by Jacinda Russell
Highlights in Nordic Photogravure is an immense exhibition of over 120 works by 37 Scandinavian artists curated by FinnThrane of the Museet for FotoKunst in Odense, Denmark. FotoFest sponsored its U.S. premiere in the Winter Street Art Center in Houston, Texas, a space as equally expansive and inspiring as the exhibition itself. It is a richly layered, in-depth look at an antique process, combining a classic form of printmaking with contemporary, late ioth century artisticphilosophies and technologies.
Eli Ponsaing, a Danish graphic artist and photographer, discovered the photo-polymer gravure plate in 1989 — an inexpensive, nontoxic alternative to the original photogravure copper printing method. The new plates, composed of soft plastic, light-sensitive material and thin sheet metal, were easy to use, thus lending itself to experimentation. The reemerging interest in exploring antique photographic processes and non-silver printing techniques in the i99o's led the Museet for Fotokunst in Odense, Denmark to invite artists from Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Denmark, Finland and Greenland to work with Ponsaing's new discovery. From 1995 through 1997, the 37 artists included in this exhibition perfected the technique by producing works that challenge both the photography and printmaking aesthetics.
The main strength in Highlights in Nordic Photogravure lies in the diversity of subject matter and style generated from artists in several disciplines. Sculptors, painters and graphic designers worked alongside printmakers and photographers to create an unparalleled range of work in response to a singular technical process.
Peter Esdaile and Inger Lise Rasmussen use multiple sheets of Plexiglas, creating an architectural building of portraits andbody parts. The translucent layers are encased in blocks of dark wood — freestanding altars to the persons they embody. Finn Naur Petersen's haunting portraits of children grown old way before their time — hollow-faced death camp images revisited — are punched out in the form of jigsaw puzzles. Even though they are displayed untouched and whole, they indicate temporary completeness — the fragility of being torn up at a moment's notice and placed forgotten in a closet in the back of one's mind.
By referencing the past in the recreation of the present and introducing current day issues of gender and examination of the self to historical art references, Rita Marhaug creates the strongest bridge in the combination of contemporary artisticphilosophy and antique methods of print-making. Her 66" x 27" self-portraits are layered over classical sculptures transforming male figures into that of her own female body as in the triptych I.D. 1-3 (1997). In Princess (1997), Marhaug's uses the same layering techniques by posing her daughter as the little princess in Velasquez's Las meninas.
Highlights in Nordic Photogravure is an exhibition of great importance in the overview of 2OTH century photography. It not only documents the advances made since the i8oos but removes photography from contemporary silver gelatin, Ciba-chrome and ink jet printing, emphasizing the strengths of collaboration and the study of a multi-disciplinary medium. •
Jacinda Russell is an artist living and working in Houston, Texas.