curated by Magnus af Petersens
Torbjørn Rødland's exhibition Fifth Honeymoon is a tightly composed exhibition, unfolding across the rooms of Bonniers Konsthall. With the contractual commitment of wedlock and the emotional trip of the honeymoon as metaphorical frameworks, the works tackle themes of religion, spirituality, eroticism and the spark that forms new human relations. Compositional cues, such as repeated pairings and the presence of the number five add to the theme, while Rødland’s tactile image-making also brings forth the “honey-on-moon” connotations of the title: sweet, sticky and liquid substances attach themselves to the symbolically charged objects and figures within the compositions.
A key work in the exhibition is the new film Between Fork and Ladder, shot in Los Angeles and the scenic landscape of Norway’s Lofoten Islands. Objects and visual elements from the photographs re-appear in the video, in which a 10-year old boy performs a musical theater song, while cutting out cartoon images of the controversial meme-figure Pepe the frog from a printed cloth. The ladder suggests a longing for spiritual evolution and personal growth, while the lyrics performed by the young protagonist adhere to a quiet desperation in the face of the open opportunities of life ahead. A Japanese anime-styled voiceover seemingly offers edifying guidance, quoting the writings of American philosopher Ken Wilber. The film brings out an underlying tension within the exhibition: between the soft and comforting on the one side, and the desperation of an existential crisis on the other.
The exhibition features color photographs of faces, bodies and tabletop-arranged objects, as well as double exposures in black and white. The human body appears in Rødland’s work both as portraits and as individual body parts such as hands, feet, ankles, knees and faces—or it appears as staged, typologized “characters” captured in the midst of a telling moment. The isolated body parts are treated in the same constructed way as the selection of objects and surfaces encountered in other pictures.
Rødland’s incorporation of aesthetic categories such as the lyrical, the romantic and the cute is about taking the sensuality of photography seriously, and investigating the seductive qualities of a photographic instant. Thus Rødland treats the photograph as materiality, as a manipulative medium for conveying emotions, and as a socioculturally determined phenomenon in contemporary culture. He brings a slowness to what appears on the face of it to be quickly-consumed commercial imagery (borrowed from advertising, fashion and film). The pictures resist a quick reading, and hold the viewer fast in a visual search which gradually uncovers new layers of both distaste and delight.
This complexity is perhaps the most defining feature of Rødland’s pictures. With a background in a photographic tradition of the 1990s, Rødland maintains a level of analytical reflection on photography as an object.
His practice marks a continuation of and break with the 1980s Pictures Generation, in which “the picture” became the object of complex analysis via critical theory, cultural studies, feminist criticism, appropriation and postmodernist thinking. Even with this background, Rødland is primarily an image-maker. He consistently avoids letting the individual image close in on itself in a self-referential and self-sufficient totality, but rather contributes to an opening-up of the image and its more active involvement in the world.
"I’m not only interested in how images are being read but also in their magic and how they make us feel, how they move us." Torbjørn Rødland