- Essäer om konst
Pål Henrik Ekern (b. 1981) is a photographer who previously studied at the ValandAcademy, the Swansea Metropolitan University and at the University of Oslo. Heparticipates in the Hasselblad Foundation's annual exhibition in Gothenburg with Monochromes, a work from 2012.
These are the facts. Anything more – just interpretation. But these photos are so minimalist that they nearly seduce the viewer to interpret. A heavy anchor for thoughts about the individual and its surroundings.
Photography is a stationary art. A lot of photos taken quickly after each other becomes the film.
What Pål Henrik Ekern created is intermediary. The Monochromes could be called a sequence, as this is what it actually is, but with a few twists.
The photos look like as if they'd be on a negative: they're small and framed with growing numbers. None of them is individual nor individually interpretable, but together they express movement, and time as well, as it is a performance recorded on film.
A naked man holds a bucket of paint and a brush starts to paint the background, the floor around him and finally even himself, black.
It's hard to decide if he cannot be seen on the last photo or if he left the scene.
The viewer is given more than if it would have been shown as a performance.
I mean the obvious, that the starting and the ending point can be compared, and that all in between are equally meaningful, but it is not only this. What I also mean that the viewer is being watched by a whole bunch of small photos at the same time.
The images are exhibited in a series of ten, except for the first group, which starts with a lack just like an upbeat in music or an indented first line in a text. This is what this black area left empty is like.
Ten, that's a beautiful even number.
Possibly it has a technical reason that I do not know about. But still, these blocks – which only let us to see three photos in chronological order then our glimpse jumps to the right then up then down to an other block then up and right to an other column – divide the performance into sections and highlight the images instead of the process.
The title makes the photos equal, they're the monochromes. However, only the first photo is similar to the monochrome painting. The others are black and white. How can one handle this? The body is actually diverse and multicoloured in reality. However, the body on the photos is “The White Man”, so here there's a door open for an interpretation that the artist makes the power of the white man disappear. On the other hand, the interaction between the background and the body is more exciting. First they are the same colour, defining the body with the help of the shapes, then it changes to opposite colours, and in the end they're the same again. When both the background and the body are white, we perceive the body because of the shadows and identify it as an individual. Then we see a silhouette in front of a black background and we do the same. But when only few white shades are left in the black zone the individual disappears. This is how the surroundings can define the individual even if he controlled it. Dynamic interaction.
The man in the pictures is himself painting, and so he fades into the background. The world becomes homogeneous and then he leaves it like he's not needed. It reminds me of Francis Alÿs' Paradox of Praxis 1 (Sometimes Making Something Leads To Nothing).
Losing one's identity is one of the human's biggest fears. But everyone loses it sooner or later – what does remain? Is that which Ekern left on the last photo also his footprint in this world? In the condensed world of a piece of art, a bucket and a brush are the symbols of art.
Just like the way art works – the author is dead as we know from Barthes, what the author left might be his footprint in the world but it's independent the same time. Everything changed, even the artist himself, but the result is independent. As the time goes I observe the first and the last photo more and more. I compare them to see if there's a difference between the black and the white.
Still I can not ignore the bucket. It proves that something happened and the change is the human existence itself. The theory stands: in the bipolar world of the Monochromes the white is innocence, birth, and the black is death, the ultimate fading.
239 photos, many questions, unity altogether, but with an evident answer? It shows by no means that indifference that the word “monochrome” suggests.
What an ironic title.