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Krista Mölder's Encounters In "Non-Places"

Katrin Kivimaa (1/2014)

Katrin Kivimaa's introduction to the different ways of looking and observing.


In an interview with her colleague Margot Kask, the photo artist Krista Mölder has said that to her, photography is a way of looking and making sense of things. So, each of her exhibitions as an aesthetic-thematic whole is a visual conclusion of a subjective experience that the artist has come to through a lengthy process of collecting, filtering and conceptualising. It seems to me that by being very conscious of what she wishes to say and fastidious in the way she does it, Mölder strives to transfer a looking experience as close as possible to the one she has experienced (and constructed) herself. There is an underlying assumption that, at least for a brief moment, the viewer achieves close contact with the artist's point of view and mind-set.



Krista Mölder
From the series "Non-Places"
(Krista Mölder at Gagosian; Private View)
Courtesy of the artist


Hints and frames

The exhibition "Boredom Is Not Far from Ecstasy" at Draakon Gallery in 2009, which received the most reviews, established rules of representation and creative preferences characteristic to Krista Mölder's work: minimalist aesthetics, focus on issues of space, and artistic and liberal use of theoretic-literary sources. The aesthetics of boredom should also be mentioned – this refers to the significant tradition of Modernism in the history of 20th century art and photography (that line of interpretation, however, will not be analysed this time). Similar features were revealed at Mölder's solo exhibition "Non-Places" at Temnikova & Kasela Gallery at the end of 2013, just as they were in several of her previous projects.

The exhibition consisted of only four works that required a certain sequence of looking and a trajectory of movement from the viewer. Upon entering, the visitor's gaze hit a photograph depicting a white gallery space with an irritating title "Krista Mölder at the Gagosian" (2013); the back room displayed a nature photograph the central image of which was a camera on a tripod; before exiting, the viewer was faced with another nature photograph and then with one depicting the creation of an urban wall painting in New York. The theoretic background to the show was based around the idea of "non-places", a term borrowed from the French anthropologist Marc Augé and a quote from another representative of the French philosophical tradition Luce Irigaray: "Thus, a way of living together can be founded, in which this togetherness, without being simply visible as such, allows for a place in which we can continue to dwell. This place remains always open – which does not mean simply empty – for a possible welcoming of the other and of that which is realized together." Augé started using the term "non-place" in order to describe the significance of transit spaces – hotels, highways, airports supermarkets and so on – in shaping the human experience in today's supermodern societies. In the past few decades, Irigaray, known as a theorist of feminism and psychoanalysis, has been concentrating on the relations of two subjects and inter-subjectivity, bringing the focus to an ethical position and way of living that recognises Other(ness).

Of course, Mölder uses these ideas as an artist (and not as a philosopher or theorist); in other words, to frame and present her own (visual) ideas. The key given to the viewer (the accompanying text) talks about the relationship between the public and private; the imagery adds another crucial element – an illusionary quality. The nature photograph of the camera in the back room is illuminated and installed in such a way that the flat surface of the photograph produces an illusion of depth. The nature photograph in the first room displays a reflection on the surface of water. And the scene from New York right beside it documents the process of creating an illusionistic image in the public urban space – a monumental painting depicting urban space. The textual focus could be understood as a narrower question: How does institutional space (e.g a gallery) define the artist's (or why not even the viewer's) subjectivity and personal identity? But the topic of the illusion is considerably broader, relating to contemporary theories of identity and photography. So, despite the minimal visual, the viewer is provided with significantly more clues than it initially seems. What to do with all of these?


Ways of looking/interpreting

Marking the generalised experience of space and looking is definitely a more important element in Krista Mölder's exhibitions than the idiosyncrasy of each of the works. This is also evident in the fact that the artist prefers to present series of works as a way of constructing the visual message, which is exactly what she has done in all of her exhibitions to date. In the photographs, the depictions are visually so minimal that they are oftentimes only a couple of elements short of displaying an empty space, and the use of seriality seems like amplification. The images depicting individual objects or parts of a space, start a dialogue, are dependent on each other and draw the viewer's attention to coherence and the unifying whole in places where individual photographs could only signify autonomous singularity. As Margot Kask has noted, looking at Mölder's work as sets of series, it gives off an impression that those series of photographs are actually articulated using "the language of space".

