The exhibition Cтансы (Stances) consists of a series of new photographic works made during a train trip through Russia. Could you please elaborate on what is on display in the exhibition?
For the photo series Stances, begun in 2016 (my En Route project), I worked in different trains traveling long distances across Eastern Europe and Russia, mainly from Saint Petersburg to Murmansk, taking also local trains that were going deeper in the countryside.
At each stop, before seeing the landscape, the architecture, or the light that the doors would reveal, I set up the camera in the narrow entryway of the car. Before the doors close again, like a camera shutter, the film takes an imprint of the place. This image is the junction between the train and what lies beyond its doors, in a stationary exposure of several seconds that sketches another Europe. It is a Europe marked by the Communist and post-Communist eras, neither taking part in the same history or the same reality as the rest of the Western world.
Then the journey continues, each station marking an advance towards the uncertain destination, as the landscape moves in an opposition to the train, preventing any progress towards the goal. From my position among the ephemeral community of voyagers, the movement of the train does not find its resolution in the distance crossed but in the experience of the landscape. In the Russian winter, while the train draws lines where time and distances meet, the landscape has another network of significations and temporalities. It becomes snow. The snow slows everything down. It creates an immobile heart within movement. It veils, and creates an intermittent withdrawal, a blank. Then the landscape becomes imposed on the snow, a fall into the white—as if man had withdrawn himself from the production of things, and the becoming of the world, which, in turn, finds itself displaced from his presence.
With the Russian trains, windows are added to doors to create a new series. Here, the window frames its own surface, rather than an exterior landscape. In particular, it frames an inscription it bears (“Do Not Lean”). It is not the depth of the landscape, in keeping with the rules of perspective, which enriches the image, but a space closer to that of painting, a rich type of all-over picture, with plays of reflection, transparency, and variations in typography. The train no longer depends on still frames. It produces space, but space that is turned in on itself and its history.
The photographs in the exhibition are created within a seemingly rigid framework where the train literally sets the scene and frames the photographs, and where motifs are captured at regular intervals. A similar approach was taken in the previous exhibition Alger at OSL contemporary in 2015, where all photographs recorded the same single motif of an open balcony door with city outside. In what way does this working method impact the outcome of the photographic works in the exhibition?
There is always a big challenge between expected and the unforeseeable aspects of a given situation. For example, during the shooting of Stances, I did not know on which side of the train the doors would open. And of course with a tripod and a 4×5 inch camera in narrow entryway of the car, one is immediately out of balance. I did not know also if I would have enough time to shoot: when dark comes, time of exposure is getting longer but the time a door stays opened remains the same.
Also if the rooms in Alger anticipate my most recent works, on exhibit here. In the Alger series, I set up my camera in a room with French windows opening onto the exterior (the narrow street, the building facing the window), letting the light enter and recording its variations in accordance with the time of day or night. The room, of course, was not moving as the train was, but between day and night there was a strong discrepancy in perception of interior and exterior. The time of exposure could get to 3 or 4 hours outside and 3 minutes inside. So I had to switch off the light inside, but then I was not sure about the final result. There is a big part of chance, the photo surface records not only space but also time.
Windows in Alger and train doors in Stances are intermediate spaces, they are in-between. Somehow if this working method impacts the outcome of the photographic works in the exhibition, this does not mean a rigid corpus of rules. I always adapt myself and my working method to the given situation. In Alger, I could leave the camera shooting alone and have dinner outside. The photo was shot by itself. In the Russian trains I had to be focused as a hunter. I did not know precisely when the train would stop, the light was changing fast, at any time people could enter the train and so on …
In the previous exhibitions Alger (2015) and Grisailles, Cour Intérieures (2012) at OSL Contemporary the location or the site plays an integral part for the works, in those exhibitions Algiers and Marseille. In Stances, the post-Soviet landscape plays an important role. How would you describe the role of the site or location in the works?
Each site asks for a specific way of framing, for a specific point of view. When I did Bab el-Louk, the flat roofs of Cairo, in this particular case, the camera was oriented in a small angle direction ground, in order to avoid the image of sky and get an “all-over“ feeling of inner city. It was also the al-adhan the call to worship, that initiates the necessity of a cycle of photos that refers to common daily life in a Muslim country. In the series Cour Intérieure, the camera was oriented vertically, towards the sky following the spatiality of the site, the Hausman architecture.
A location is important because I try to connect myself to the way people are living in, even if I don’t show them directly in my photographic works. For example when I was working on La voie de chemin de fer, an illegal Roma camp hidden under a bridge in Marseille. I kept the “voyeur“ point of view and did the photos from the bridge because this point of view reflects the underprivileged position of the Roma minority in the city. From this perspective, which was also the one of the people walking on the bridge, the camp itself became a collage of cabins, tents, carpets, furniture, evening dinner … A surface made by leftovers of everyday life. Coming back to my setting in Arles and Oslo: I’ve got inspired by the iconostasis: the wall of icons used in orthodox churches to create both the insight but also a barrier.
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