A single-work exhibition by A K Dolven and curatorial interpretation machine by Pierre d’AlancaisezStanley Picker Gallery, 2009
Accompanying the installation of A K Dolven’s two paintings is a live installation which constantly prints interpretative texts from a selection of found, commissioned and appropriated writing.
Within the cube installation, A K Dolven's paintings become performers. They are not static receptors of the viewer's gaze, but grow, undulate and change with the surroundings. They don't need much light - too bright, and the white reflects it all. Entering the confined space from within which to examine the framed landscapes, we alter the light falling onto the surfaces. Their metamerism makes them appear differently at different times of day and from different angles - requiring the viewer to choose their position.
Dolven has not only exposed the plurality of white, but she has transformed whiteness into light. According to the thirteenth century Saint Bonaventure, light has a threefold character as 'color', 'lux' and 'lumen'. As Marina Warner points out, 'though light was a substance, it could pass through glass, while color conveyed the light reflected by terrestrial bodies it struck, whose beauty was thereby made manifest. "Light was thus the principle of all beauty", writes Umberto Eco, "not only because it is delightful to the senses, but also because it is through light that all the variations in colour and luminosity, both in heaven and on earth, come into being." These paintings are embodiments of air and light, making manifest the ephemeral and the intangible. [Andrea Schlieker, moving mountain, 2006]
Dissention: (in) the paintings of A K Dolven How to explore the meaning, purpose and experience of looking and understanding? Consciously placing such strains on the emotional, intellectual and physical movements through which we progress when attempting to engage with such processes is an exhausting proposition. The paintings of A K Dolven call into question our ways of looking and understandingm therefore when placed in a situation through which we attempt to explore the cognitive process of how we look and understand, they are re-contextualized to intensify their mode of provocation and creation of uncertainty. Small in size yet anything other than miniscule in meaning, Dolven's paintings conjure depth, vastness, infinite shine and perfectly formed curves. There exists the paradox of hard and soft, flat and deep, fluid and static. A contradictory emotional experience is created in which one is at odds with what is in front of them and yet equally hypnotized and at one with what they experience as something strangely familiar; melancholic optimism, or peaceful euphoria. I. Dolven's paintings capture one in a hypnotic world in which we are nothing and it is everything. The force of the subtle imagery exudes to an extent that we become unclear about our completeness anymore. A light milky substance seeps into the blank spaces of one's mind, stealing them in an instance to occupy notions of nothing one was holding onto unconsciously. These spaces are gone for good, taken in a uniquely unabashedly poetic moment, to be inhabited by Dolven. The light infiltrates the mind far beyond the initial ephemeral encounter. II. Luxuriously white light projects a stubborn presence that vaporizes any uncertainly about being in the moment. Dolven's paintings are at once about being in and yet outside an experience, a situation, a perspective, a feeling, a weather front, a sensation of temperature, or an emotional embrace. They ask of you many things at once, while allowing infinite time to explore all possibilities of meaning. We look, feel, give, take and finally yearn for something we are uncertain we understand completely. III. Dolven freely engages with the history of minimalist painting, imprinted in our minds, lurking unaware until these paintings refresh our memory. We feel we've been here before. Yet it's not just the memory that's refreshed, the meaning of the minimalist aesthetic is revised and used as means to create an unspoken scenario or story into which the audience is both drawn and simultaneously excluded. Therefore they are minimalist in aesthetic, yet not in intention. They are at odds with Rauchenberg, Ryman or Martin. Moving away from the grid Dolven concentrates on a fluid surface of movement. While perhaps mimicking minimalist aesthetics, there is the rejection of the minimalist intent to eliminate images. Dolven's paintings are far from this, her colour hue's clearly suggesting and at times imposing the presence of something, perhaps of a person, a memory or a creeping sensation of something still to come. Or, perhaps it is the presence of a landscape far away at a particular time of day when the sun warps reality, producing ghostly mounds that become signifiers of an unknown that is strangely familiar. They are, and yet at the same time they are not: outspoken and exclusive within the guise of the personal and polite. [Laura Barlow]
The title of A K Dolven's paintings are often perforative: 'this painting is like..', 'will you love me tomorrow too?', 'it's okay'. A solitary figure in a landscape casts a shadow on the ground. The ground, the sky, and the figure itself are white, as is the shadow. Strictly speaking, there is no landscape, the figure is a single line in oil, and the shadow does not tally with any possible geometry of lighting. So this painting is not a landscape: "this painting is like a landscape". The figure is like a figure, and the shadow is like a shadow: just another shadow.
