What the artist says
As I walked barefoot around our cottage by the Norwegian sea, I picked up every little stone that winked at me; studied it, found the beauty I was looking for and then carefully placed it in the pile with the others. It was as if I knew already, then, that the land and sea have a soul, and beautiful scars, and stories to be told…
My life has been affected by family illness since I was a child, my mother having been hospitalised for extended periods of time, and more recently my father having been diagnosed with lung cancer. Photography has offered me a space in which to confront my fears and examine my feelings surrounding this, and by so doing I have found ways to live with them.
It rains… explores mortality by looking at the body in pain, and attempts to ask how we regard and feel the pain of others, and how that pain can become our own pain. But while looking at my parents’ deteriorating bodies and studying their exhaustion, it has become clear to me that it is also my own exhaustion that I am studying.
A (Self) Portrait of My Mother and A (Self) Portrait of My Father are indeed portraits of my parents, but I simultaneously regard them, in some sense, as portraits of myself. In the red, violent, yet calming darkness of the black and white darkroom, where the photographic prints laid in chemicals for hours, sometimes days, allowing all the imperfections to float to the surface, allowing them to darken, to fog—they became no longer my parents, but transformed into our communal pain.
With this work, I have returned to my lifelong fascination with the landscape where I grew up, on the west coast of Norway, where the weather and the sea are rough and have made their marks on the land—just as life makes its marks on the human body. I have imported fractions of this landscape into It rains…. My mother’s scarred torso is directly juxtaposed with a cracked piece of mountain: the two photographs, coincidentally bearing almost identical shapes, segue into each other. A colour portrait of my parents completes the set of large prints; fused together, roles reversed, my father now leans on my mother.
A piece of raw yew wood—resembling driftwood washed up by the sea—complements the prints. The six small photographs and fragments of poetry, contained within the vitrine sitting atop the wood, cohere the ideas which are silently discussed throughout the work. Among these fetishised photo-objects lays a seductive blue photograph of the frozen sea; bricks and branches try to break free from the ice, and captured in an oval, it lingers in the eternal cycle of time — being neither dark nor light, life nor death. In Black and Blue, Carol Mavor suggests that a bruise is often in the form of a circle; and this blue circle of ice is my bruise.
About the artist
Silje Lovise Gjertsen (b. 1987) is a Norwegian artist currently based in London. She recently graduated from the Photography BA at LCC and will be starting her MA in Photography at the RCA this autumn.
Gjertsen’s practice delves into mortality, melancholia, temporality and human relationships.
We what think
Silje’s work struck me in its impact. It was a very well thought through installation, complete in its presentation. The theme in the work is mortality and pain, and from a very personal perspective by the photographer, but with an approach that draws in the viewer into the subject. Silje has a very particular sensibility with her work that is delicate in the way she photographs her family without falling into sentimentality and lyrical in the way she combines images of the landscape with portraits. The project is carefully balanced in the sense that it is visceral in its quality while prompting an intellectual engagement with the idea of our own mortality.