What Remains

What we choose to conserve in order to represent ’our time’ is not an easy task.
We have the possibility and the freedom to choose how it could be communicated, but no control over the way it will be understood.

In 1977 the Golden Records was sent out to space. The Golden Records is an archive coded onto a record that was created as a greeting to extraterrestrial life and/or our descendants in the waste future. The record was placed on board of the Voyager spacecraft and is currently orbiting in space, not heading toward any particular star, but estimated to pass within 1.6 light-years of the star Gliese 445, currently in the constellation Camelopardalis, in about 40,000 years. The project was directed by NASA in collaboration with the astronomer and writer Carl Sagan and his team. This archive contains a choice of sounds, music, images and greetings in 54 different languages that is intended to represent the diversity of life and culture on Earth. According to Carl Sagan they decided not to include any artwork, due to the team’s lack of competence on the subject. However, a total of 118 photographs was chosen to fill in the gaps of unique information about our civilization that the other aspects could not.

Photography as a medium makes it somewhat possible for us to travel into an unknown future and to ensure that we will never be forgotten. Even if photographs are meant to preserve a moment, there exists a fine line between the preservation of a memory and its reconstruction. And to the questions of who the Earth’s habitants are, there are of course as many answers as there are people. The power lies with the storyteller, in this case Carl Sagan and NASA, thus the archive becomes, among other things, a view on the world from the eyes of America.

It is tempting to make one’s own list. To describe the world, our time, its place in space, its cultures and lifestyles, its arts and technologies, everything. Or at least enough to get the idea across.
But then add one stipulation: assume not only that your audience does not speak your language, but that it has never even heard of Earth or the rest of the solar system. An audience that lives, say, on a planet orbiting another star, light-years from anything you would recognize as home.

In 2017 we celebrate the 40 year anniversary of the Golden Records, but also the 40 year anniversary of Fotogalleriet. In this context it is natural to start thinking about “photography today”, looking into the future and comparing it with the past. Contemporary art and photography, because it is always in formation, necessarily admits its own instabilities, its limits and powers, and how images and practices clarify social relationships as well as destabilize positions and scramble histories. Images do not smoothly translate between eras, or between places. There will always be friction and slippage within interpretation; time itself distorts, erodes, and recodes meanings, like bits of memory that changes every time you think about them. So to intentionally exclude art historians and artists from writing our history seems a mistake, as artists invent new tools with which to mine the rich interface between past, present, and future.

The first picture in the Golden Records archive is of a calibration circle. The idea behind it was to start the story with a simple geometrical form, something easy. The diagram on the cover of the record, which is supposed to show how the audio signal is to be reconverted back to video, also ends with a picture of a circle. Thus, if the recipients follow the instruction correctly, the first image they reproduce will be the circle shown on the cover of the record. This will supposedly tell them they are proceeding correctly in addition to confirming the ration of height to width.

Even though there has been put a lot of thought into simplifying things, everything becomes abstract when it is taken out of its own time and context. Just like so many other things. There are several ways to read the calibration circle, one being that there is only one correct way to see things. But it could also be read as a reminder that it is important to calibrate our own perception when looking at something or someone. Ideally, like a device that made all things universal and timeless, like a pair of special sunglasses.

Grappling with history whilst attempting to map the current also involves forecasting about—and in some respects producing —the future. The responsibility is daunting, because for every story you choose to tell, there is a story that is not told. Not knowing who your audience is, makes it an even bigger challenge, but it is important to continue to do so, because no ones sends a message on a long journey without a positive hope for the future, for it being a future, and an audience.

The exhibition is accompanied by the publication GR-09022017 which includes work by over 100 photographers and artists, amongst them Adam Jeppesen, Alec Soth, Annika von Hausswolff, Anouk Kruithof, Daisuke Yokota, Emil Salto, Espen Tveit, Lina Selander, Lorenzo Vitturi, Lucas Blalock, Pieter Hugo, Pipilotti Rist, Torbjørn Rødland, Tracey Moffatt and Wolfgang Tillmans. For more information click here.

The exhibition and publication is curated by Silja Leifsdottir.