[...] Nor, in some things, does the common, hereditary experience of all mankind fail to bear witness to the supernaturalism of white. It cannot well be doubted, that the one visible quality in the aspect of the dead which most appals the gazer, is the marble pallor lingering there; as if indeed that pallor were as much like the badge of consternation in the other world, as of mortal trepidation here. And from that pallor of the dead, we borrow the expressive hue of the shroud in which we wrap them. Nor even in our superstitions do we fail to throw the same snowy mantle round our phantoms; all ghosts rising in a milk-white fog--Yea, while these terrors seize us, let us add, that even the king of terrors, when personified by the evangelist, rides on his pallid horse. Therefore, in his other moods, symbolize whatever grand or gracious thing he will by whiteness, no man can deny that in its profoundest idealized significance it calls up a peculiar apparition to the soul. [Herman Melville, Moby Dick, chapter 42 "The Whiteness of the Whale"]
A K Dolven's paintings are moving - in both senses of the word. The Norwegian artist, who resides in Lofoten and London, started out as a painter, but in recent years she began using video as well. While the paintings reveal a Minimalist aesthetic, the videos offer resonant figurative images taken from the history of painting. Whatever the medium, Dolven brings movement and emotion together in an uneasy relationship that questions assumptions about looking. Dolven's paintings appear as lofty and hermetic as vestal virgins. Dolven places shades of white oil paint in undulating stripes on aluminium and then scrapes them off the hard surface. Something about these surfaces, with the remains of flattened air bubbles still showing, recalls freshly shaved skin. The paintings, however neutral, offer a feast for the eyes, with ephemeral reflections and shadows that come and go according to the light - but for the naked eye only, since in reproduction the paintings reveal nothing more than a blank space. [Jennifer Allen, Art Forum]
Dolven does not consider the paintings to be monochromes. The whiteness, so dazzling and brilliant at first glance, is deceptive. Once our eye lingers and engages for longer, different tonalities and colours slowly begin to emerge, and a broad palette of chromatic nuances shines through: cadmium orange and cadmium green, cobalt blue, ivory black and titanium white, all strong pigments subtly used." Moreover, and compositionally parallel to the emphasis on the edge in her video works, the bluey-greys of the aluminium base are deliberately left exposed towards the edges of the paintings." This adds an elusive plasticity which seems physically to lift the painted surface, making it shimmer and pulsate. Dolven's restrained play of colours triggers the kind of slow retinal hum we experience when we are immersed in the whiteness of a winter landscape, when weather is reflected in snow and we watch our breath in frosty air or observe the glassy blue of melting ice, when our senses, normally so overloaded with the myriad colours of urban life, readjust to the deliriously subtle hues of multi-faceted whites. [Andrea Schlieker, moving mountain, 2006]
White is a lonely colour, it repels dirt, it keeps everything else out. It reflects all light that falls onto it. In A K Dolven's paintings, the edges of the aluminium panels - with oil paint left untreated - are hard, sharp and irregular. The landscape is contained, guarded, and its elements, strong in their geometry. It is therefore surprising that the paintings have such a tactile and plastic nature: one imagines them to be soft to the touch, like thin rubber coating a hard surface. The surfaces are neither gloss or matt (owing this to the aluminium substrate and an undercoat of gesso), and somehow porous. This mixture of hard and soft, open and guarded, sharp and plastic gives the works both immediacy and distance. The viewer's eye is locked within the frame, often at the edge of the frame, then released gently.
[...] Not all whites are as tyrannical, and this one was less tyrannical than some: 'Is it that by its indefiniteness it shadows forth the heartless voids and immensities of the universe, and thus stabs us from behind with the thought of annihilation, when beholding the white depths of the milky way?" Next to the white that was Herman Melville's great Albino Whale, this white paled. Next to the deathly, obsessive white that insinuated its way into the dark heart of Joseph Conrad's Captain Marlow, this white was almost innocent. Admittedly, there was some Conradian residue in this shallower white: 'Minimalism', it seemed to say, 'is something you arrive at, a development of the sensitivity of the brain. Civilization started with ornamentation. Look at all that bright colour. The minimalist sensitivity is not the peak of civilization, but it represents a high level between the earth and sky.' But this wasn't spoken with the voice of a Marlow; it contained no irony, no terror born of the recognition that whatever appeared before you now had always seen you before it a thousand times already. Rather, this was the voice of one of Conrad's Empire functionaries, one of those stiff, starched figures whose certainties always protect them from, and thus always propel them remorselessly towards, the certain oblivion that lies just a page or two ahead. [David Batchelor, Chromophobia]
take a close look but much closer than that take a real close look you'll begin to see why there's much more to white, much more than can ever meet the eye like look over there, there, you see that white? sure looks for sure like the white that's called pure, but it isn't, not at all that's an off-white white, sorry just doesn't quite measure up, falls short absolutely pure pure white is just a dream of a dream even now, if you close your eyes tight and let your brain go to where it's whiter than snow you'll see, you'll know the whitest white that white can be white as imagined by you, imagined by me, as the purest of pure pure white is just a little bit off, just a little bit off-white off-white white [Ken Nordine, 'White' lyrics]
A K Dolven, born 1953 in Oslo, received her education at École des Beaux-Arts, Aix-en-Provence, École Nationale Supèrieure des Beaux Arts, Paris and at the National Academy of the Arts in Oslo. In 1979, she moved to Berlin with the aid of a DAAD and Norwegian government grant, and she lived there for almost a decade. She has lived and worked in London for the last ten years, but has kept her Arctic home and studio in the Lofoten Islands throughout her career. Alongside painting, Dolven works in video and film, graphics, photography and installation. She considers concepts the central aspect of her work, while she regards the technical elements as a means. Her work often connects the contemporary life and the habits of the city with the seemingly anachronistic locations of the Arctic. She is one of Norway's foremost contemporary international artists. Dolven has exhibited widely in many prestigious international galleries and institutions, including Bergen Kunsthall, South London Gallery, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Kunsthalle Nurnberg and Kunsthalle Bern. Her work is represented in collections such as Art Institute of Chicago, Goetz Collection, Munich, Hoffman Collection, Berlin. In 1988, she was the initiator of the project Artscape Nordland, an international art project comprised of site-constructed sculptures by 34 international artists. She is now a professor at the National Academy of the Arts in Oslo, and lives and works in London. She is represented by Carlier|Gebauer in Berlin and Wilkinson Gallery in London.
