Astrid Kruse Jensen
A young woman wearing a skirt, a short coat and flat shoes walks through an empty park late at night, while another sits alone at a bus stop. Beyond capturing a sense of solitude, these staged situations are imbued with an unsettling mood. We might start wondering whether a stranger will arrive on the scene, harassing these women who seem utterly defenceless in these deserted surroundings. Astrid Kruse Jensen’s “imaginary realities” encompass a parallel world of multiple scenarios and possibilities that are psychologically charged and yet elude specific narratives.
“In my work I attempt to question our fundamental concepts of reality and naturalness by bringing a new, disquieting focus on all that looks familiar,” Jensen explains. “There is a conscious conflict in talking about an imaginary reality when working with the medium of photography, which I find very challenging and intriguing. The subjects are anchored in locations we can relate to, yet in the photographic image they are transformed into parallel realities that live on in the imagination of the viewer.”
Jensen, 31, is a Danish photographer and video artist who lives in Copenhagen. She studied at the prestigious Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam, which was the training-ground for the likes of Rineke Dijkstra and Anuschka Blommers & Niels Schumm, and then at the Glasgow School of Art. Her work is being exhibited, along with that of Mette Tronvoll, Ulla Jokisalo, Charlotte Gyllenhammar and Ruri, in the ”central exhibition” at Paris Photo, where the Nordic countries are the guests of honour, this November.
She began her ongoing series Imaginary Realities in 1998, when she was studying in the Netherlands, and continued it in Scotland and upon returning home to Denmark. The series provides a terrain of exploration for Jensen since it revolves around her main photographic concerns: the passage between reality, image and imagination, and creating scenarios in which this can take place.
Women have always featured strongly in her work. ”I decided at an early stage to only use women, because when I combined images with men and women the discussion became ‘gendered’,” she says. “I use female models as figures [as a way to create] images that are engaged in universal issues and experiences.”
The staged scenes are loose reconstructions of Jensen’s personal experiences and observations. She dresses her models in fairly unfashionable clothes so that the year when the images were made cannot be pinpointed. Similarly there are few give-away signs about the locations enhancing the subtlety of placelessness and timelessness.
Jensen’s aim is that her “figures” are reminiscent of marionettes. The fixed facial expressions are echoed by their stiff postures – giving the impression that the moment has been deliberately frozen like a film still. As Jensen puts it, “They are placed to interact with the location and to emphasise the atmosphere in the specific scene.”
The unnaturalness of the poses and the sense of isolation calls to mind Gregory Crewdson, not least because, like Crewdson, Jensen is attracted to making her images seem uncanny. She invariably creates her pictures at night, using long exposures to “result in a very intense visualisation [….] that draws the viewer into a realm of imaginary that only exists via the photographic gaze.” Jensen also intends for the darkness to occupy the space.
“I also use darkness as an independent element in my photographs; the black surface is allowed to fill the image, transcending the absence of light,” she elaborates. “The darkness becomes almost palpable, concealing the contours of details that are not apparent at first glance.”
While her work has been informed by her studies abroad, Jensen believes her approach has become ”more Nordic” over the last couple of years. This is especially since she has been using specific, Danish landscapes. ”But I do not experience my work as especially Nordic or Danish,” she adds.
Jensen likes to work on several projects simultaneously. In addition to Imaginary Realities she is also developing Indefinite Spaces. ”The starting point in Indefinite Spaces is to question the invisible borders between war and peace zones,” she says. “At the same time I want to create images that at first glance radiate pure idyll, but upon closer inspection [encourage] ambiguous feelings of these indefinite spaces/landscapes, a kind of vacuum between reality and fiction.”
However, Jensen points out that – unlike in Germany or the Netherlands – Denmark does not have a “Danish school” of photography since the country lacks “a strong photographic art tradition”. As she puts it, “A lot of photo-based artists have been educated at art schools abroad, and this gives the Danish photographic scene an international approach more than a specific Danish or Nordic one.”
She feels that Denmark has been conservative towards photography, often only taking an interest in the documentary genre, but that it is slowly becoming more receptive to fine art photography too. “The perception of photography has been very old-fashioned and photography is still struggling as the ‘new’ medium,” she says. “But there has been a shift and now there is a strong diversity of subjects, concepts, styles and techniques explored by photo-based artists. Within the last few years there has been more openness towards photo-based art, which is seen both in the art schools and in galleries and museums. As the scene develops the viewers’ approaches are becoming more open too.”
Astrid Kruse Jensen’s work is being exhibited at Paris Photo, Carrousel du Louvre, 75001 Paris, from 16-19 November 2006. www.parisphoto.fr. For more info: www.astridkrusejensen.com.