You have to be there
Anne Katrine Dolven is sitting in a café by the river Thames, in London where she has her studio. The day is dull gray. It is raining, and we are looking at the drops falling down, making little circles as they hit the river. We are wondering if the surface of the river is actually a slight diagonal. We are thinking the river has to slant a little, otherwise it would not flow.
We are talking about Iceland, and about her forthcoming exhibition in Reykjavik. She does not know yet which works she wants to show there. We are talking about the color of the sky and the roughness of the land. She is a bit worried. She is wondering if the landscape in Iceland is very dominant, very much present, too active. Her works are very sensitive to
their surroundings and easily affected by it.
The North, as such, cold winds of winter and sun-filled nights of summer are familiar to Anne Katrine. She was born in the southern part of Norway, but before moving to England divided her time for a number of years between Berlin and Kabelvåg, a small fishing village in the Lofoten Islands. She still has a house in Lofoten and spends time there regularly.
Her Berlin studio was situated by the Spree, the river that crosses the city, and, being in a boathouse, her Lofoten studio was situated literally by the Atlantic Ocean. When I ponder on this, it seems somehow that water in its various forms has always been present wherever she has been working, and through that, it has left its marks in her way of working, too.
Anne Katrine’s paintings elude verbal description, and any attempt to come up with one ends up like a black-and-white reproduction in a newspaper (reviews of her exhibitions usually do not include illustrations). This problem leads directly to one of the basic issues in her work: in order to see the work and to experience it, you have to be there. You have to face
the work and give it your time.
Anne Katrine also makes videos, projected on gallery walls, or shown on monitors or digital screens. There is not much difference between her paintings and her videos. They are both flat and frontal, and they both deal with light, space, time and perception. On the other hand, they also speak about real life, about happiness and sadness, dreams and losses, pleasures and anxieties. The admixture of the formal and the psychological not only gives her work its special strength, it also challenges our traditional ways of looking and reading images.
As we have seen recently, a lot of new painting imitates the fast and fragmented aesthetics of MTV. It is work that has forgotten its own tempo and its own time. Painting for Anne Katrine, on the other hand, is a slow art, and she also likes to employ its unhurried tempo in her videos. Just look at Melancholi, where the horizon and the sunset are seen between an
opening and closing pair of knees. Look at the few occasional birds marking time, and breathe easily.
It’s still raining. We are thinking of the water in Iceland, the geysers, water moving up, water boiling, steaming. Water very different from Anne Katrine’s. Her works need time and silence. They reveal their secrets slowly. If they were water, they would be the quiet ripples in the Spree at night, the slowly moving gray mass of river Thames, or the Atlantic on a good day. So why don’t you sit down, have some wine, and follow the play of light on the white surface, or the curling smoke from the burning cigarette?
There is an innocence in the Icelandic landscape. It reflects the freshness and the energy of a land that is still young, still growing and still curious about the world. It makes the continent seem old and tired by comparison, all worn out from all the history that has trampled it down, with its boots and ideas.
This innocence is also something I recognize in Anne Katrine’s work. Every time I see new paintings and videos made by her, I am surprised at first, and then I get inspired. In spite of all her experience, both in her life and inside her studio, she has managed to hold on to her almost childlike freshness. It needs courage to stay young when every day makes you older. I think her spirit is very much like that of Iceland, and I do not think she should worry about the landscape. It may be closer to her work than she thinks.