In the first sequences of Lina Selander’s new film a story is told about the ancient, now extinct, plant silphium. The plant grew on the coast outside the North African town Cyrene a settlement of Greeks from the over populated island of Thera in 630 BC — which became the main town in the Greek colony, situated in today’s Libya. The plant was famous for its medical usage (it was used as a contraceptive and abortifacient) and for its richness in flavour, which made it the base of the colony’s export. Its importance for the economic wealth was so crucial that the image of silphium was imprinted on the coins. When exploitation of the plant led to extinction, the city declined. As is often the case in Selander’s works, the film builds on layers of images and meaning, layers that link history and pre-history to contemporary society, and in which nature as a prerequisite for life is one of the focal points. The human strives for development and expansion, the desire for control over nature, and above all — visual control, depiction and surveillance, is always met by another contradicting force. The nature looks back at us, its eyes empty — a reoccurring image in Selander’s film.
In Silphium this double movement of visual and earthly mastery and its opposite — loss of visual control, awareness of vulnerability — is first expressed in a shot of the famous 16th century painting The Ambassadors by Hans Holbein. The ambassadors are depicted together with the emblems of wealth and superiority of the countries they are the representatives for. A contradicting image is hidden until you view the painting from a specific angle, but when you do a human skull becomes visible, the sign of mortality. Selander lets the image oscillate in and out of visibility; the painted image emerges as in a rupture of light in the dark whilst mumbling voices count — numbers, years maybe. The sound fragment is a loan from Chris Marker’s 1962 film La Jetée — another important point of reference. The film’s narrative tells the story of how a man is used in time travel experiments in order to save the world. He travels through sediments of memory and images, much in the same way as Selander’s film, only to return to his beginning.
The references to Holbein and Marker are subtle points of departure in Selander’s film, as is the history of silphium. From these points the film unfolds in an essayistic narrative, in which the artist make use of image material and sound from different sources — her own footage and still images, quotes and archive material. The Stasi archive and museum in Berlin as well as the Museum of Natural History and Archaeology in Trondheim have been important sources. Her deep interest in the notion of image as memory, imprint, representation and surface is at the core of the work. The appearance of the image, the fact of its existence in the first place, its relation to the seeing and the gaze and to image technology, is never unquestioned.
In Model of Continuation, the other work included in the exhibition, the disassembling and destruction of a digital camera forms a narrative line through the film, whose content in other parts focus on the effects of the nuclear disaster in Hiroshima — an event that could not be seen without the loss of sight or even life, and which light only left the imprinted shadows of former life behind. The impossibility of the image in Hiroshima has an equivalent in the emptiness and invisibility that Selander describes as the core of visual inscription. The restless hands that pull apart the camera is in the end left with small heaps of components — and no images.
Lina Selander was born in 1973. She lives and works in Stockholm, Sweden. Selander’s work has been shown at Index — The Swedish Contemporary Art Foundation, Moderna Museet Stockholm and in international group shows such as Manifesta 9 in Genk, Belgium, the Bucharest Biennale 2010 and at Haus Kulturen der Welt, Berlin. Future events include Seoul International Media Art Biennale and exhibitions at Momenta Art, New York and INIVA, London.
Silphium is done in collaboration with Oscar Mangione and produced by Kunsthall Trondheim. Thanks to Jon Anders Risvaag, Museum of Natural History and Archaeology, NTNU, Trondheim.