"Art is not about the painting itself. Art is about the world outside the painting." A K Dolven, Carnegie Art Award catalogue, 2003 A K Dolven's work is not confined to one medium, and the artist equally embraces painting, film, video and photography. In painting, she uses oil on aluminium, and the works have traces of abstract forms. With their large and extremely light surface, she forces the viewer to see what is outside the edge of the work. There is a minimal aesthetic and an absence of narrative. The paintings do not have a static presence. Affected by the light, their appearance changes with the shadows and reflections. The works intrude space in a quiet way while strengthening our observation of the surroundings.
The prevailing colour in Dolven's work is white, but each painting has its own tone which responds subtly to the changing light of day. In the morning it might appear rather tired with a faint touch of green under a while skin, at noon, it might spit red sparks into its surroundings, and come evening, it might wear a melancholy veil of blue. Other hues also shine through the white paint applied in thin layers with a wide knife and removed again at certain points. Sometimes even a portion of the dark undercoat is still visible. Sometimes the paint converges into more compact thick lines or becomes a virtually transparent varnish allowing layers of paint further down to shine through. A tight skin of paint stretches across the aluminium panes, which A K Dolven now prefers to a pliant canvas because they offer more resistance. Traces of paint applied with a knife are left behind which, with the changing colouration, five the picture a life of its own. Imprints of the metal edge leave behind thin lines that could be taken for cracks in the smooth surface. [Ellen Seifermann, from catalogue 'it could happen to you, 2002]
Gaby Hartel: Apart from film, your most important medium is painting: as far as I now you really began as a painter. How did you begin to make videos / films? Which aspects appeal to you in one medium or the other? A K Dolven: The first day I started in the Academy in Oslo I was asked if I was a painter, a sculptor or a graphic artist. I wanted to work with art which was first of all not a medium but a free space with possibilities for questions and discussions. I therefore started an alternative department with other students in 1983 called The Annex, based on international guest teachers in Oslo, where all kinds of media and views were present. I had three fantastic years (in the end that department was so successful that it was closed afrer three years as it threatened the other departments based on medium in the Academy). It is not right that I started as painter and then became a video artist. That is a too easy a conclusion many before you have made as well. I worked early with sound, installation, paint and video. I was honestly never interested in technique. The different techniques occurred related to different issues or questions in my work. I am personally not interested in working with figures when I paint. If I work with figures, then I use the camera. I find that abstract thinking works better in paint. A painting is still and therefore the possibility of abstractness gives me more space. With painting, you start with a surface or nothing, a wonderful feeling and an open space.
Each painting is built up of several layers of gesso and oil and takes four or five months to complete; each layer takes weeks to dry before the next can be applied. As in her unedited films, where the first take has to be right, Dolven never corrects or re-works a painting: if it does not at once have the desired effect, it is ruthlessly destroyed. Paint is applied with fine spatulas, rather than a traditional brush, to an aluminium base: 'a hard tool meeting a hard surface', as Dolven describes it, a working method more akin to sculpture and in deliberate contrast to the soft brush and canvas materiality of earlier paintings". Instead of the irregular texture created by the hairs of a brush we are presented with utterly smooth, silken planes. On to these Dolven inscribes rounded forms, in meticulous outline, overlapping or meandering, as well as cross-shapes, shiny ones offset by matt ones, barely discernible silhouettes, They come slowly into view, like a mirage or spectral apparition, or like a landscape revealed bit by bit by lifting fog, ever changing with altering light. This gradual perceptual awareness is integral to the paintings' own time frame and, like the films, it makes them impossible to fathom at a quick glance. [Andrea Schlieker, moving mountain, 2006]
Dolven takes often titles for her paintings from compositions by Chet Baker, David Bowie, and others. They are texts about love and loneliness, hope and melancholy, they are a soothing familiar murmuring in the background. And not being directed at anybody in particular, they can be read either as a personal statement or as a phrase with no definite meaning. But placed in a specific context, here in the form of a comment, or imbued with individual feelings, memories and projections, these general statements take on a new radiance and sense. [Ellen Seifermann, from catalogue 'it could happen to you, 2002]
