhaus Bethanien (Berlin). Far too Close was published by steidlMACK in 2011. She lives and works in Stockholm.
CONTEMPORARY SWEDISH PHOTOGRAPHY, ART & THEORY PUBLISHING (2012)
Martina Hoogland Ivanow has been referred to as ”the princess of darkness”. This nickname suggests an affinity with the hidden, frightening aspects of human nature, perhaps even a closeness to a kind of existential destructiveness. The world she depicts is certainly dark, but not from a metaphysical perspective. Martina Hoogland Ivanow’s darkness emerges as the direct result of a slowly developing process, where the photographic image is only the last link in a chain that leads from isolated observations to a comprehensive insight into the complexity of life.
Martina Hoogland Ivanow trained in Paris and New York, and became an established fashion photographer in London during the nineties, a time when magazines such as Dazed & Confused, i-D, and Face were developing their brands with the help of idiosyncratic young photographers who didn’t have anything against breaking with the traditions and stereotypes of fashion photography. Alongside these editorial projects, Hoogland Ivanow took campaign photographs for fashion houses such as Prada and Miu Miu. In the beginning of the 2000s she chose to move back to Stockholm in order to devote more time to her own book projects.
Martina Hoogland Ivanow does not belong to that category of photographers who constantly wander around with a camera hung round their necks. Time is and important factor in the majority of her projects, but not as something to be compressed or cut short, but rather the opposite. She devotes a great deal of time to research, planning and post production. The actual photographing is ”merely” a means to facilitate the investigation of how the self relates to the world and what is contained within the subconscious. The motifs she turns to radiate a kind of everyday aura, but not the kind that can be encountered at just any given moment. Often she stumbles over precisely the kinds of moments or situations that lie almost unnoticed between events we normally ascribe greater worth. Light that barely filters through a blood-red curtain; a boy with silver shoes, seemingly floating free in the air; steps that lead up from a body of water towards the sky – these images speak of a kind of absence that is simultaneously a type of extreme presence a dense atmosphere without any real meaning.
On those occasions when people appear in Martina Hoogland Ivanow’s images, the situation is often the same: they either turn away from the viewer or their faces are hidden in shadows, as if they are more like timeless representations of humanity than identifiable individuals with a name or history. Many of Martina Hoogland Ivanow’s images have been taken on long journeys to what she describes as the ”ends of the earth.” It doesn’t really matter whether it is in Antarctica, the islands of Sakhalin, Tierra del Fuego, or the Kola Peninsula. She creates and arc between geographical peripheries and the personal inner worlds. Her dark images are like reflecting pools where, in the words of the poet Gunnar Ekelöf, we can be sure that ”what is bottom in you is also bottom in them.”
SATELLITE – GUN GALLERY (2010)
I catch myself leaning into Martina Hoogland Ivanow's pictures.
True, my eyesight isn't good, but that's not the reason. I press my ear to them because I expect to hear something.
It's been a long time I saw images that were so quiet. They're so completely embedded. If they were to speak, you'd only see them moving their lips.
Perhaps it's because of the light that nothing can be heard? Or the fact that the people are turned shunning us, turned away, introverted? Maybe.
Sometimes art makes quite a bit of noise; you can hear waves in the background, the noise from a café outside the window. A radio turned on, melancholic. A moped passing by on road 246 towards Hagfors.
There is a thin bit of soundproofing in Martina Hoogland Ivanow's pictures this time. A veil.
There's probably too much noise in art, generally speaking. And when it isn't in the art, it's around it. I perform an experiment: I bring a pair of earplugs the next time I go to the opening of an exhibition, to avoid the environment. It is to be recommended. I try it at Moderna Museet as well. Everything becomes more intense, more concentrated.
After an hour, a friend comes up to me and gives me a friendly pat on the shoulder. I jump seven feet and my heart stops. It starts again on my way down.
Quiet art obviously doesn't mean it's not communicating, just that it's stopped making that damn racket. Many (myself included) sometimes make fun of people who stare at pictures in grimly serious silence. But how would you do it otherwise? "You shouldn't have so much respect," some people say. No, but maybe one shouldn't have as little as possible, either.
