“What clearer evidendnce could we have about the different formation of these rocks, and the long interval which separated their formation, had we actually seen them emerging from the bosom of the deep?... The mind seemed to grow giddy by looking so far into the abyss of time.” With its paradoxical combination of scientific and lyric attitude, this quotation from the work of James Hutton perfectly represents the creative approach of the Finnish artist Hanna Råst (1986).
Hanna Råst: “The mind seemed to grow giddy by looking so far into the abyss of time”
Curated by Šárka Koudelová
October 23 - 30, 2019
Studio PRÁM, Prague
The versatile Scottish chemist, philosopher, physicist and, above all, geologist James Hutton lived in the 18th century. Thanks to his theory on the correspondence of the geological processes which were happening on the Earth “before mankind” and those which are still occurring today, he is often referred to as the “father of modern geology”. Thus, if we can examine a certain process in the present, it is likely that it was also acting upon the origin of the objects that surround us. These perceived objects have inevitably changed their appearance and properties over time – yet do they still carry the spark of the moment of their origin? And do we, who are only able to experience time to such a limited extent, even have the capacity to look upon the primary image in the purity of its birth?
The earliest known surviving photograph of a real-life scene is considered to be the View from the Window at Le Gras, taken by the French inventor Nicéphore Niépce in 1826. This heliographic image needed at least 8 hours of natural light to expose. Even after it was replaced by the invention of the much faster daguerreotype, the view of the roofs from Niépce’s window survived its author and authors of the inventions to follow. Those eight hours of light can still project the uniqueness of the original image on our retina.
Hanna Råst intuitively yet systematically explores the wide context of photography, a natural process tamed by humans. A process which, like probably any other chemical reaction on the Earth, exists and which we know about because we have learned to control it and deliberately use it. Hanna is well aware of its independence from humankind and has been brought to the medium of photography by her enormous interest in the phenomenon of time. As a young girl, she wanted to become an archaeologist, after all. Probably for this reason, she searches for “protophotographs”, i.e. visual recordings that originated before man “invented” the technique of photography. Probably the first known example of a negative is nothing less significant than the Shroud of Turin. Whether the Shroud is a real image of Jesus Christ or a later – medieval – artefact, most scientists nonetheless consider it to be a projection, rather than a work by human hand.
Deriving new works of art from existing photographic images has become very characteristic for Hanna's works. Besides her own family album (which she doesn’t hesitate to use) and flea-market and second-hand-bookshop finds, her working archive is also often expanded by personal photos contributed by friends and students. Where does one actually find the record of an image today? What do we consider worth photographing? How much time has passed since the days when photography was an expensive quirk; for recording festive family events or the last moments of a human life? And maybe the most pressing question – will our full SD cards survive our time, like the thin layer of silver halide on paper survived the generations before us?
It is as though a photograph best mediates its content when somehow modified. Regardless whether such modification depends on partial destruction, circumstances affecting the exposure, the passing of time or the Instagram filters that imitate it. It is ironic that the processes which disrupt the original, perfectly realistic photographic record, are those that make it more powerful. They becoming a part of the message it carries. We strive for the sharpest macro images, and at the same time we develop retro filters. Hanna, in unison with the human tendency to strive for perfection while searching for any trace of comforting imperfection, uses the best technical facilities to turn them later into negatives, or cut and crease them. The exhibition, which naturally presents the results of her two month’s work, guides the visitor through a specific research spectrum. Correspondingly, the installation consists of a symptomatically light-sensitive drawing carved into a white wall with a knife and much smaller objects – castings of creased photographs or a very low relief in whose shallows we can faintly count photos pulled from an album and a written record bordering on graphic art. Hanna Råst puts a natural emphasis on the human point of view and the significance of portraiture in photography. What is more fleeting to us than our own life, reflected in the image of our face? The need to capture oneself and those close to us became one of the main driving forces behind the boom of commercial photography. The universality and identifiability of old portraits can take us by surprise. A vintage photograph of a married couple with a child in formal clothing could depict the family history of anyone of us.
Through her multi-layered work, Hanna Råst explores the current status of the medium of photography in a time of instant visual content overload, while processing its historical and technical legacy. She falsifies the effects of time to get closer to the moment of origin of images that are long gone, and examines both physical remains and fading traces, with the last focusing screen being her retina. She searches for the meaning of preserved images and uses collected photographs to create her own secondary meta-archive.
/Šárka Koudelová, 10/2019/
Photo: Anna Pleslová