Indefinite Spaces

Text by Alison Nordström 

The photograph is a paradox. It manifests some aspect of the real world we know by our senses, but it separates from that materiality at the moment it is made. Furthermore, although each image is linked inextricably to a precise moment in the continuum of time, it is similarly removed from that flux (though it still exists in it) and begins its own trajectory. It is itself a unique object, made of paper and chemicals or inks, but it appears to be infinitely reproducible.  It is simultaneously a representation of fact, an interpretation of fact, and a creation of fiction.
Astrid Kruse Jensen inhabits this ambiguous world with elegance and clarity. In Imaginary Realities (2000 - 2005) she utilizes the silence of dusk as a leitmotif, creating a barely peopled cityscape in which isolated figures brood over darkening vistas Using elements of real places, a backlit window, an empty basketball court, a mysterious road leading nowhere, she makes something entirely new and previously unimagined that manifests her own ideas and sensibilities with the power, implications and scope of a novel.
The bold palette and eerie luminosity that characterize all of Kruse Jensen’s work may seem to be unconnected to the specificity of actual place and time, yet both elements are essential to the images she makes, both technically and intellectually. In Hypernatural, (2003 - 2006) for example, it is the distinctive stark and lunar topography of Iceland that provides a particular and singular setting for her glowing and solitary landscapes, and it is the intensely blue crepuscular light of the far north that barely lights reflecting water, and coolly contrasts with the warmer tenuous pinpoints of human-made illumination. Furthermore, Iceland itself abides in the Ultima Thule of our collective consciousness, embodying an idea of remoteness and harsh environment that suits Kruse Jensen’s contemplative and somber mood.
Indefinite Spaces is new work that shows both a persistence of this mood and its refinement. Like her earlier series, it presents dark and ethereal landscapes rendered in uncanny colors and punctuated by spots and shafts of available, often artificial light. The series combines images made at two sites, both of which are in some way borderlands, and are deceptively other than what they appear at first to be. Roughly half of the pictures are set in a forest where paint ball wars are played. The images are silent and unpopulated yet marks of human activity are everywhere. Spindly trunks stand wildly decorated with irregular organic shapes of many colors, each implying a missed victim and an attempt at a play-acted kill, while also suggesting unfamiliar plant species of alien planets or dreams.
Interspersed among these are equally silent images of the rural Danish landscape. They are, at first glance, bucolic vistas dappled with old farmhouses, a nostalgic rendering of fairytale Scandinavia, yet they are uninhabited and without life. What were once sites of continuity and tradition are, in fact, now sites where military exercises are practiced. Those who dwelt there have been removed, and the old buildings are now used almost like stage sets to train young soldiers to invade or defend. Kruse Jensen’s choice of site, then, is typically minimal, liminal. silent, ambiguous and fraught with meaning. Her color range, as well, remains consistent: dark yet glowing, ominous yet suffused with cool light.
What then is this world that Kruse Jensen persists in compelling us to? In what is by far her most mature and fully realized evocation of a visual vocabulary long in the making, she offers us a “Through the Looking Glass” planet where appearances are challenged by sense, and sense is challenged by ineluctable change. The once pristine forest, a symbol of innocence, is both sullied and transfigured by harsh man-made colors. It appears to be a site of war, but it is, rather, one of a bizarre kind of play. The country houses, on the other hand, appear at first normal, mundane and domestic, but are actually artifacts of bloody conflict, remembered, imagined and manifested around the world. The ambiguous zones these photographs capture are, like so much of our lives, more complex than we think they are. We participate in them without being aware that we do.
Robert Flaherty, who is often styled the father of documentary, famously said that “to capture the truth, one must distort it.” The index of the world Kruse Jensen’s pictures offer us includes both its facts and its capacity for dreams. Kruse Jensen can be said both to take and to make photographs. She delivers the real world while embracing its mysteries and paradoxes.