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by Ian Damerell

Catrine Thorstensen

by Ian Damerell


Catrine Thorstensen is an artist based in Oslo, Norway. She works with drawings, photography, video and installations. She invents a variety of works that span a considerable visual and conceptual range.


The artist herself divides her work into two main areas: drawings and photo-montage. She claims too that she works with special elements. This development of ideas from many sources makes the works rather difficult to classify and perhaps even to understand. They remain slightly out of reach of conventional reasoning. In fact, certain of Catrine Thorstensen’s strategies increase the uncertainty. An example is the ‘monumental’ drawings that are painstakingly drawn with coloured pencils by hand, where the technique is tedious and time-consuming enough to bring to mind long evenings of drawing and painful wrists! Another is Light flesh, medium flesh, dark flesh where the title is not about the body surface but simply taken from the reference names of the colour pencil shades!


I find it helpful here to quote Roland Barthes. He is refering to Cy Twombly’s drawings in ‘The Responsibility of Forms’ (trans. Richard Howard, University of California Press, Berkley 1991, pp.160-1) but it applies to Thorstensen’s approach too:

The artist (let us retain this somewhat kitsch term) is by status an ‘operator’ of gestures: he seeks to produce an effect and at the same time seeks no such thing…. The artist’s gesture – or the artist as gesture – does not break the causative chain of actions… but he blurs, confuses it, he starts it up again until it loses its meaning.’


I shall come back to this ‘loss of meaning’ later. I feel that her artworks ‘remind’ us of something that is absent in the work but that we cannot pin-point it. Nevertheless the spectator is invited to enter a complex and diverse visual world where a constant flow of images and appearances attract us.


There is a kind of figurative element that comes to the fore in such works as ‘Backdrop’ (2003) and ‘Disturbance’ (2003) while there is a playful kink to non-figuration in a series of morphed abstract shapes such as ‘Red Byte’ (2002), ‘Purple Pink Object with Two Light Sources’ (2003) and ‘Red Planet’ (2000). The series of 6 drawings that are titled ‘Red Byte’ are coloured pencil on paper, mounted on aluminium. The original idea, according to the artist, was to relate to 3D computer graphics but the relatively ‘simple’ technique – simple forms and lighting made this unnecessary. However, there is still a clear residue of computer graphics in the character of these pieces which contrasts interestingly with the laborious and tome-consuming drawing technique.


Finally there are relatively clear references to the science-fiction world (George Lucas?) in such works as ‘gfk-2’ (2001)

There is a kind of aesthetic quality that appears to be a constant. For instance, ‘Backdrop’ (2003) takes us on a journey through a digital forest that reminds me more of the PC games ‘Myst’ and ‘Riven’ that of any ‘real’ forest. The ‘Romantic’ and ‘sublime’ vision that we experience as we scroll through the ‘manual movie’ is a seductive one. Casper David Friedrich’s paintings come to mind but only if we see this as art’s self-referential game. Any decoding of this piece will, I believe, show that it exists in perfect harmony with the other diverse works by the artist - in a ‘world of appearance’ that is resistant to deep analysis.

I believe that it is relevant to bring Baudrillard’s theories of the “Simulacrum” and “Hyper-reality” into the understanding of these works. It is obvious that a great deal of care is taken in solving the formal qualities of the works. In a sense, we are dealing with qualities that remain on the surfaces. I believe this is the clear intention of the artist.


At first glance it would appear that the highly diverse selection of works that the artist presents is not really related. Yet, seeing them as a continuous flow of appearance in a visual culture dominated by a chaotic and unstoppable bombardment of images and information is a clue. I see this production in Baudrillard’s words as “a game to which is attached a specifically aesthetic pleasure”. Again Baudrillard states: “Thus art reproduces itself and… everything that redoubles in itself falls under the sign of art and becomes aesthetic.” In this sense there is still an opening for a large selection of newer and apparently unrelated works in the future.


Of course pieces such as ‘Disturbance’ (2003) have a strong metaphorical element with obvious references to Freud and the erotic. Yet this is primarily a humorous statement using the kitsch-like over-emphasised element of danger in the form of a gun. The position of the artist holding the gun reminds us of numerous Western films and therefore links to the world of cinema and film, just as ‘Backdrop’ links far more to the internet and the computer than it does to any ‘real’ forest.

In ending I would like to refer again to Baudrillard who states that “The cool universe of digitality absorbs the worlds of metaphor and of metonomy and the principle of simulation triumphs over reality…” This is undoubtedly a ‘cool’ universe of forms. More specifically, a closer look at such pieces as ‘Untitled (objects no. 1-7) (2001-2) give us a clue to a digitality that resists any real links with the outside world. This frustrating exercise in attempting to find the ‘real’ and ‘objective’ in these pieces, is again a masterful play by the artist, on our futile search for truths, meanings and explanations in a world where appearance is all.