how to mull over mull IMPRESSION reflecting discrepancy: a paradox - one white shadow - is permeable. the paiting is to be subject to the variation: doing and being done as the positive copy the viewer is challenged to be avantgarde, he creates space in mind and to forward. DESCRIPTION light reflections and two dark / deep lines comment the white shadow: one flat, evident and distinct on the right - that appears arbitrary. the left one looks conceived: a transitory scratch, flighty crossing on the left. here the shadow softens, cast as a shape of a razor blade. -on the right: sloppy and tender -on the left: breaking through the glimmering piece two lines break the vanishing point of the white shadow (the grey horizontal): that makes the painting spatial and material. SENSUALITY material like a gauze bandage at the margin the painting sensualizes: it evokes connotations of fringes of a fabric. ASSUMPTION one white shadow marks the cleavage fracture of assumption and reality: first is reflective, latter is reflecting. one white shadow elevates. ======================================================== don't fear for sense: the fluid is steadily fleeting. notice the white shadow: it impulses. one white shadow: which one? the impression fluctuates: to be effected and not to care about it. the white shadow as a steppingstone back: it retains the distance - inspect the white shadow: it repulses. [Camilla Zoller]
A painting is created for its beholder as music is for its listener. The images are set to fragments of songs, creating and added emotional atmosphere in which, for a brief enigmatic moment, the intimacy of personal proximity is felt. A K Dolven's work straddles the boundary between art, nature and technology. Her pictures need time for the lively alternation of colour and light, sound and silence, emotional proximity and cool distance to evolve. But then this painting projects sensual concrete and aesthetic experiences in a way that no other medium can. [Ellen Seifermann, from catalogue 'it could happen to you, 2002]
The idea of a transferable but yet haptic proximity from maker to viewer is particularly evident in the work of Anne Katrine Dolven, 'a painting is made for its beholder as music is for its listener.' Dolven is well aware that time is needed to assimilate her monochrome paintings on aluminium, since their subtle tonality vary in light and different times of day. But intention is not so much generated by a material manipulation as by evocation, what has been called 'a soothingly familiar murmuring in the background.',r It becomes substantial because the actual awareness of the viewer is changed by it. And Dolven's use of titles, as in 'we'll be fine', or 'it could happen to you', deliberately reinforces this, not merely as the self-reflexive component of the thing made, but as the richer empathic projection inherent to her painting. Her work possesses a form of outward projection that is continually in search of affinity. This in turn negates the old assumptions that the contemplation of a painting is either a passive or voyeuristic experience. It remains just as true to her time-based video work as it does to her paintings. [Mark Gisbourne, 'Sight Mapping' catalogue]
Like her films, Dolven's paintings seem to be characterised by a dichotomy of ethereal beauty on the one hand and an underlying sense of silent terror on the other. Their whiteness is numinous, transcendental light, but also inspires a fear of the void, of nothingness. In the pivotal chapter 'Snow' of Thomas Mann's 'Magic Mountain', the hero, Hans Castorp, becomes lost in a snowstorm. Describing the emotions aroused by utter solitude in a vast 'sheer white transcendence... obliterating all contours' of the winter landscape, Castorp is overcome by both 'awe and terror' and sensations of the 'uncanny'; his is a fundamental experience pre-shadowing death in the face of the 'menace of the elemental'. The snow engulfing Castorp becomes the 'blind white void', 'blinding chaos, a white dark', it threatens his perception as well as his survival: '... the dazzling effect of all that whiteness, and the veiling of his field of vision, so that his sense of sight was almost put out of action. It was nothingness, white, whirling nothingness, into which he looked...'. [Andrea Schlieker, moving mountain, 2006]
David Batchelor, whose body of research into colour has few parallels, said of the monochorome, somewhat nonchalantly: "It's the dumbest form of panting that could possibly exist. Anyone can make a monochrome: it really doesn't require craft or skill of any kind at all. The difficult think is how to make a good one... How do you make a monochrome that isn't like every other monochrome?" A K Dolven's works are proof that a monochrome is not easy. It takes time to make, and it takes time to see. A hard surface painted with a hard tool is the beginning, a tabula rasa. On the ground, a shape and its afterimage, a shadow. Layers of immateriality and inconsequence. Within them, a landscape, a lone figure looking out, a geometrical play.
