Galleri Dropsfabrikken presents: Eyes as Big as Plates 2011-21

The first ever Eyes as Big as Plates portrait was created in May 2011 together with Halvar on the southwest coast of Norway. Ten years and over a hundred portraits later, Galleri Dropsfabrikken in Trondheim is proud to present brand new works alongside Halvar in an exhibition celebrating the first decade of the project!

The celebrations will continue with a book release party at Dropsfabrikken as soon as the new book comes from the press and both artists are allowed to be on the same side of the Atlantic at the same time. It is our pleasure to invite you to an online artist talk on May 25th at 8 pm Norwegian time / 7 pm GMT / 2 pm EST, more information to be posted here soon.

Gustav Svihus Borgersen has written down his thoughts on the series and Adam King has translated them for us all to enjoy:

The photographs that form the Eyes as Big as Plates series have certain clear similarities: older people in natural landscapes, dressed in or covered by natural elements from the surroundings in which they are portrayed. A white-haired man closes his eyes above a great ruff of ferns. A dark-skinned man with a walking stick stands on the shoreline, covered in fish and squid. A dark-clad elbow, the corner of a shoulder, and a hint of blue trouser leg are all that can be seen under a large, fantastic orange-coloured vase of seaweed, which somehow stands upright on the whaleback rock. The photographs bear matter-of-fact titles. The cluster of seaweed is called Ester. The man of ferns is called Ernst. The man covered in fish is called Boubou. The titles are simply the names of the older people with whom the artists have collaborated. The vegetation in the pictures nevertheless gives us some indication that these scenes stem from different parts of the world. 

The award-winning collaborative series Eyes as Big as Plates, by Karoline Hjorth (born 1980) from Norway and Riitta Ikonen (born 1981) from Finland, has so far resulted in over a hundred works from fifteen countries around the world. Reindeer-herding Sami women, peace-loving wrestling coaches, descendants of Tasmanian Aboriginals, Senegalese fishermen, South Korean wild-boar hunters, Norwegian Forest Finns and retired skydivers are among the people Hjorth and Ikonen have collaborated with. The work is a reciprocal process where the artists enter into a dialogue with their subjects and, jointly, find grounds on which to interact with nature. Initially, Hjorth and Ikonen grasped at specific local myths, all of which dealt with the bonds between people and nature. As the series of works has grown in scope, the images have also grown to be founded on the subjects’ own thoughts and feelings tied to the nature they are familiar with. Which understanding of nature do they bear traces of? How do the many individuals perceive their place in these surroundings?

In a way, the people in the images become bearers of ancient myths. The photographs indicate how the elderly have always acted as custodians and conveyors of stories. Ancient myths, variations on a particular theme, stories that try to explain the world’s origins and the place of humans in and their relationship to nature, have influenced the development and cohesion of all cultures. This series of photographs has grown to resemble a collection of such myths, ideas and dreams, with these pictures as their new medium.

But given our habituation to such stories, why are these images so magnetic? Why do they seem so alluringly strange? Here the artist duo has elevated stories from words into pictures; not fantastic paintings and fanciful drawings, but photographs. Impressions from real environments, studded with the magical power that lies hidden in a myth or a fable; pictures from an inspired storyteller, brought to life.

There is a delicate balancing act at play here: An old man with seaweed on his head, leaves in his hair, fish on his jacket, or smeared in wet clay could easily appear ludicrous, laughable. But the images’ quiet sincerity, the subjects’ stoic calm and presence in the moment, in the story they bear, render them poetic. Dignified. Representatives of something important. Something that ought to be remembered. In a global, ecological head-to-head, at a time when protection of the environment is more vital than ever before, and in the acknowledgement that the world is on the threshold of a crisis, the need for myths emerges. The need for insights that go deeper than figures and reports. The sense of existing as people in the world. That’s what these myths are about: how firm we stand in landscapes we are part of. These myths have an explosive power which photography elevates to being candid and confrontational – “See how entwined we are!”
Gustav Svihus Borgersen, 22 April 2021Translated by Adam King

Eyes as Big as Plates # Ernst (Norway 2017) © Karoline Hjorth & Riitta Ikonen

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