Norwegian artist Torbjørn Rødland in conversation with Antoine Schafroth on religion, sexuality, analogue photography and future plans.
I understand your way of conceiving images as blurring the distinction between high and low culture, art gallery and the internet; a way of making the aesthetic approach more easy and playful. Do you have something to say about that?
I have of course noticed that contemporary art now looks very much like Art again. As a photography student in Scandinavia in the mid 1990s I would’ve been embarrassed to make images that loudly said Art when appearing out of context, like on a bus or in the weekend supplement of a newspaper. The ideal was a picture that needed the white cube to read like art. Instead of looking at fine art practices in photography, I would buy magazines about cooking, bodybuilding, dog breeding, interior design, and so on, and look for fresh pictorial spaces and untapped picture ideas there. At the same time I was disappointed in the object qualities when I got to see the work of, say, Cindy Sherman and other pictures generation or conceptual artists in exhibition. I wanted my exhibited photographs to be worth studying up close, like the pre-impressionist paintings that caught my attention from the walls of old art museums. I still visit those painting collections.
Your images are playing with ambiguities and discomfort. Is there something specific that you want to trigger into the spectator mind?
Nothing specific. What’s more effective I find is the ambivalent and unspecific. I want individual responses to individual images, I do not hold the key to their interpretation. I want to keep the spectators in the process of looking. I’m interested in how an image reads differently as time passes as well as in different cultures and contexts.
You are working with analogue photography, right? Is it a way to express resistance?
It shows my age, doesn’t it? Age and maybe a lack of interest in cameras and in new technologies. Film photography is like painting in oil by now: it has very few uses outside of art production. So it may seem strange that I haven’t left the ship, but the process allows me to make blind mistakes, and I find these accidents miraculous and productive.
The way I use strobes makes it hard to predict the outcome, and I never check with polaroids to see the effect of the flash. Resistance? Maybe. I do think it is important to resist.
Are you alienating eroticism, or is it eroticism that is alienated?
I know I don’t want the photographs to be very erotic. I know I don’t want them to be only erotic. I’m interested in the overlap between the religious and the erotic. I actually think it’s more about religion than it is about sexuality. And the pictures are fetishistic in its non-sexual meaning. What is lurking inside of this thing? From where does it get its power? I’m sensitive to religion, and I treat it like sexuality.
Outside of photography, which are the medium and artists that influenced your practice?
Drawing was there from the very beginning. As a young child I knew my life would be dedicated to drawing. But after having made editorial cartoons for newspapers as a teenager I was pretty much done, and then I graduated into this other medium. But I still look at cartoons, illustrations, manga and fantasy art. And I’m still drawn to the rich history of early modern and romantic oil painting.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m printing for a gallery exhibition that will open at David Kordansky in Los Angeles in late March. It’s titled “Pain in the Shell” and focuses on negotiations between surface and inside. After that I’ll print for another gallery solo for Air de Paris that’s set to open in France at the end of May, titled “Theater of Immediacy”. I also keep making new photographs, but they’re fewer in a period dedicated to printing and to talking about pictures.