Sometime one summer during the early 1990s, I was invited to a party. The host was an Anglo-American art collector, and the party was in the collector's house, which was in a city at the southern end of a northern European country. First impressions on arrival at this house: It was big. It looked ordinary enough from the outside: red brick, nineteenth or early twentieth century, substantial but unostentatious. Inside was different. Inside seemed to have no connection with outside. Inside was, in one sense. Inside-out, but I only realized that much later. At first, inside looked endless. Endless like an egg must look endless from the inside; endless because seamless, continuous, empty, uninterrupted. Or rather: uninterruptible. There is a difference. Uninterrupted might mean overlooked, passed by, inconspicuous, insignificant. Uninterruptible passes by you, renders you inconspicuous and insignificant. The uninterruptible, endless emptiness of this house was impressive, elegant and glamorous in a spare and reductive kind of way, but it was also assertive, emphatic and ostentatious. This was assertive silence, emphatic blankness, the kind of ostentatious emptiness that only the very wealthy and the utterly sophisticated can afford. It was a strategic emptiness, but it was also accusatory. Inside this house was a whole world, a very particular kind of world, a very clean, clear and orderly universe. But it was also a very paradoxical, inside-out world, a world where open was also closed, simplicity was also complication, and clarity was also confusion. It was a world that didn't readily admit the existence of other worlds. Or it did so grudgingly and resentfully, and absolutely without compassion. In particular, it was a world that would remind you, there and then, in an instant, of everything you were not, everything you had failed to become, everything you had not got around to doing, everything you might as well never bother to get around to doing because everything was made to seem somehow beyond reach, as when you look through the wrong end of a telescope. This wasn't just a first impression; it wasn't just the pulling back of the curtain to reveal the unexpected stage set, although there was that too, of course. This was longer-lasting. Inside was a flash that continued. [David Batchelor, Chromophobia]
A single strip casts a shadow onto the ground: a rudimentary timepiece. In the left panel, the shadow is marked in a pencil line. The line, light and casual, takes in its position only temporarily: the pencil will be rubbed off. In the right panel, the second frame, the shadow remains in the same position - but is now solid and permanent, marked with oil paint. Time doesn't appear to have moved on, yet the horizon, cadmium red, is altered. This is the time of the Arctic islands. In the summers, the sun does not set for weeks, and the latitude removes the shadows. This is the time it takes to see colour in a white landscape, to see detail, to see far into the horizon. The space also appears limitless. The limit of our field of vision, delineated by the paintings' untreated aluminium edges, is a viewer's own constriction. There is more white, there is more landscape in either direction - only we haven't yet taken the time to look at it. With only a frame to look through, the viewer is unable to ascertain their own position: there is no scale, there is no origin point for the axes. Thus the paintings of A K Dolven are fleetingly removed from everyday space and time. They develop at their own pace, not always taking time forward, and they place themselves in a place we haven't yet understood the geometry of.
The minimal aesthetic and the absence of a narrative is a predominant feature in A K Dolven's work, and provides a link between the video / film works and the paintings. "What a lot of the works share, however, whether they are shot with a camera or painted on aluminium, is a sense of exploring the edge of the frame. The way that I use the frame in videos is similar to the way I would use the four sides of a painting. This is not just a formal matter: I am interested in what we see in the work, in how you touch the edge, but also in how it touches upon an unseen element, an element of the imagination which exists outside the frame. With painting, you have to give yourself time to see, in a film time is given to you, it is served up in a different way." [A K Dolven, in an interview with Elle Carpenter in the catalogue 'it could happen to you', 2002]
Whiteness is the most conceptual colour. It does not interfere with your thoughts. [Yoko Ono]
First of all, let's get the term Minimalism and its careless association with whiteness out of the way. In reality, this didn't occur very often at all, at least in the Minimalism that consisted of three-dimensional works of art made during the 1960s, mostly in New York. Certainly, there are a good many skeletal white structures by Sol LeWitt. And Robert Morris was suspicious of colour, so he painted his early work grey, but not white. Dan Flavin used tubes of white light - or rather daylight, or cool white, which is to say whites, not white - but his work was more often than not made in pools of intermingling coloured light: red blue green yellow orange, and white. Carl Andre: intrinsic colours, the specific colours of specific materials - woods and metals in particular - no whites there to speak of. And Donald Judd: sometimes intrinsic colours, sometimes applied, sometimes both together, sometimes shiny, sometimes transparent, sometimes polished, sometimes matt. Dozens of colours on dozens of surfaces, often in strange combinations: polished copper with shiny purple Plexiglas, or brushed aluminium with a glowing translucent red, or spray-painted enamels with galvanised steel, or whatever there was. In truth, the colours of Minimal art were often far closer to that of its exact contemporary, Pop art, than anything else. Which is to say: found colours, commercial colours, industrial colours, and often bright, vulgar, modern colours in bright, vulgar, modern collisions with other bright, vulgar, modern colours. [David Batchelor, Chromophobia]
This painting is like a landscape. In 'one white shadow', the panel on the right-hand-side, a cadmium orange wash visible underneath the white surface makes a hazy horizon, perhaps a clouded sunset. In both paintings, a nine-millimetre-wide strip of hard white, extending from the bottom edge, throws a shadow across the ground to its right. In the frame on the left, the shadow is a pencil mark; in the other, a loose stroke of an oil brush. The ground itself, of course, isn't really there, it's just white. For the figure on the left to cast a shadow, we need a surface and a source of light. This situation mirrors the landscape of Dolven's home in Arctic Norway - in the summer, when the sun doesn't set, one can hardly tell where the light comes from, and shadows don't really fall on anything.
