Henie Onstad Artcenter 2005
Photography and sound installation
Sound installation in cooperation with Erik Wøllo (www.wollo.com)
… it's as if a room emanates from me, the zero point of spaciality. I don't see the room from the point of view of its outer extremities, rather I live and breathe it from the inside; I am engulfed by it. When all is said and done, the world is around me, not in front of me.
Text: Benedicte Sunde, Curator. (www.hok.no)
The search for the perfect motif
Christine Istad's exhibition "Elevator" is a project of many facets. Istad's approach to photography touches on a number of issues central to art history: form, sensuousness, abstraction, serial art, architecture and the effects of light. These issues are present in the 13 photographs which form the core of the exhibition. Istad investigates the painterly potential of the photograph from conceptual points of view and searches for the optimum abstract motif, with the exploratory eye as a key factor. Istad has in fact been hunting for the perfect motif since the beginning of the 1990s, from the Saudi Arabian desert to the simple frame of a window. Gradually she realised that the most challenging motif was to be found in her own neighbourhood. In the very centre of the buildings of the Henie Onstad Art Centre there exists an architectural feature which constitutes a "room" that incorporates all the challenges that Istad had been searching for for over a decade. The original motif that is the point of departure for the photographs is veiled and hidden from the eye of the observer, but it is still part of the architecture of the Art Centre. Through detailed studies of this motif, Istad manages to combine her painterly ambitions with the wide potential of the photograph. She has taken over 700 photographs of this "object" and has experimented with pictures taken at different times of the day in order to discover the various reflections and effects of depth that occur. She has also used different perspectives and heights before selecting the 13 photographs which sum up her search for the intangible, yet optimum framework for spacial geometry.
Body and spirit
Istad, then, examines the effects of light, including its potential for creating depth; her interest in architecture and elements creating space is closely related to light. Istad mediates her own physical experience of spacial issues and her subjective experience of a motif is a key feature of her oeuvre. She reproduces her experiences and reactions to the motif as an expression of her own self as a sensuous subject in the world. She penetrates the motif she chooses to reproduce and is therefore both with it and in it. In this way, her painterly photographs present a picture of an artist who is attempting to get through and beyond the visual part of the world. The French philosopher and phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty describes in his book, The Eye and the Spirit from 1960, the very approaches and methods that Istad uses in her investigation into the world around her. Merleau-Ponty describes how the painter grasps the world with her body and spirit. He maintains that the artist does not just observe the world, but is an integral part of it and is actually united with it through her body: The phenomena of light, colours and depth only appear to be out there in front of us because they strike a familiar chord in the body, because the body is there to receive them. Merleau-Ponty goes on to define depth as a significant phenomenon and tries to explain why we can see depth in something that is actually flat: The proof is that I can see depth when I look at a painting which everyone can see has no depth and which presents me with an illusion of an illusion… This two-dimensional object, which makes me see a third dimension, is, as they said in the Renaissance, an object with a hole in it, a window… But the window actually only opens out on a partes extra partes, out onto a height and width as seen only from another side, onto the absolute positiveness of existence. This is the very point of view from which Istad addresses her motifs. In her photographs, she interprets and transforms the inherent qualities that she finds in light, colours and depth into her own form of expression.
A minimum of means
Apart from underlining the sensuous and contemplative aspect of her motifs, another key element of Istad's work is the way she treats space and depth by the use of formal perspective techniques. She zooms in on her motif in order to clarify vertical and horizontal lines. By means of these lines and the symbiotic network they create, she reproduces a painterly form of architecture, which has particularly close references to the minimalists' investigation into simple effects, especially geometry. However, Istad differs from the minimalism that emerged in the 1960s due to her tendency towards Gestalt psychology and spirituality. In this respect she has stronger links to the Canadian artist Agnes Martin, who was quick to reject a minimalist stamp since she regarded her works as primarily spiritual, Taoist reflections. Istad makes no attempt to hide her recognition of Agnes Martin's reflective, personal investigations, clearly expressed in one of Martin's statements about the role of art: When I think of art, I think of beauty, and furthermore: Beauty is the mystery of life. It is not in the eye, it is in the mind. This line of thinking reveals that Istad and Martin have much in common, not only on a spiritual level, but also as regards their interest in texture. Istad strives to create an additional materiality in her works. By means of meticulous trials and experiments, she tries to create a vibrant surface which helps to emphasise the contemplative atmosphere of her works. In addition, Istad has points in common with other artists such as Jean Scully and March Rothko, who also employ a purely geometrical approach. Through her search for geometrical lines and networks, Istad firms up her compositions and finds a balance in her search for the various different perspectives provided by the architecture's spaces and effects of depth.
Supplementary audio framework
In collaboration with the composer Erik Wøllo , Istad has created a sound installation in which the sounds derive from the same construction that Istad has photographed. The sound material consists of recordings from this "room" and are processed further by Wøllo without the addition of any other sound elements. The sounds are designed to lend an extra dimension to the photographs. By means of its multi-channel system, the sound installation produces a 20-minute, looped sound program that surrounds the listener and observer from all sides. Based on an abstract sound expression, this audio experience provides a supplementary framework around the abstract photographs. The audio program consists of four sections based on the themes Space, Takeoffs, Drones and Panning Percussions and aims to evoke primarily abstract associations. The sound is built up of several different layers, of which a few dominate and come to the fore. In this way, the sound both reflects and supplements Istad's photographic investigation into issues concerning space, movement and transcendentality, where form enters into an alliance with spirituality.