Is a volume also a volume if it only exists as a two-dimensional image? Is a sculpture still a sculpture if it prioritises the fourth dimension?
Elin Kristine Kromann works with sculpture in all its possible and impossible forms. Her interests include materials and their physical qualities, manipulation of them, and the contrast between the raw material and the man-made. At the same time, she focuses her attention on the process that changes the materials or the volume of the sculpture, i.e. the temporal dimension. The forms and materials she works with are not those we ordinarily associate with sculpture; on the contrary, they seem, at first glance, to be highly heterogeneous. Her work spans from multipart installations over performance to video, and most of her materials are recognisable from our everyday lives, or are more fictive or abstract, such as quotidian situations, social and audiovisual spaces, etc.
Questions that sculptors often grapple with concerning volume, its manipulation and its relation to the surroundings, are pulled in several directions by Kromann. One can say that she travels along two axes; the sculpture-video-axis and the volume-duration-axis. The first has to do with an investigation of the tree-dimensional, in which, on the one hand, space itself becomes a sculptural volume, and, on the other, sculpture becomes two-dimensional (an image). For the Japanese video artist Nam June Paik, it was the box itself, the television, which was sculptural. With the technological possibilities for projections and flat screens, it is now easier to go beyond the physical volume of the medium and investigate the volume that is created within the image itself as a kind of “fictitious volume,” created by the framing and depth of the image.
Along the other axis, we see an expansion of the sculpture’s three dimensions into the fourth, the temporal. This is a dimension of sculpture, which has been thoroughly ignored throughout a large part of art history. But a visit to a museum with a classical art collection will convince us of the omnipresence of time. It is hard to ignore that the patina or the missing arm are but one small fraction of the antique sculptures’ history, even though someone got the idea that they can exist in a timeless space. Duration always and inevitably brings change with it (expansion, contraction or movement of volume).
Sculpture and video
We, human beings, create a space for living in by manipulating the materials around us; by manipulating nature. This is also the fundamental gesture of the sculptor. This gesture can be seen in the photo-series “Nudes” (2008), which is made in a forest and depicts a series of “shaved” rocks, which bare their “naked skin.” On the one hand, the work is a humoristic comment on a very popular theme in art history. On the other hand, it is a gesture, which, through a minimal human intervention, transforms a natural object into a cultural object, for a short time. In the work “Spain in Spain 9B” (2000) human manipulation of the environment is also the subject, but in a different way. Here a manmade neighbourhood, Spanien in Århus, is the starting point. This fictive space was, in Elin Kristine Kromann’s hands, transformed into a sculptural form. She marked the periphery of the neighbourhood with scotch tape, which she then rolled into a ball that was exhibited in the gallery Rum46.
In many of the works, we see both an investigation of which materials that are possible for sculpture and of themes, which point to another sculptural topic: presence. Presence of materials, of objects, of people, of territories (in time and space): a physical presence, which is one of the preconditions for our existence and the possibility for social life. I am here thinking of e.g. “The Guest Cottage” from 2003; a traditional Finnish wooden hut with a fireplace in the middle, which Kromann placed on a square in the neighbourhood Nørrebro in Copenhagen. Here the round form, which is also present in several other works, reoccurs as a concrete image of inter-human integration incorporated in the idea of sitting in a circle; an image, which also points to the integration between man and nature or town and country. Such a co-existence could be called one of “the small wonders of everyday life” – a term Kromann herself uses to designate one of her main themes. I use the word “presence” because it associates to something near, something that is everyday, but which also is essential for our mental and social survival – it is a concept, which is often forgotten today, because an illusion of nearness can be achieved electronically, without presence. It is not only the physical presence of people and objects one feels in Kromann’s work, but also that of the human ability for observation – this unique faculty, which makes small wonders possible. The artist emphasises the ephemerality of physical and human presence, by prioritising the temporal dimension in her works. Here, the medium of video enters, as it is based on duration, on the ephemerality of the image, and on the medium’s fiction of presence and volume. Kromann’s videos are often formed as simple narratives, in which an object undergoes a process whereby it changes; one could call them mini-fictions about a sculptural process. Another form of video is the one in which a person (often the artist herself) performs an action that interacts with or actively uses the camera.
In these films, the camera becomes more than an invisible and neutral instrument for the creation of moving images. It becomes an object, which is just as much present in the film as the other objects, and therefore it is a material, which the artist must interact with in order to create a work. This use of the camera is the basis of “Bodil’s First Attempt” (2009). In it, we meet Bodil, who has just bought her first video camera, which she is struggling to understand. But the film is not observing Bodil, it is recorded by her with the camera. So the two are at the same time protagonists and creators of the film. The audiovisual image is a direct consequence of the physical handling of the camera. In the film it is made clear that the filmic image can only be created in such an interaction, in which the camera is far from being passive or neutral.
Fictitious volume and transitory sculpture
The concept “One Minute Sculpture” has become a generic term for the working strategy of the Austrian sculptor Erwin Wurm. He works with a sculpture that has both a clear temporal beginning and end, and which arises from a fragile balance between quotidian objects, persons and other “unsculptural” things. In Wurm’s work, the transitory sculpture is materialised in the video recording of the (often unsuccessful) attempts to achieve this balance.
In Elin Kristine Kromann’s work, the sculpture includes the process, the disintegration, or rather: there is no end result. One cannot say that it is towards the end or at the beginning of the sequence the “final” form has been achieved, on the contrary, all the states in between are one and the same “finished sculpture.” There is no such thing as permanent form. One cannot, therefore, talk of failure.
One can say that Wurm is testing the permanence and borders of sculpture and uses the video as documentation, while Kromann is utilising the video as part of the temporal sculpture. The space that is created by the video image becomes a sculptural volume. This is clear in a work like “All that is” (2009). The sequence starts with an unending, flat and bare landscape filmed with static camera. The artist enters in front of the camera in a close-up, and blows up a yellow balloon until it fills out the whole image and, a second later, explodes. Here, she uses a sculptural procedure on the video image. While being aware of its fiction, she builds up a sculptural narrative, in which an apparently unending landscape can be filled up by a yellow balloon. It is clear that this fiction only exists in the video image, one could not have observed the sculptural moment as a spectator on site. It is therefore not a documentation, but a narrative sculptural fiction. Many of Kromann’s video works are constructed in this way: as narrative mini-fictions filmed with a static camera, in which the fictive space created by the video image is used as a volume for a sculptural purpose. They play with the paradox in the fiction of the image, and create an ephemeral sculpture in the tension between the space as a volume and the presence of a person or an object in it.
By pointing to paradoxes such as the temporal dimension of sculpture and the volume of the video image, Elin Kristine Kromann is working in the tradition of the expanded sculpture. While examining the digital image, she also insists on exploring the possibility for a presence of people and objects – the presence we could call one of the small wonders of everyday life, ephemeral as it is. This is maybe another paradox that she works with, a paradox that fills up a large part of our everyday lives – the possibility for a physical presence in the digital image.
Text by Eva May 2010