Angel Moments From the room where I am writing I can see the sea. Sometimes I stand by the window and watch how the motion of the sun sparks the sea into life, making it look different in every changing moment. Now it is a dark blue-grey; soon it may be jade or malachite green. Recently, often just before dusk, it has been like molten silver, a dazzling white light. There is a painting in the room, a gift from a friend who lives far away, beside a much vaster sea. It is a small square canvas, all white, from edge to edge. Yet the surface of the painting is only smooth in parts. Most of the paint has been spread so that the gaze moves slowly, caressing the rough brushstrokes, following the subtle structure of light and shade. The smooth areas are whiter than white, dazzling like the silver sea. The white surface is extraordinarily sensitive to variations in the light's colour and brilliance. On bright mornings it radiates coolness and freshness. Sometimes in the evening it turns to burnt orange, with the setting sun. In the uniform greyness of rainy days, when time itself seems to stop and wait, its luminosity grows, awakening hope. Like the sea, it lives with the day and reflects what happens in it. Despite the changes, I always recognise the painting as the same - like the sea through my window. A constant responsiveness to what is happening around them seems to be a permanent, unifying feature of both. (We are able to think of the sea as static and unchanging only when it is frozen solid. But even then its surface is while and sensitive to changes in the light, like my little painting.) Making paintings like this takes lime. Not only does it lake a lot of careful work, it also requires seemingly endless looking and waiting. And when there is constant talk of the crisis of painting, it may well be that it is today's 'educated' viewer who is in crisis: amid the agitating whirl of the media he has forgotten that painting is a slow art, that looking at paintings takes time. Instead of letting his gaze linger on the painting and surrendering to the enjoyment of it, he quickly, ravenously reads it. It seems that the greatest threat to paining is from ils becoming one sign among other signs, a sign which is no more than a memory of this past age, and that the threat comes from impatient viewers. In my friend's studio time passes differently. Before she applies each new layer, she waits for the paint to dry. She looks and listens to her work. She adds and removes colour until the painting finally acquires semblance, until it reaches the point of completion, and appears to its maker as its own self, a painting. At this always unique and miraculous moment, she must recognise what has happened and humbly step aside. Since these moments are never repeated. The sea and the painting differ in this. The sea's lime is a cycle without beginning or end. The sea reminds us of all the possibilities that the painter has in front of her when she starts work, and which, like ever-changing sirens of colour and form, entice her mind to stray. The paintings in turn are unique moments, pure, crystallised islands of experience suspended in shoreless time. When they emerge simultaneously, both expected and unexpected, they evoke thoughts of angels, who in their longing for physical, sensory existence surrender their immortality and cleave to the canvas. These angel-moments are the most important in an artisl's work, and she can only be grateful for them. They rescue the painting, and can even prove to be its true subject. It may be that without them she would still be standing by the window looking out at the sea. [Timo Valjakka 1992]
This is not Minimalism. The white of the painting is not the same as the white of the gallery wall. The white cube which contains the aluminium panels works to create an absence, its colour ceases to exist - or at least, it has us believe that the gallery itself has no colour. In A K Dolven's painting, white is just another colour, but it most definitely is a colour, and an important one. The white of the paintings is not the colloquial white of 'white ivory', 'white collar', 'white bones', 'whitewash' - it's not an absence or coldness. The white is part of a landscape, a way of drawing a figure in a landscape that happens to be that simple. It's a background in which the subtlest element comes to the fore.
White: the origin of vision, pure light, the convergence of all the colours of the spectrum, the most complete colour. Beginning and end face to face. White: the most neutral, lacking constraints - for significance and meaning, message and language. The colour that embraces all possibilities without expressing them. White possesses all the possibilities of vision, including its conditions: non-vision. To see is also to close the eyes - to see with renewed vision. To understand is to have not understood. The speak is to have been silent - and to be silent again. "And to speak no longer / that takes a lifetime to say" - thus it's expressed in some wonderful lines by the poet Gunnar Bjôrling. [Carl-Johan Malberg, 2000]
I was always of the opinion that the oil paintings of A K Dolven were musical. Precisely because they evoke silence, they want to make sound. It is the whiteness of them which invokes such possibilities. The paintings do not conceal the fact that they have been made. The making sounds clearer the more it is visible, as a trace, a path, a marker. A K Dolven's works are artistic spaces created from perceived action. [Michael Glasmeier, 'seeing sounds']