All four photographs of the "Non-Places" are thematically dealing with space and (non)places as well; however, this time, the mode of presentation has changed somehow. "Non-Places" is an exhibition the artist has constructed and conceived as a whole that requires a certain way of looking, although in this case a clear principle of seriality was abandoned. The spatial arrangement supports the fact that each photograph functions rather as an independent work, and even more so, considering the whole is not created by the visual-aesthetic likeness but by the thematic-conceptual frame of the exhibition. Maybe this is the reason these four photographs as a set created a looking experience for me that did not culminate with satisfaction caused by a sudden understanding but with a kind of unresolved tension that I would like to explore in more depth.


The decline of the personal

In various conversations and interviews, the artist has highlighted the question of how something deeply personal functions in public space and in the public eye. What happens to her photographs, which are the result of a subjective way of looking, in a public art space which also operates as a commercial gallery and where a gallerist works daily? In order to get an overview of this experiment, the artist should remain in the gallery as a participant observer and maybe even record how her works start or cease functioning in this environment. For me, this initial thought experiment is merely an excuse for making an exhibition that does not need to be considered much in the process of interpretation.

If Krista Mölder had left the photograph in the first room, the one depicting a white gallery space, untitled, it would be rather difficult to note the quiet, yet pointed critique of institutional power. Nevertheless, "Krista Mölder at the Gagosian" (2013) is a revealing idea, even though it literally only describes a fact – the artist went to a famous gallery in order to a take a photograph. The empty white walls of the gallery which only display a label with the word "Private" allow for a visualisation of the productive and complicated relationship an artist has with galleries as privileged exhibition spaces. This space (Gagosian or not-Gagosian) contains, on the one side, an opportunity for communication and (self)creation, but on the other, hierarchies of power and institutional control. Is a personal view even possible in this context? To what extent is it possible to create a space within an institutional space that, using Irigaray's words, is open to the "other" and "togetherness" – a space where life can continue without being calcified into yet another spectacle or achievement in the speedy machinery of society.

For Krista Mölder, the photographic medium and way of looking have a deeply personal dimension, even considering the fact that for a long time photographic representations were valued as objective means for recording and communicating the world. In addition to the subjective nature the photographic representation, "Non-Places" also points out the illusory character of the photographic image. Despite the fact that in theory the idea of objective photography has been long abandoned, the wider public still holds on to the idea of the "truthfulness" of the photographic representation. And I am not sure if the artist is interested in the audience's attitudes, she is more fascinated by her own ideas about what happens to her subjective view when presented to the public. Or, moreover, what happens to her as a result.

A lot has been written about the role of photography in creating a personal history and the culture of memory, the best example might be Roland Barthes theory of photography (supposedly based on his own deeply personal experiences) presented in "Camera Lucida" (1980). There he wrote about the ability of photography to act as a connecting device between what disappears and what is – photographs as evidence of death but also as the vanquishers of death/evanescence. This type of framework is mostly used when analysing family photos and personal archives, yet the way Krista Mölder uses views of the space and photography of space, might also be seen as a way of creating a personal archive. However trivial this may sound, the claim that "Non-Places" presents a shard of Krista Mölder's personal memory bank is not actually false.

We are simultaneously reminded that photographic representation is deeply deceptive and illusionary. The artist's way of looking at things and depicting them, the authenticity of which should be supported by her experiences, has only become possible due to a series of coincidences – the particularity of our optic sense, the existence of photography, the agreements within the art world and so on. As soon as one element is removed, the whole ceases to exist. Maybe it is in this space in which the understanding of the personal and of the self starts dwindling, based on the notion of autonomy, that another space can be created – one in which subjectivity could be understood as inter-subjectivity – a space where one can only exist in connection to other(s) and through their mutual liaisons and synergy.

By using Irigaray's quote, is Krista Mölder implying that she is trying to see, create or recognise this type of space? Maybe. Nonetheless, this type of space cannot be subjected to visual representation, or registered as an image – not as a photograph or any other type of image. This space can only appear between the images and in the process of relating to those images, whatever form of expression this takes – looking, interpreting or writing. The artist, although having thoroughly considered this gesture, still reaches her "hand" (image, thought, idea) into emptiness and the space is only realised if an encounter with another person takes place.


Katrin Kivimaa is a professor in the Institute of Art History at the Estonian Academy of Arts.


Krista Mölder (born 1972) is a photo artist living and working in Tallinn. Currently, she is the only Estonian artist whose works have been purchased by the Deutsche Bank. See more:

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