Still lifes, tactility and LOL cats: Torbjørn Rødland at Aperture Foundation

Two images. Left, a string of sausages wrapped around a woman's arm. Right, a peeled black banana.
This week, Torbjørn Rødland deconstructed the process and inspiration behind his famed subversive photographs via a talk at the Aperture Foundation. Pictured left: Decisive, 2010–13. Right: Banana Black was created in 2005 when he was living in New York’s East Village and was simply trying to explore ‘what happens when you make it black rather than white’
(Image credit: Torbjørn Rødland and Aperture Foundation)

On 16 February, on a packed fourth floor at Aperture Foundation’s Chelsea gallery, Torbjørn Rødland deconstructed the process and inspiration behind his famed subversive photographs. A Norwegian photographer living in LA, Rødland is known for his sensual still lifes and abilities in elevating the banality of everyday objects.

After discussing photographers like Cindy Sherman and Christopher Williams, Rødland presented what he called 'The Evolution of the LOLcat', a development from the dry, distant language-conscious cat-memes of ten years ago to the life goals-hashtags of today. Rødland sees this as a mainstream confirmation of his overall project of personally investing in ridiculous popular images.  

His background in art-as-linguistic-analysis manifests itself in Practical Photography, a 4-by-5-ft chromogenic print of stacked magazines, spines facing outward to be read. Rødland explains that even though the world of popular image-making here is reduced to words and headings, nearby photographs in the same exhibition has him taking on these clichés of amateur photography to see if they can still somehow hold meaning.

‘When I first saw Cindy Sherman’s early original prints, I was disappointed because there was nothing more to see than what I already had seen in small reproductions,' he says. 'I try to make my prints large enough to reveal more detail, but not so large that the medium itself is exposed.’

Open exploration is key to Rødland’s photography. He plays around with different ideas and configurations to see what is revealed. This is how he became fixated on opposites: ‘In the same way you might learn more about yourself by dating different people, I like to pair different objects and photographs and see how they react in their new context.’

He also shared the logic behind his use of commonplace items, such as a birthday cakes, cassette tapes and napkins. ‘I know, of course, that these are highly unoriginal forms,' he says.  ‘But instead of referring to an original, I try to compete with it to see if these motifs can still carry meaning.'

Rødland plans to revisit American politics in the upcoming year – he has previously focused on Reagan and the 2004 Presidential Election. He sees the current election as an excellent example of 'clashing world views and these different states of consciousness, so there will be something,' he says. 'I am just not sure when.’

Two woman facing each other with a splayed hand between their faces and their tongues out.

When Rødland studied art, he was told he could either be a conceptual artist or a romantic artist. Feeling restricted by the alternatives, he tried to take on tactility, psychology and interiority while building on conceptual art. Pictured: Last Blue Yodel, 2010–14.

(Image credit: Torbjørn Rødland / Aperture Foundation)

Two images. Left, a woman's finger in a glass of liquid. Right, teabags hanging from a peek cap.

The photographer strives to convey an element of ‘moist’ in his photographs. ‘I want to also integrate basic bodily functions, and bodily liquids,’ he says. Pictured left: Golden Lager, 2007. Right: Party Hat, 2011.

(Image credit: Torbjørn Rødland / Aperture Foundation)

A small white dog sitting next to a woman's hand on a black surface.

Often, when Rødland has a model that can’t take directions, such as a baby or, in this case, a puppy, he focuses on ‘a starting point that I hope is strong enough and see how the model responds, then hopefully miraculous or unplanned things happen’. Pictured: Backlit Puppy, 2006–2015.

(Image credit: Torbjørn Rødland / Aperture Foundation)


For more information, visit Aperture's website

Photography courtesy of Torbjørn Rødland and Aperture Foundation


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