A black-painted banana, a child in a cage. The images of photographer Torbjørn Rødland arouse curiosity and discomfort at the same time. The Norwegian photographer loves silence, mystique and unease.
Torbjørn Rødland (b. 1970, Stavanger) has in later years lived and worked in Oslo, New York, Berlin, and Los Angeles. Among contemporary Norwegian artists, Rødland is one of the biggest names internationally. His chosen media are photography and video, and he has worked with everything from still life, landscape, and nude portraits to double-exposure and abstract photography.
Rødland makes photographic images that pointedly address their viewers, evoking a wide range of emotional and intellectual states. Curiosity, humor, criticality, artifice, reverence for the natural world, and romanticism appear throughout his work and often in the same image.
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Photographs from everyday life
The motifs may seem trivial, they are often taken from everyday life or popular culture, but there is always something more to them, something dark, an ambiguity.
In the early 1990s Rødland established his position as a central figure in the breakthrough of photography as an art form in Norway. As part of the “Bergen wave” of artists that included Mikkel MacAlinden, Ole Johan Aandal and Vibeke Tandberg, he was very familiar with the US Pictures generation, the critical “appropriation photographers” of the 1970s and 1980s such as Sherrie Levine, Cindy Sherman and Richard Prince.
Norwegian Photographer Loves Silence, Mystique and Unease, read on….
Exploring asymmetric relationships between people
Rødland also emphasizes the formal attributes of his photographs, pushing the medium toward modes of visual expression more commonly associated with painting, and forging links between twentieth-century art photography and twenty-first-century approaches to image-making common to advertising and social media.
“Perhaps because photography in a commercial context so often presents idealized and frictionless couple images, it is interesting to explore asymmetric relationships between people. The stylized magazine image must be elaborated,” says Rødland.
Often prompted by non-photographic imagery that he transforms into real-world photographic subjects, Rødland portrays scenes designed to generate psychological reaction through his depiction of highly sensory qualities. The physicality present in the work is driven by his use of film-based cameras and chemical darkroom processes.
It’s in the eyes of the beholder
According to Rødland, the audience’s encounter with the images is controlled by who you are. But Rødland has distanced himself from the often-ironic attitude to life of his generation and seeks to challenge the notion that an authentic experience is no longer possible. In contrast to the works of the Pictures generation, his own works are not intended to decode pictorial conventions but rather to retain the onlooker in the process of observing.
Torbjørn Rødland has been the subject of solo exhibitions including Pain in the Shell, David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles (2022); Bible Eye, The Contemporary Austin, Texas (2021); Fifth Honeymoon, a traveling exhibition produced as a collaboration between Bergen Kunsthall, Norway, Bonniers Konsthall, Stockholm, and the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki (2018–2019); THE TOUCH THAT MADE YOU, Fondazione Prada, Milan (2018) and the Serpentine, London (2017); Back in Touch, C/O Berlin (2017); and Blue Portrait (Nokia N82), Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2016). Notable group exhibitions include What People Do for Money, Manifesta 11, Zurich (2016); LIT, 9th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art (2016); and 48th Venice Biennale, Italy (1999). His work is in the permanent collections of museums including Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York; Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, Oslo, Norway; Malmö Art Museum, Sweden; Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; and Museum of Modern Art, New York. Rødland lives and works in Los Angeles.
Norwegian Photographer Loves Silence, Mystique and Unease, written by Tor Kjolberg
All images © Torbjørn Rødland