Photographs uniquely evoke a place. As both Joseph Koudelka and Brassai’s recent exhibits in Buenos Aires attest, the trick is to forgo the most obvious symbols and produce photographs that evoke feeling, inviting viewers into the world of the photographer’s interpretation. As photography has been contending practically since its conception, the image is more than a literal description of the subject. Mi Suecia, at Centro Cultural Recoleta until January 30, demonstrates this difference between art and postcard to great effect with the political intention of re-imagining Sweden.
The exhibition sprang from Swedish artist and graphic designer Ola Moller’s two art book projects, The Photo Book About Sweden and This Must Be the Place. The project asked young artists to respond to a request to recast Sweden in their own eyes, combating pervasive imagery of “IKEA, ABBA, Ice Hotel in Jukkasjärvi, dark foggy forests, moose, national costumes and red cottages with white corners” that generally represent the country. The Photo Book, released in 2009, showcased the work of 44 young photographers, and in keeping with the larger goal of dismantling Swedish stereotypes, has been translated into seven languages.
Together with curator Emilia Barlas, Moller developed Mi Suecia from the photography in each book. The work represents a wide range of photographic styles, perhaps a result of the project’s drawing from both professional and amateur photographers. Aesthetically, the physicality of Sweden, depicted here as a dark, damp, lush place where the cool kids hide their faces, unifies it.
The work vacillates between the interior and exterior experiences of the young artists: From twenty-somethings posing Facebook-style in front of a carnival ride, or a boy smiling sweetly on a soccer field, to several prints of unidentifiable people in snowy environs. It culminates with a large photo, awkwardly offset from the rest of the exhibit in an alcove, of a young woman whose arms hang rigidly at her sides, like a wooden doll, to show her razor scars.
I was initially drawn to the exhibit in part out of curiosity as to whether a project like this could hold together — photography projects aiming to depict entire countries often ring too anthropological. But Mi Suecia is remarkably lacking in clichés. The project cannot be accused of thematic monotony either, as it includes images from projects dealing with young Swede’s relationships to their elders, their ideas about urban infrastructure, the ways they party with their friends, and apparently are taken with gazing across frozen lakes.
The work is wonderfully unself-conscious, not trying to typify anything or anyone, and willing to describe itself. In the words of contributor Ida Borg, “my own work, now documented, to tell the story which relates to nothing more than myself and my friends.”
Borg and her fellows have an awesome willingness to lay bare their slices of Sweden. And without any moose in sight.
Text and Photos by Kate Redburn
Through January 30, 2011