Lina Selander is an enlightenment artist. This much is evident from the title of her exhibition at Göteborg’s konsthall, This Misery of Light. In the contemporary, postdigital situation, her practice could be characterized as a form of media archeology. Excavation of the Image, the title of her exhibition at the Venice Biennial last year, goes to support this view. In a time when both memory and social relations are largely administered through corporate interests, Selander’s image work is an excavation of its own condition.
This Misery of Light brings together six works from 2011 to the present, one of which, Ceremonin [’The Ceremony’], was produced for the exhibition. In the octagon-shaped entrance of Göteborg’s konsthall, To the Vision Machine (2013) is shown on a video screen placed on the floor in the middle of the room. Selander and her collaborator Oscar Mangione describe the work as part of an investigation into “the invisible core of visual inscription”. This psychoanalytically charged language, which is illustrated by digitization’s lack of an inner chamber – as demonstrated by a pair of hands disassembling a camera – is connected to the atomic explosion over Hiroshima, understood as a photographic exposure that rendered the city’s image onto its surfaces. Selander does not shy away from crucial questions regarding technology, memory and war in the modern age. This somehow feels refreshingly untimely.
The wall text next to the work is marked by the same approach. Here we find, not the curator’s words, but an elaboration on the exhibition’s title. The poem, “This misery of light”, written by Selander and Mangione, consists of nine lines composed from the same principle. It begins, “THIS MISERY OF LIGHT / THIS LIGHT’S MISERY” and ends, “THIS MISERY OF HOPE / THIS HOPE’S MISERY”, and in between manages to address vision, knowledge, enlightenment, photography and film. The text is a monument to a dialectics without a reconciling synthesis. It is obvious, as well, that the word misery has to be thrown into the washer if it is to be used poetically again.
The strongest feature of the exhibition is the main gallery, where the new work, Ceremonin, is presented together with the film that was made for the Venice Biennial, The Offspring Resembles the Parent (2015). If the video installation and text in the octagon are clearly separated, these works blend in multiple ways. On the one hand, it is possible to watch each film from different corners of the gallery. Both projection screens are semi-transparent, so that one can see the back of one film through the screen of the other. Because the films are of different length, this montage – with its combinations projected on the wall behind the screens – constantly changes. The result is possibly the most beautiful video installation I have ever seen. And when I think back on Selander’s previous exhibitions, this installation appears as a crucial development. With this room, she has created a way to emphasize that her films are part of one and the same work, but also that this work is constantly changed through adding parts, and through a presentation that continues to edit itself in different spatial settings.
Like many of Selander’s previous works, Ceremonin is shot using different photographic techniques. A moving camera captures everything from 17th century Swedish writer Olof Rudbeck’s Atlantica to the residential blocks in Stockholm’s Bredäng, the Stasi headquarters and the last photograph taken of Tutankhamon’s tomb before it was opened, etc. This is interspersed with archival material and soundtracks from other films and photographs. The purpose of the text is not to explicate on what we see, but rather it causes minor breaks in the flow of images: statements telling us that to describe is an act of vandalism, that images are accidents, etc.
A monitor on the floor in the next room shows Anteroom of the Real (2011), in which a pair of hands leaf through a pile of photographs against a black backdrop. Projected on the wall is Model of Continuation (2013), a film about a film projected in a studio. These works adhere to more traditional form of contemporary enlightenment art, in their critical attempts to observe two aspects of artistic practice: editing and exposition. The exhibition is concluded by Lenin’s Lamp Glows in the Peasant’s Hut (2011), an installation that relates the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986 to Dziga Vertov’s film about the construction of a Soviet hydroelectric power plant in the late 20’s, and which deals with the role of photography in modern society’s need for electricity.
Perhaps Selander’s art forms an answer to a crisis. Perhaps it corresponds to the impossibility of distanced contemplation, of being alone in the editing room, where distinctions and illuminations are produced without overview and planning, without promises, under the influence. If we accept this, we could see her exhibition as a series of montage investments, made half in the dark, that in turn create their own crises and separations of the visual field.
One thing that strikes me is that the montage of the human body is absent from the exhibition. It is as though it were left undeveloped, either dead by light or alive, somehow busy assembling the world. Perhaps the next step in Selander’s practice should be the human body distributed through systems of digital reproduction. In any case I wish that Selander would address the brain, nervous system, intestines and all the other words we use to assemble the anthropomedium we call human. The human image constructed at Göteborg’s konsthall is still too located in itself. However, perhaps it is the image of the human at the editing table, sitting there, under pressure to perform the next cut, that this exhibition wants to leave to history. But will we remember all this? Where will this exhibition be recorded?
When memory is no longer produced by digging through diaries or photo albums; when it is no longer possible to verify facts because they are already part of a social, digitized and privatized relation; when mental and physical storage spaces become corporate clouds, become capitalist mist, loose their breath and become an integrated part of our human ecology, then information no longer has a discernible sender. Some have called this simulacra, others have spoken about flows of images. From this point of view, Selander’s works can be seen as a practice of recording, whose exterior form we encounter as the work of art. Rather than compiling and vitalizing one archive or another using radical montage, her work is about specific ways of creating distinctions and stopping the flow of images. In this sense, Selander’s work is reactionary, as opposed to accelerationist. Each work incorporates its own brake assemblies.
And yet the resemblance of atmosphere and style between the works gives the impression that they are made by the same machinic art practice. A survival machine for a life in the mist, seeking neither to illuminate everything nor to embrace total darkness?