Martina Hoogland Ivanow probably wants to shield herself a little from the pure, mystifying beauty of her images; in a recent interview, she said that she wanted to create both wonder and insecurity in the beholder. Wonder? Yes. Insecurity? Hmm, well.
Let's not mind the artist's words too much: it's actually up to us. It's all right if they want to join the discussion, but they don't get right of way. Tough, but too bad.
At school, I had a strange, quiet but wonderful art teacher, Josef Schibli (he is represented at Moderna Museet, the Norrköping county museum and the Malmö art gallery). I was a remarkably untalented pupil, but recently politically aware. I was only 14.
Torsten and I worked as an artists' collective (!?); we were mainly interested in creating titles for our pieces. We cut loose with anything available. Josef approached us and was pretty impressed (read: encouraging), asking "What was your thinking here?" It was a chaotic cover of paint in several layers.
We said: "We don't really know, but we think it has to do with the conflict, war and famine in Biafra."
Josef said: "Good work, boys, it's beautiful, dramatic, it speaks to us". And then he smiled a bit.
If you (once more) you lay your ear close to Martina Hoogland Ivanow's pictures, you don't hear anyone speaking, but I see an enormously thick glass wall between us, at least three feet wide. In films, you often see desperate people trying to get out of prisons like that, and you can hear something pounding on the other side.
But with Martina's images, it's the other way round; it's me, on the other side, trying to get in. I wanted to break through to that serenity. When you die, perhaps you become a subject of a Martina Hoogland Ivanow picture.
I think I'm looking forward to it.
SATELLITE – BETHANIEN (2010)
Martina Hoogland Ivanow’s photographs convey a presence to the viewer which is both real and poetic. Their aesthetics are threatening and hypnotic to equal extents. These are short stories related on the basis of single images. The current exhibition in Künstlerhaus Bethanien is entitled "Satellite" and comprises a series of photographs of various “alternative” communities. Not least, the pictures investigate the love affairs and family relationships of the people portrayed; their involvement in these relationships or their alienation from emotional and social ties. In these images, Martina Hoogland Ivanow makes use of dark, fascinating aesthetics and raises a number of questions concerning the “outside” and being an outsider, which are intended not only to affect the subjects of her pictures, but the viewer of the photographs as well.
A photo book about Hoogland Ivanow’s last project will be appearing at the same time as the exhibition. The publisher SteidlMACK is releasing “Far Too Close” in October 2010. The book is a meditation, in pictures, on physical and emotional distance – that is, on closeness to a subject and distance from a place. Here, Hoogland Ivanow links family portraits and interiors with distant landscapes in the world. She spent many years travelling to stretches of land in Siberia, Lapland, the Island of Sakhalin and Tierra del Fuego – all places which have an unmistakeable history. In combination with photos of the artist’s own residential district, the images create a literary fairy-tale with an initial uncanny quality that is gradually transformed into a sense of familiarity.
FAR TOO CLOSE – GRUNDEMARK NILSSON GALLERY (2010)
There are hours during the day when everything is wrapped in grey. The light is soft, shapes are slightly out of focus and colours are faded. The photographs of Martina Hoogland Ivanow are like visual poetry, now and then keeping hold of a strophe – captured in shadows and fog.
“To me, says Martina Hoogland Ivanow, photography means to work with the unconscious, with the technique but also with reality. I want to create a room for the viewer and I rather want to do the questions instead of the answers.“
In Far too Close Hoogland Ivanow connects pictures of her family in Sweden with barren isolated landscapes. In her photographs the outskirts become the centre of attention. During 2002 – 2007 she has travelled to remote places like the Antarctic, the Kola Peninsula and Tierra del Fuego to find the right mood for her pictures. But its not a documentary sight, the landscapes seem to flow together and the people are wrapped by shadows. Seeming to be far and close at the same time. Martina Hoogland Ivanow pictures are hypnotic poetry.
