The abbey house of the magnificent ruin of the Jumièges Abbey welcomes eight young photographers with very diverse backgrounds, themes and techniques. The former residence of the commendatory abbots lends itself well to this kind of event, because each artist has his own dedicated space. The curators, Gabriel and Chantal Bauret, selected the artists to illustrate the vibrancy of the Danish photography scene. Behind the apparent heterogeneity, several themes emerge, creating connections between the artists as well as with the venue.
Several of the photographers interact more or less directly with the abbey or with the region to produce their work. The most obvious connection is the one created by Emilie Lundstrøm (b. 1985) in her “Imprecisions” series, produced between 2018 and 2022. Using the ancient cyanotype process, she creates monochrome works on paper, as well as on stone from the old abbey. These works were produced on site using the light from Jumièges.
Peter Funch (b. 1974) is working on a series called “Possibilities of the Future– Realities from the Past”. In this project, he puts himself inside blockhouses built by the Germans during WWII, from Norway to Spain, by way, for this exhibition, of Normandy. The blockhouse was chosen for its location facing the sea, because the sea horizon is always at the same height in the photographs.
The “Life and Death Masks” by Torben Eskerod (b. 1960) represent plaster masks made in the 1940s on live models for medical purposes. Eskerod enlarged them and gave them a singular presence using scale and the black background. The works in the other series of portraits, “Damaged Portraits”, are made from prints that were accidentally water damaged and then photographed by the artist. The photographs of the masks echo the stone recumbent effigies present in the exhibition space, while the damaged portraits recall the test of time that many stones of the abbey have undergone.
There are many references to painting and art history, directly or indirectly. In the “Skagen” series by Joakim Eskildsen (b. 1971), the photographer takes his images in the place where several Danish painters – the Skagen painters – worked at the end of the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century. Renowned for its particularly lyrical light, the place inspired Eskildsen for a series representing young people celebrating their graduation during a summer night in dreamlike and almost unreal blue light.
French Impressionist painting is the medium used for the animated film Depiction of Light by Jeppe Lange (b. 1987). Using details from hundreds of paintings, he has created an abstract and hypnotic film. Lange was inspired by a person whose blindness was cured at age 50 and who discovered a world of light, movement, and color, as well as by the artists who painted in Normandy at the end of the 19th century.
Ebbe Stub Wittrup (b. 1973) discovered a box of slides at a flea market in Copenhagen. From these images, representing a group of friends hiking in the mountains in the 1950s, Wittrup produced the series “Presumed Reality”. Reworking the images digitally, he changed the focus, choosing to emphasize certain details and thus modifying the reality represented, like a painter.
Photographic technique itself is called into question by some of these Danish artists. Emilie Lundstrøm completely does without a camera for her cyanotypes. Veronika Geiger (b. 1987) also doesn’t use photographic shots in her “Hraun” (Lava) series. Working with scientists at the University of Iceland, she directly projects and fixes the image of microscopic sections of rock onto large sheets of paper in a darkroom, which results in a highly plastic abstract register.
Nature is the theme one expects to find in the work of Nordic artists and which could, indeed, be the most logical common link between most of the artists in the exhibition. Lotte Fløe Christensen (b. 1979) photographs common plants growing in the wilderness in her “Isolated” (Plants) series. She places a white sheet of paper around them, which isolates them from their environment and receives their shadow. These minimalist works are a reflection on the signifier in nature. Veronika Geiger works on the forms and evolution of volcanic rock and Ebbe Stub Wittrup on the representation of nature for people who visit and contemplate it. Peter Funch observes the sea through military buildings and Jeppe Lange uses brushstrokes representing nature to create his abstract fresco.
Beyond nature, it is light that allows Emilie Lundstrøm to create her works, because with cyanotype, it is the duration and intensity of exposure to natural light that creates the shades of color. Joakim Eskildsen’s characters are bathed in an intense yet soft light, giving the scenes an unreal or dreamy feel, born of the illusion that day will last forever and that night will never fall again.
The eight Nordic artists presented are engaged in the exploration of the photographic medium, as are their peers in other regions of the world. This confirms the international dimension of Danish art, which nevertheless retains this little touch of nature, wonder and light that comes to us from the North.
The rest of the program of the Northern Lights festival is equally enticing, with works by Estonian artist Anna Lehespalu, produced in Iceland, at the Centre Contemporain de la Matmut; Swedish filmmaker Niki Lindroth von Bahr at the Alexis de Tocqueville Library in Caen; Norwegian artists Terje Abusdal, Ole Marius Joergensen and Marie Sjovold at the Rouen Fine Arts Museum; and, lastly, Finnish artist Tiina Itkonen at the Fécamp Museum. The quality of the first edition in 2018 augurs well for this second edition, which we look forward to discovering.
The exhibition “Eight Danish Artists” is on display at the Abbaye of Jumièges, in France, until June 19, 2022.