It was the whiteness of the whale that above all things appalled me. But how can I hope to explain myself here; and yet, in some dim, random way, explain myself I must, else all these chapters might be naught. Though in many natural objects, whiteness refiningly enhances beauty, as if imparting some special virtue of its own, as in marbles, japonicas, and pearls; and though various nations have in some way recognised a certain royal preeminence in this hue; even the barbaric, grand old kings of Pegu placing the title "Lord of the White Elephants" above all their other magniloquent ascriptions of dominion; and the modern kings of Siam unfurling the same snow-white quadruped in the royal standard; and the Hanoverian flag bearing the one figure of a snow-white charger; and the great Austrian Empire, Caesarian, heir to overlording Rome, having for the imperial color the same imperial hue; and though this pre-eminence in it applies to the human race itself, giving the white man ideal mastership over every dusky tribe; and though, besides, all this, whiteness has been even made significant of gladness, for among the Romans a white stone marked a joyful day; and though in other mortal sympathies and symbolizings, this same hue is made the emblem of many touching, noble things-- the innocence of brides, the benignity of age; though among the Red Men of America the giving of the white belt of wampum was the deepest pledge of honor; though in many climes, whiteness typifies the majesty of Justice in the ermine of the Judge, and contributes to the daily state of kings and queens drawn by milk-white steeds; though even in the higher mysteries of the most august religions it has been made the symbol of the divine spotlessness and power; by the Persian fire worshippers, the white forked flame being held the holiest on the altar; and in the Greek mythologies, Great Jove himself being made incarnate in a snow-white bull; and though to the noble Iroquois, the midwinter sacrifice of the sacred White Dog was by far the holiest festival of their theology, that spotless, faithful creature being held the purest envoy they could send to the Great Spirit with the annual tidings of their own fidelity; and though directly from the Latin word for white, all Christian priests derive the name of one part of their sacred vesture, the alb or tunic, worn beneath the cassock; and though among the holy pomps of the Romish faith, white is specially employed in the celebration of the Passion of our Lord; though in the Vision of St. John, white robes are given to the redeemed, and the four-and-twenty elders stand clothed in white before the great-white throne, and the Holy One that sitteth there white like wool; yet for all these accumulated associations, with whatever is sweet, and honorable, and sublime, there yet lurks an elusive something in the innermost idea of this hue, which strikes more of panic to the soul than that redness which affrights in blood. This elusive quality it is, which causes the thought of whiteness, when divorced from more kindly associations, and coupled with any object terrible in itself, to heighten that terror to the furthest bounds. Witness the white bear of the poles, and the white shark of the tropics; what but their smooth, flaky whiteness makes them the transcendent horrors they are? That ghastly whiteness it is which imparts such an abhorrent mildness, even more loathsome than terrific, to the dumb gloating of their aspect. So that not the fierce-fanged tiger in his heraldic coat can so stagger courage as the white-shrouded bear or shark. [Herman Melville, Moby Dick, chapter 42 "The Whiteness of the Whale"]
Notoriously difficult to photograph, the paintings are composed of countless layers and shades of white; the razor-flat surfaces appear to be monochrome but contain abstract forms which can be perceived only by looking at the paintings from different angles. Without moving around one can hardly tell them apart. Dolven suggests that protecting the auratic value of painting - seeing it in person instead of just identifying its reproduction - means undoing not just figuration but perceptibility itself. Each painting is a tabula rasa; each viewing original, unique, and necessary; each photograph of the work utterly useless. [Jennifer Allen, Art Forum, 2004]
A work which approaches the condition of a blank piece of paper or canvas is - along with the readymade - one logical 'degree zero' for what art can be. The first famous white abstract is Kasimir Malevichís revolutionary Suprematist Composition: White on White of 1918. The idea behind the Russianís technologically-inspired Suprematism was to show the sovereignty of pure perception, which he thought required that pictures not take their forms from the natural world. "No more ëlikeness of realityí, no idealistic images", proclaimed Malevich. "Nothing but a desert! But this desert is filled with the spirit of non-objective sensation which pervades everything." And white was for him the colour of infinity, and hence of transcendence, as emphasised by the floating, imprecise forms of the white-on-white square. [Paul Carey-Kent, Art World, 2008]
To focus entirely on the white is a distraction, a generalisation which detracts from the forms. 'just another shadow' and 'one white shadow' don't lack content: to study the content may take time and light, but it's not a void we are looking at. The white is white as a means of exposing other elements of the painting. A K Dolven's work demonstrates just how much can be achieved within a white rectangle by manipulating scale, brushwork, paint-type, substrate and hanging system, all of which become visual elements which explore the effects of texture and light. There is never any question of what to paint, only how to paint. In many ways, the white paintings of A K Dolven are a far way from the white manifestos of Modernism. Kasimir Malevich wrote in 1919: "I conquered the lining of the coloured sky and tore it off, put colour into the resulting bag, and tied a knot." Dolven's white does not expel anything, it holds it, caressing it even when the surfaces are sharp and the geometrical figures strong. The white itself can become a landscape, a figure, a shadow.
