Kunsthall Trondheim is pleased to present the first solo exhibition of the Danish-Greenlandic artist Pia Arke (1958-2007) in Norway. The exhibition, with the title Wonderland, shows photography and film works spanning the period 1990 to 2005.
The relationship between Denmark and Greenland, and their shared history, is at the heart of Pia Arke’s artistic work, in particular an investigation into the ways in which the western presence has shaped Greenlandic identity and what ethnicity entails. She posed questions related to how history is created and to whom it belongs. Arke explored what happens to a place and its people when a foreign power exposes it to systematic mapping and scientific research, and what happens when the foreigner has the power to determine the way in which the other is represented.
The history of Denmark’s colonial past on Greenland has not been well known internationally and was rarely talked about. The Greenlandic side was also silent on the subject, as this part of their history was seen as shameful. Pia Arke wished to break the silence which characterised the history of Denmark and Greenland, which she herself had been born into. The colonial history is primarily described in sources written by European explorers. Arke wished to collect the small stories which had not been told previously.
Pia Arke was born not far from the town of Scoresbysund (Greenlandic: Ittoqqortoormiit) in North-Eastern Greenland. She was a result of the relationship between Greenland and Denmark, with a Greenlandic mother and a Danish father. For Pia Arke the history of the two countries was a personal matter, directly connected to her own family history. Her artistic praxis was a means to process the colonial history, but also a recovery of history for the artist herself and her ancestors. Arke’s artistic oeuvre is a work against the collective loss of memory which silence has led to.
The exhibition title, which is loaned from the work Wonderland (1996), points to the arctic landscape as a symbol of resources and prosperity, as seen through the international interests which the western presence was a result of. The title also points to the arctic landscape as a site haunted by memories of childhood, the idea of home, and identity. The landscape is the backdrop and the starting point of the relationship between Denmark and Greenland, and it is changed and recreated according to who is given voice to narrate.
The exhibition title also points to the artist’s self-built camera obscura, or pinhole camera, which she built in Copenhagen in 1990. Pia Arke had her camera brought to Greenland, wishing to bring it to all the sites at which she had lived as a child. The measurements of the pinhole camera were taken from her own body, making it large enough for her to stand, full length, inside it.
The exposure time was approximately 15 minutes. Whilst sitting inside the camera she could see the picture come into being. She could create shadows with her body, through leaving some areas less light exposure than others. The camera obscura is present in many of the works shown in this exhibition, as method, but also as prop and backdrop. The series Nuugaarsuk / Pinhole Camera Photograph / The Point (1990) shows Nuugaarsuk Point, close to Narsaq in Southern Greenland, where the artist’s childhood home had long since been demolished. Arke put the camera at the exact spot where her childhood home had once stood. The pictures show the same view that the artist had once seen from the windows as a child, thus becoming a poetic mixture of memories, the physical site and the body of the artist.
Through putting herself into the process of exposure, the artist’s body achieved a central role in the presentation, it is she who has the power to determine the presentation of the motif. This was also a matter of recuperating history, for what are we, if we are not permitted to own our memories, our history?
A longer version of the exhibition text is available in the exhibition brochure.
Thanks to Søren Arke Petersen and the Estate of Pia Arke, Copenhagen, Natascha Bondo Bjørn, Brandts – Museum of Art and Visual Culture, Odense, Erik Gant, Anders Jørgensen, Kuratorisk Aktion (Frederikke Hansen and Tone Olaf Nielsen), the Danish Embassy in Oslo and LIAF – Lofoten International Art Festival, Norway
Pia Arke (b. 1958, Ittoqqortoormiit, Greenland – d. 2007) lived and worked in Copenhagen. Arke is recognised as one of the Nordic region’s most important postcolonial thinkers. Through different artistic media as photography, collage, video, performance, installation and writing, Arke examined the places where she lived as a child and the historical colonial relationship between Denmark and Greenland. While she participated in a number of exhibitions during her lifetime, the first major survey of her work took place in 2010 with Tupilakosaurus at Den Frie Centre of Contemporary Art and The National Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen, both curated by Kuratorisk Aktion (Frederikke Hansen and Tone Olaf Nielsen). Arke’s work has recently been shown and collected by museums including Louisiana, Copenhagen; Brandts – Museum of Art and Visual Culture, Odense; and Moderna Museet Stockholm and Malmö. Most recently, works by Arke has been shown as part of the exhibition Migration: Traces in an Art Collection at Tensta konsthall (2019).