Sunlight touches a pregnant woman’s stomach, a ribbon from her blouse coils over it like an umbilical cord. A toddler at an easel looks at us, almost like a paintbrush-wielding putto in a Renaissance painting. A young woman leans over the hood of a Mercedes and lasciviously licks its star-shaped hood ornament, the car’s glossy finish reflecting her face—the Greek myth inevitably comes to mind: Narcissus admiring his own reflection in the water before drowning in it.
Many of Rødland’s photographs evoke hallowed motifs from art history: their composition and use of light, candles, and naked bodies have a theatricality that is reminiscent of Caravaggio’s chiaroscuro and his realistic depictions of biblical tales. At the same time, however, Rødland’s images are also poppy, sweet, sexual—these ambiguous, immaculate photographs possess the same aesthetic pull as advertising, juggling the stimuli of bodies, consumption, and artificiality, and thus seductively capturing the narcissism of our era.
“Like a Renaissance putto, the painting toddler in Allegory of Painting no. 2 embodies the creation, joy, and exploration of infancy,” Rødland says. “I always look to what painters do, while pushing for photography to constitute equally complex and layered visual expressions of—and statements for—our time. Photography is no longer a young medium. Like painting, it can help us empower the past and reconnect with the archaic, the living mystery.”
It is this poetic and also melancholy notion that is palpable throughout Rødland’s work despite all its colorful frivolity. His new film Elegy for the Silent particularly highlights this: an old man looks out at a world that has become alien to him. His values are no longer valid and allusions to Hemingway, emblematic of a romantic vision of writerly masculinity, seem to no longer be either. The camera calmly and slowly takes us across a manicured garden, past pink 1950s limousines, all the way to a beach nibbled by waves. Imbued with the rich glow of natural light so typical of Rødland’s imagery, giving it a cinematic air, the story appears like a dream, without beginning or end. Just like his photographs, there is nothing ordinary about the film—instead, the clear colors pose a curious contradiction to the story’s nostalgia. Rødland takes in his protagonist’s decaying world impartially. Uninterested in direct political messages, he rather searches the past for the core of truth that is lurking just offstage.
Torbjørn Rødland was born in 1970 in Stavanger, NO, and lives and works in Los Angeles, CA, US, and Oslo, NO. Rødland will be the subject of a solo exhibition titled Bible Eye at The Contemporary Austin, Austin, TX, US, from January 23 to August 15, 2021. Recent institutional presentations include the traveling solo exhibitions Fifth Honeymoon at Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki, FI (2019), Bonnier Konsthall, Stockholm, SE (2018), and Bergen Kunsthall, Bergen, NO (2018); and The Touch That Made You at Fondazione Prada, Milan, IT (2018) and Serpentine Sackler Gallery, London, UK (2017). Further solo exhibitions have taken place at Henie-Onstad Kunstsenter, Oslo, NO (2015); Kunsthall Stavanger, Stavanger, NO (2014); Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art, Hiroshima, JP (2010); Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, St. Louis, MO, US (2010); and MoMA PS1, New York, NY, US (2006).