In A K Dolven's work the various media cannot be separated from one another. There is an element of painting in her videos; her painting is definitely intent on a process of observation, amongst other things. Her oil painting in front of the backdrop of her video works can therefore also be seen as both presence and retake. The interrupted sequence of various tones of white, the play with symmetry of form, and even the flow of the lines in her figures reaches beyond the illusion of purely static images. Her sculptural work on the other hand comes close to installation and performance art. [Hans Rudolf Reust in 'januar' catalogue]
Pure white: this is certainly a Western problem, and there's no getting away from it. Conrad, who analyzed the Western problem better than most in his time and better than many in ours, could also recognize a white when he saw one. The imagery in ëHeart of Darknessí is coloured almost exclusively in blacks and whites. This is not the same as the other great opposition in the narrative, that between darkness and light, although at times it comes close. Conrad's target is the generalization of whiteness and the predicates and prejudices that merge with the term and seem inseparable from it. This generalized whiteness forms a backdrop to the narrative, a bleached screen which is pierced and torn, time and again, by particular instances of white things. These things - white teeth, white hair, white bones, white collars, white marble, white ivory, white fog always carry with them an uncanny sense of coldness, inertia and death. White, like black, like light and like darkness, becomes a highly complex term. For Conrad, to speak of white with certainty is, knowingly or otherwise, to be a hypocrite or a fool. Marlow recognizes this when he remarks that a certain European city 'always makes me think of a whited sepulchre'. The intended reference here is to the Bible: 'Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye appear outwardly righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.í Within the first few pages of the tale, long before Marlow has set off for Africa, his own whiteness already lies in ruins. [t was something to be laid to rest, as he later puts it, in 'the dustbin of progress, amongst all the sweepings and all the dead cats of civilisation'. [David Batchelor, Chromophobia]
The Norwegian coast is a sea of islands: manageable realities in which we can both breathe and see the light and the air intoxicated with each other playing out their dramatic phenomena. West Berlin was an island, an artificial air thick with a political state of emergency and also a meeting point for those who wanted to work and think in calm. The Norwegian coast is collection of small, natural, climate-units, West Berlin was a large, unnatural, all-weather formation. Two formations have in common is a type of time, time which one does not subject oneself to, but one deals with. It is between these poles that A K Dolven's work developed. The axis is not Berlin - New York or Berlin - Moscow. That would be easy to parse. The artist is not moving from metropolis to metropolis, speed against speed, but island to island, time for time. The respective island experiences cross and become part of her art. The nature of the light in the constant changes created images for her painting, and it rejects the danger of the artist remaining on the observation post. In reality, the island-city is the same light in new drapes. We can no longer believe that light is a phenomenon that is just 'there' in the alternation of day and night as it automatically adjusts. Each light requires not only a source but also a reflector, a modifier. Light does not simply lie on a surface. Light acts on the material surface, the texture of the skin of things. Light that falls on jagged rocks creates a permanent change of shape and place, and is different from that which casts the shadow of streetscapes only altering slowly. The position of the observer is key. Each eye influences the light's modulation, each change of position shifts the disposition of the observed object. There is therefore no absolute color. Color is always dependent on the colors of other surfaces, the environment and the source. For such subtle discoveries, we need the help of the islanders. They afford the persistent, distanced approach, so visible in the paintings of A K Dolven is appropriate. In this continual dependence on light, space, material, the viewer is at a standstill. These images have a radiant presence that spreads out in space. They tell of the richness of white, sometimes grey, sometimes mixed with other colors: there is no absolute. The more the colour appears to be pure, the more it is dependent on other colors and external conditions. Thus, it is in their determination and their concomitant tendency to reflect the color of the imagination. She acts. [Michael Glasmeier, 1991]
A K Dolven lives in London and Lofoten, Norway. Over recent years Dolven has established herself as one of Norway's most sought after contemporary artists. She has studied in École des Beaux Arts Aix-en-Provence, École National Supèrieur des Beaux Arts Paris and the State Academy of fine Arts, Oslo, and spent nine years in Berlin before settling in London. Dolven has exhibited her work internationally; including major solo shows with leading international institutions. She has received awards for her work, one of these being the Fred Thieler Award, Berlin. Dolven has contributed significantly to the Norwegian arts scene, active both as an artist and politically.
The action in the paintings of A K Dolven comes from symmetry. It first creates a colour space for the imagination; the areas are delineated with a sharp line. But what is at first glance a mere geometric abstraction proves on closer examination to actively modulate light. The geometric abstraction starts to disappear and the individual white, grey, colored surfaces are themselves materialized and force the light to start bundling it or dispel it. The surfaces each have an individual structure. In their complexity, they insist on their existence as a surface, in combination, or as a confrontation. They spatialise the whole picture and yet they are an outcome of a process: oil painting. The white acts as a language of light open to sophisticated experiences and reflections. The complexity of the paintings is a victorious testimony to the perceptual senses of the islanders, for whom time is not only a moment, but essentially permanent. [Michael Glasmeier, 1991]
I have spent a long time looking at A K Dolven's aluminium-panel paintings. Some I saw in her studio every week over a period of months, in different seasons and different times of day, hanging on different walls. I even photographed a few of them (if only to confirm that to photograph them is nearly impossible). It is because of this that I was so surprised when I first noticed, that the paintings started changing: suddenly, there was colour where there had been only white. At first, I suspected the cadmium orange slowly diffusing in-between the gesso and the oils. I wondered if my memory wasn't playing tricks on me, possibly confusing one panel with another. But no, each painting takes time, it takes light. And this time is easy to miss - a video work will have a listed duration (and usually a bench for the gallery visitors to relax on), but nobody tells us how long to look at a painting. To take time to look at Dolven's painting is like taking time to look at a landscape: the light, the air, and our own eyes change and adjust.