In the borderland between the revealed and the concealed – between reality and the imaginary. This is where Astrid Kruse Jensen’s photographs arise. Here anything can be formed, but not necessarily controlled. Although in several of her photographic series Astrid Kruse Jensen stages her subjects, at the same time she lets the indefinable set the agenda. And with her latest series she has taken this approach all the way.
But let us begin somewhere else. Let us begin with the female figures that emerged from the darkness, alone, their backs to us, expectant. These women populated Astrid Kruse Jensen’s pictures when she had her breakthrough with her convincing twilight and night pictures at the beginning of the new millennium. In the series Imaginary Realities (1998-2004), which she began in 1998, the scene is the modern urban environment, and the activities of these isolated women emit a strong, psychologically charged mood that alternates between an emptily searching and passively anticipatory longing. You get the feeling that this is more a state of being than an individual situation – as if the photographs open up and become horizontal gaps in the advancing pace of time.
In Astrid Kruse Jensen’s photographs, darkness takes on volume and softness, and allows a wealth of visual cues to take form within it. The subjects she chooses to photograph are not extraordinary; the beautiful implants itself in the everyday and the unassuming, and makes her photographic landscapes appear at once painterly and specifically photographic; a combination which, even when she aims her lens at the quiet Nordic mountain landscapes in the series Parallel landscapes (2005-2007), brings an almost theatrical quality to nature. In the series Hypernatural (2003-2006) she photographed becalmed, geothermically heated pools in Iceland. The lights were on, illuminating the pools and their immediate surroundings. But for whose benefit? What emerged was a kind of fictional scenery where the places looked like models, and artificiality took over. In these small enclosures, empty of human presence, with their still waters and stacked furniture, we get a very powerful, intensified sense of stillness and absence.
Until The Construction of Memories (2006-2010) Astrid Kruse Jensen worked with the disconcerting sheen cast on reality by the existing light, but in the latter series everything is staged and the female figure is back. The subjects loom from the darkness as memory-constructions created from fragments and sensations. In this case she intervenes in the fundamental conditions of memory and recollection, and the role of the photograph in that context. For the individual human being, the photograph often functions as a safeguard against oblivion – a wish to store memories for posterity. But the great majority of childhood memories are left to fend for themselves as parts of an accumulation of different impressions.
What you think you remember from childhood is usually not purely visual impressions, so the photographic reconstruction of memory will always be a visualization of feelings, sensations, moods and details. Inevitably, such a conglomeration involves surreal undertones that prompt you to question whether memories exist as anything but an imaginary memory-space. When Astrid Kruse Jensen constructs memories from the world of childhood, they are given this kind of surreal twist, for example when the swings hang from the outermost, thin branches that would never support the weight of a small body. It is this very improbability that helps to underscore the fact that the staged dream vision has never existed in reality, but is an abstract visual processing of fragmentary impressions. For the question is whether there could ever be an encounter between memory and reality, or whether memory has forever gone over into another world, the complete fusion of imagination and reality.
It is this fusion that forms the point of departure for Astrid Kruse Jensen’s explorations of the nature of memory in the latest series, Disappearing into the Past (2010-2012). Starting with the close links between photography, memory and self-understanding, Astrid Kruse Jensen gathers the strands in the photographic material. Or rather, she lets the material take over and permeate all the way in to where it is no longer possible to distinguish subject from material. And this seems to be exactly where Astrid Kruse Jensen’s work has taken root for a period, over the past ten years. Throughout these years her pictures have revolved around the indefinable, the transience of memories and dreams, and the photograph has been her medium. But in Disappearing into the Past the photograph has absorbed her agenda of many years and intensified the strong link with the photographic material and memory.
While Astrid Kruse Jensen has earlier used sophisticated photographic techniques, in this project she has worked with the Polaroid camera, which does not have the same capacity and cannot manage the same degree of detail. Polaroid stopped making these instant films in 2008, and because the films Astrid Kruse Jensen uses are thus too old, the development process is uncontrollable, and the final expression of the picture is subject to the chemical reactions that take place here and now. It is this uncontrollability that interests her – the fact that she cannot control the final result. Astrid Kruse Jensen lets the photographic material and the chemistry permeate and form the images on an equal footing with the indexical imprint of reality that constitutes the subject.
The choice of imperfection and uncontrollability not only involves the wish to challenge habitual working methods over the past fourteen years; to a great extent it is also an unmistakable acknowledgement of vulnerability; a wish to let go, to be drawn in by a material impossible to control.
The magical lustre that hovers over space and landscapes in Disappearing into the Past invites you on a journey through moods, memory and time. At the same time the chemical traces are woven into the dense trunks of the forest and the deep dark of the water. Imprints of ongoing chemical processes spread down over some of the motifs, and in other places the chemistry crystallizes in a variety of formations. Many of these imprints look like organic, living structures that have worked their way into the subject like independent, abstract images. The ethereal appearance of the photographs and the visible chemical traces give the photographs a processual effect, as if they are at one and the same time developing and fading away.
The chemical traces in Astrid Kruse Jensen’s photographs appear as a disturbing, impenetrable filter for the clear memory. The processes of chemical change come to function as an image of our forgetting – a forgetting that suffuses and models the impressions of reality. The image we remember here and now is a product of time, places, wishes, repressions and rewritings. Despite the fact that in our internal mental memory images we attempt to fix various visual impressions or emotional sensations, they are in an ongoing process of dissolution – we cannot be sure that it is possible to fix a particular internal image on the retina. It is this mental filter – a film compounded equally of memory, forgetting and rewriting – that is underscored in Astrid Kruse Jensen’s photographs by the decomposition process caused by the obsolete chemistry. The images appear but at the same time are on their way to becoming rewritten or overwritten.
The attempt to grasp the ungraspable and pin down the diffuse combines with the ability of the photograph to fix memory, and at the same time to point to memory as a dynamic form – memory as a process that never ends. In this sense the works contradict the notion of the photograph as a frozen moment. Instead Astrid Kruse Jensen inscribes the medium in a living process where the subjects, the photographic material and memory merge – and become part of a larger narrative of knowing and living memory.
Astrid Kruse Jensen’s photographs involve both the modelling of darkness and the erasure of light, and in this encounter a kind of poetic displacement of reality comes about; a displacement that permits the parallel world of the imagination to dovetail with reality.