Simply put conceptuality in art begins with the mind; the idea of wanting to communicate a concept, a line of thought, an idea, but for me as an artist and a photographer everything seems to start with the eye, and the mind will follow, at least I hope so. And even though photography is basically about the observation of the eye, there is a lot of conceptual art today that use photography as a tool for constructing ideas by recording something staged by an artist’s mind. The artist becomes more of a director, separating the actual craftsmanship of creation from the concept of it, and in the light of this, it isn’t uncommon that artists today hire photographers or other artisans, for that matter, to do the actual handicraft. The craftsmanship is not at the core anymore. But even though this separation seems to be the way of this age, looking at it in retrospect, it is actually something that artist has been doing on and off throughout history, so nothing new under the sun really.
But I do passionately like to do “the dirty work myself”, and come to think of it I guess it has to do with my background as a painter. I love to actually do things, love the craftsmanship of imagery, and I love to explore things with my eyes, the sheer pleasure of this plays a vital role in my image-making, so hiring someone else to do it for me have never been an option, although I have nothing against it, not generally speaking anyway: an interesting piece of art is always going to be interesting regardless of how it came to be.
Anyway, this sheer pleasure of seeing and “getting down to business”, so to speak, is just one part of why I’m creating art; the idea, the exploration of the mind is equally important and equally lustful.
I did have an interesting discussion on the subject of titles with a friend of mine a while ago. It began with the image “Happy B-Day for Alma”, so let’s use this image as an example on how I try to reach a point where visual expression and conceptuality walk hand in hand:
Now, as a photographer I could have chosen to approach this milieu, this derelict industrial complex to tell a story about the place itself, visualize its history, document the change, asking questions on why it has been left like this for so long, why nothing has been done so far, and why the city has not addressed the problem that obviously follows both for the environment in general and the safety for the surrounding neighborhood in particular, but I am an artist, and documentations of this sort, however important they may be isn’t actually what thrives me, so my fairly simple and initial reaction when I first saw this place was actually to think about the movie “Hostel”. I found the place to be quite frightening, dark and sinister and very unsafe to explore. But that initial reaction changed after a while of familiarization into something quite different, like my eyes where adjusting to the light and dark of the place.
This place is still quite eerie, and it is certainly unsafe to explore due to the degree of decay and what actually might want to stay hidden in the shadows, but my overall feel is not fear anymore, it’s more of a mixed feeling of sadness and happiness. It is of course a complete joy to explore the place, but I also get a feeling of sadness, walking thru the rooms, who are filled to the breaking point with sad stories and quite joyful ones to, mixed together in a strange layered mix of inconsistences, a sense of a party that at some point went sour, but still; a hell of a party that must have been something really special for the people, the youngsters who participated. However, now it is like walking with ghosts in a shadow-land where the echoes of the past linger in shadows. The voices are still communicating, vibrating in color and light, but somehow, and this is actually what interest me the most, all of these messages in the form of graffiti that fills every inch of every room in the four-storey building are changing in the same way as the building in itself is deteriorating and changing. It’s like the context is shifting in the same manner as the walls are shifting and moving and breaking apart, molding and slowly getting overrun by nature again.
This is actually why I find traces of human activity often to be so much more interesting to work with, than the actual events in themselves, and in a place like this these traces mixed in with an ongoing process of decay is absolutely impossible to resist. So I’m still walking with the ghost, listening and trying to understand and interpret what they are actually trying to say to me. And “Happy B-Day for Alma” is just one of these interpretations of a message slowly changing over time and thru me as an artist.
Well, if this day sometime during 2011 really where a happy birthday for Alma, we can never know, but as I saw the scenery I did get a feeling of true friendship, as someone had painted a wall for their friend Alma, wishing here a good and happy day. But I also felt sad, and I got the feeling of some kind of heartbreak. Maybe something tragic did happen that day, or maybe this scenery triggered something in me, like a bad memory or something. Maybe it was a feeling I sensed because of all that occurred in the room since her birthday or maybe it was all triggered by the light and atmosphere in the room the moment when I shot the picture. Anyway, one thing is certain; the meaning, the context of this simple but powerful message written on the wall sometime during 2011 changed in the split of a second when I took a picture of it 2013, and reconstructed it thru art.