Painterly. Poetic. Nostalgic. Ambigious. When flabby adjectives like these pop in a critique of a photographer’s work, it’s a sure sign that the author is struggeling to get past the surface of the image in question. These hoary terms suggest experimental lightning or decorative printing technique, certainly, but what they don’t do is to give any sense of whether the approach communicates anything relevant about the subject rendered. It is frustating then, that these stalwarts of casual criticism are so frequently levelled at the photography of Martina Hoogland Ivanow, an image-maker whose mesmerising technique reveals so much about her working process.
Two recent bodies of the Swedish photographer’s work demonstrate how the signature aestethetic of her prints has been put to strategic use during the eight years since she graduated from Parsons, as she grappled with the conflicting demands of personal and commercial work. The 200 or so images that make up the ” Speedway” project, recently exhibited in part of the Natalia Goldin Gallery in Stockholm, reflect the key characteristics that have come to identify a Hoogland Ivanow at first glance. Arresting subject matter – in this case, men partaking in the highly precarious sport of speedway racing and the people that turn out to watch them – diffused by focus so soft and lighting so low as to almost remove any trace of the form depicted, often throwing the scen into partial blackness. In pictures such as Untitled ( 2003 ), in which the rally spectators’ bodies are almost edited out by darkness, and the roadside dirt on the which they stand is abstracted into a desertscape, it is perhaps understandable that commentators have benn spellbound by the technique alone. Yet Hoogland Ivanow is anxcious to point out that, far from being arbitrary, her idiosyncratic execution serves a function.
’ I’m not aware of constructing a tecnique’, she explains, ’lighting a selection of subject are choices that every photographer makes, that combined to make a personal statement. If I choose a very soft lighting, it is to capture something that’s very hard to take in.
The visual filter Hoogland Ivanow lays over her subjects has been a distancing device she has used since college, when emotionally- challenging themes were at heart of her practice. More recently , it could be a metaphor for the mental distance between the photographer and her male subjects, as the exotic world of male ritual has become her overarching fascination. ’With ”Speedway”, I was very drawn to the danger – the sport is so ambitious, dedicated and lustful.
In the end, ”Speedway” is very little to do with the sport and more about human psychology; they’re like symbols, failed individuals. There’s a really dark energy at the bottom of the project’. Despite Hoogland Ivanow’s emotional attachment to the series, it was not one she initiated. The four winters spent shooting at a competitions staged in Outer Mongolia, Siberia and Berlin were a suggestion of the filmmaker Jonathan Green, who, having seen her breakthrough project in 2000 of Sumo wrestlers portraits, challanged her to begin the project. It is clear that Hoogland Ivanow enjoys a unsolicited brief – a central feature of the fashion industri for which she photographed intensly for the first six years of her proffessional career. ’Sometimes it’s good to push yourself to do things you would not choose to,’ she concedes, ’being thrown into almost any situation, strengthens you. ’This period spent working in London won her the most prestigious, sought after advertising campaigns for Prada and Miu Miu, but she swiftly found the industry’s prespictive commissioning impaired the crucial balance of her work. For Hoogland Ivanow’s images to succeed, it’s subject has to be sufficiently substantial or hard hitting to contrast with the seductiveness of her image-capture and printing. ’With fashion,’ she says, ’I had a hard time because it became ”soft with soft”. With something that was edgy or explored the limits of beauty, then it seemed to work. But when things get safer or more stereotypical, I personally find it hard. Like ”oil with oil”, it just kind of slips away. In keeping with her photographic approach, Hoogland Ivanow felt the need to create a barrier and moved back to Sweden. This has allowed her to increase the distiction between her ongoing male ritual studies – including Turkish oil wrestlers and resurgent Cossacks – and the commercial work supports them.
Paradoxically, this geographic shift has reinvigorated her all- important emotional commitment when it comes to fashion. A new project, commissioned for the ’Fashination’ exhibition at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, has even forced a minor revolution in terms of lighting technique. Hoogland Ivanow has begun using harsh sunlight to cast shadows over figures, introducing a new lighter aesthetic and once again proving that this young photographers’s approach difficult to define. Though not yet fully resolve, this constant exploration suggests new directions for her commercial projects and it will be interesting to see how she introduces this development into her personal work. For a practitioner so acutely aware of her own need to be convinced by and immersed in her subjects, it should be no surprice that, to reaffirm previous enthusiasms, some distance was required.