“I went for a long walk last evening, half a snowball turned into water. The water in the canal had only turned three times when she appeared. I am traveling at the moment, will be back at work in 200 ml of saltwater. Let’s meet for a cup of coffee, in 10 ml of semen.”
In Disappearing Hours (2007) the Norwegian photographer Marie Sjøvold (1982) and the German filmmaker Uli M Schueppel (1958) measure time in units of liquids.
The exhibition consists of seven triptychs and the video Meanwhile. Each triptych consists of two photographs of hand embroidered linen with spots of red and white/yellow liquids and a photograph of something resembling a lunar landscape, a cave or human body parts, but which turn out to be of a material which easily melts and turns into water.
The woven pieces of linen – or handkerchiefs as they actually are – with the hand embroidered flowers and butterflies can be seen as remains from a far removed past and are the result of numerous hours of rigorous labour. On top of these traces from a past generation, the camera has captured the traces from a much more recent event: Spots of bodily fluids (blood, semen, sweat).
In the text “On the Ontology of the Photographic Image” from 1945, the French film theorist André Bazin – as one of the first – links photography to time. Bazin bases this on the trace-like characteristics of photography, the fact that the (analogue) photographic image is made from the imprint of light on the film. Due to the indexical nature of photography (being a trace of something that was), according to Bazin it satisfies the human fascination with mummification, as in the wish to embalm – stop – time from moving: “Photography does not create eternity as art does, it embalms time, rescuing it from its proper corruption”. The text was originally accompanied by a picture of the Christ shroud of Turin. This has been termed “The earliest photograph in the world” because, according to legend, a negative print of Jesus body and facial features can be seen on it. In continuation of Bazins text, the photographs of the weaved cloth, marked by bodily fluids, as a pre-photographic image, with an explicit theme of the trace characteristics of photography and its ability to retain and hold an imprint of things and events of the past.
However the Photographs are not just about retaining time gone by, but also about holding on to the hours that disappear, without us noticing, while they disappear.
In the moment of recording, there are multiple ages and forms of time present at the same instant: Something which was conceived a long time ago and took a long time to create and which has left traces in the shape of the embroidery. Something, which has happened recently and in such, a way that it’s possible to not even note that time was passing. But also something taking place right now, in front of the cameras lens. The traces of sexual activity are ethereal enough for the damp spots to be in the process of disappearance. In some photographs you can see that the mark of bodily fluids has moved. In other the fluids have almost evaporated completely and can only be seen as a hint if you already know its there.
The various timelines overlap and interfere with each other: In the situations where the handkerchiefs remain damp, the structure of the cloth is much more visible and the result is that the faded patterns of the wings of butterflies reappear. In a few places the present (or rather very recent past) interferes with the past to such an extent that flowers which were previously white now have been painted red.
The bodily fluids expose images on the cloth, bringing with them an association of photographic chemestry. Developing chemicals ignite the process bringing the lost moment, captured when the photographer pressed the button, forward as an image. The fluids can thus be said to be the catalyst helping past time to materialize before our eyes.
In Disappearing Hours, time does not only manifest through liquids, but also in a very concrete way in the shape of liquids: In the photographs of the spotted handkerchiefs in the form of liquids evaporating and in the other photographs in the embodiment of melting ice.
While at a first glance appearing to resemble landscapes or caves and, under the impact of the stains of semen and blood on the other two photographs in the triptych, suggesting details of bodies and faces, the sensuous photographs namely turn out to be close-up shots of snow and ice.
The discovery that what you thought where photographs of two moist lips, a sweat covered waist, parts of a face or of two bodies joined in reality are photographs of frozen water forces the audience to revise their conception of what the images depict. Something similar is the case with the video Meanwhile (2007). Here you see what at first glance appears to be a field of wheat or a meadow with tall grass. Sound in the background supports this: We hear the roar of the wind and something, which resembles straw being pushed aside. On closer inspection, the straws assume human bodily shapes. Arms and legs moving, an eye blinking. Hair. Both of the titles, Meanwhile and Disappearing Hours, allude to something happening and it is tempting to think of the changing perception by the audience as things unfold.
The change in our understanding of the works points to the uncertainty inherent in the photographs and how easily it is influenced by context – an aspect of the medium Marie Sjøvold and Uli M Schueppel also treated in the exhibition Pust (Asker Museum, Norway 2006). Pust dealt, as Disappearing Hours, with impermanence and passing of time. Here the moment was not concealed in liquids, but in a breath of wind: in the breath that blows bubbles from chewing gum or soap bubbles, the wind that makes kites or dandelions fly away and the last breath before death which makes everything disappear.
The Pust photographs existed on the border between realism and the staged. By installing them in cases where four almost identical images changed with a couple of minutes in between, Marie Sjøvold pointed to the viewers’ uncertainty of what he or she had actually seen. This effect was explored further in the video Bubble & Puddle made in cooperation with Uli M Schueppel and shown on the same occasion. In this the speed was slowed down to 3% of standard movie speed, resulting in the video being more like a changing photograph than an actual movie.
Although the photographs in Disappearing Hours explicitly deal with the indexicality of photography and its ability to show, that which once was, they are not to be seen as a return to a conventional realism and a belief that photography can present an objective view of the world. The photographs go beyond the discussion of the eighties and early nineties on whether photography is a particularly subjective or objective medium and rather continue along the lines of the Danish photo theorist Mette Sandbye and her concept of “mental realism”; a realism which contains an awareness of its nature as a construction, but also an awareness that it originates from something; from tangible matter.