‘That Which Lies Within the Self’, Uncertain States of Scandinavia 16th Issue

‘That Which Lies Within the Self’ is the opening essay for the 16th Issue of Uncertain States of Scandinavia, written by Lorena Articardi.

Uncertain States Scandinavia 16th Issue
DA NO 916337027

Edited by Dagny Hay, Tor S Ulstein, Charlie Hay, Nina Worren and Lorena Articardi. Design By James Young. Printed by Polaris Trykk & Distribusjon Trondheim.

Self-portraiture is framed between the self and its anonymity, between an uncovered truthful sight and the reflective character of the blank canvas. Between being artist, subject and that of a diminished control, torn by the seemingly dismissed or neglected act of having to give up looking through the viewfinder. Labelling photography as a mechanical means for reproduction echoes this of a diminished control –as a consequence of the apparatus’s gradual filtering of light, a record that has no recollection of its blinding presence. As we choose to no longer stand behind the camera, we do still hear the shutter being triggered at our release; yet all our eyes can remember is that imprinted afterimage, a warm tainted retinal persistence produced by the firing of flashbulbs.

The 16th issue of Uncertain States Scandinavia includes a selection of artworks that approach self-portraiture through the lens of a vast range of practices, featuring the work of Henriette Sagfjord, Charlie Hay, Linda Hansen, Nina Worren, Leonard Vincent Rode, Sunniva Hestenes, Hans Jørgen Ro, Aage A. Mikalsen, Dagny Hay, Jeelena Rai, and Paulina Tamara Cid.

Henriette Sagfjord bends and deflects our notions of portraiture and landscape, inviting us to transpose that which lies within the self to the inherent poetry of an immense and seemingly uncharted nature. Self and nature are then indivisible, and the longing for divine grace pertaining to the romantic sublime is replaced by a will to root, to connect with what is already there, here, around. The mist, the moss, the underframe and foliage –set not a backdrop but rhythm; a score concealed as woven with one accord.

Drenched in see-through honesty, Charlie Hay’s work discloses a deep-rooted connection with space and landscape that exceeds what can be captured and attained by the camera; a connection that has also been made evident in its engagement with the material quality of the photochemical image. His imagery, by virtue of mood and metaphor, is concerned with what is there to be seen –though, this used to arise as ultimately unspoken of. Charlie’s self-portraiture, however, voices those thoughts with a humorous vein that is far from deflective –if anything, it salts wounds with utter care. Rattling between the mundane in our thoughts, the irrelevance and strangeness of our experiences, tedium –at large, an overwhelming existential boredom product of the pressure and delusional expectations attuned to contemporary life; what is then showcased is that which isn’t really visible. The artist craves to have us see through his eyes and so casts light upon his very personal distorted notions of self.

Linda Hansen’s self-portraiture finds her posing as a vessel for a relatable whole and plural self –who is battling and afflicted by the usual same. Her work has us look closely at the fleeting and transient; taking the form of a staged symbolically-charged stillness which is drawn from the ephemeral. The lack of relevance or persistence attributed to the locations depicted by the artist, strengthens our acknowledgement of a relevant yet fugitive fading existence. It is relevant as it is worthy of becoming subject, regardless of carrying along with it the weight of experience –a weight capable of scarring both mind and body.

Once again, attuned to an approach that looks at self-portraiture as one capable of conveying a narrative that surpasses the identity and individuality of the self –while heavily reliant on the self-referential and intimate–; Nina Worren’s practice directs our seeing towards junctures that feel loaded with the distinctive angst of the in-between. What is to be looked at is the unremarkable quotidian. It is either the clear-cut lengthy pauses or those moments that go easily unnoticed, concealed in the blink of an eye, which are to set the tone for her alluring hazy depictions of the everyday.

Youth Revisited warps time by the agency of re-enactment; through holding onto the fixed invariable and evoking remembrance, through reinforcing memory’s unreliable and fluid character. In a rose-coloured collection of mundane anchored moments, Leonard Vincent Rode retraces his steps and ventures into the customary known using photography as a means to resurface and dust off old omens. By engaging in this act of performance as an isolated self –as much as a collective plurality of moments and voices–, what is in essence portrayed is their convergence and the subtle nuances of experience.

In a compelling balance between that which is explicit and that which could be described as metaphorically charged, Sunniva Hestenes’ crude imagery explores time-bound traces and tainted memories in the light of grief and the complexity –thus, often burden– related to bloodline relationships. Whether grief is presented as attached to the memory of a person or as product of the generalized notions and conventional attributions tied to the idea of motherhood, the determination that allows us to term Sunniva’s narrative as playfully inconclusive leaves room for semiotic readings between the lines and a bumpy –though seamless– flickering through pictorial symbolism.

With his series Saturn Return, Hans Jørgen Ro aims to dissect a time of distress as the likeness of distant memories that have taken the form of a clear image –a repetitive token of troubled waters passed. Whether cosmic or casual, memories live on in our bodies, latent; they keep us alert as we have come to terms with the uneasiness of having no real control. In contrast, his photography comes across as perfectly calculated, harmonically composed, with no room for stellar chaos other than that of a lingering calm tension. We are faced with a shift in perception, the stillness of the image breaks off a downward spiral motion; Hans is, therefore, able to look back at himself in a manner that feels both estranged and oddly familiar.

Challenging a lens-based preconception of –not solely image-making, but primarily– self-portraiture, Aage A. Mikalsen’s project deals with a take on imaging that’s fairly aggressive. It bears the capacity to produce an imprint that lives on as more than an immediate object or kinship. Have it be radiation or mere self imposed projections that are product of our mind, we are faced with an image for which we may lack the literacy required to comprehend. Still tangled to the idea of belief as reliant on what is to be seen with our own eyes; the question remains, is all other sensory reading dismissable at the lack of appearance, at the lack of foreseeable visible proof?

Foul winding cycles, beaming blue-light screens, the ticking of clocks, and the heavy sorrow of an anguished and restless youth dawn on Dagny Hay as she conceived the Empress of Light; a ruthless warrior, an alter ego –a duality that has now merged as one with the artist. Blinded and enlightened by an allegory that feeds on contradictions, her embodied pathos illustrates this turmoil; –she is impatient and fearless, she is the antagonist on the verge of entropy. Over the use of a luminous deistic representation that decisively references popular culture, Dagny is looked at –and, most definitely, looked up to–; furthermore, she dauntlessly looks back and becomes semblance. A leitmotif –The likeness of an idea, blazing light in the darkest hour.

Paper People comes across as puckish and blithesome. Jeelena Rai’s wonderland presumes the two-dimensionality of paper cut-outs as breezy, and the pixel-based grid of her medium as what breathes life into her self-portraiture practice. Nailing an unyielded material presence of the repeatedly overlooked digital capacity for texture, Jeleena’s series seeks refuge for the emotionally burdensome in flirty and colourful compositions that, yet again, pair collage techniques with worldmaking practices.

Standing on the shoulders of giants –in reference to how Undress draws inspiration from Jemima Stehli’s series Strip, 1990-2000–, Paulina Tamara Cid gives a queer shift to the many well-established preluding stances based on a male gaze critique. Instead, the series has us women engage with how we look at each other; bringing forwards –often unuttered– issues amongst which we find consent, domain, and the roles of both subject and object –the ways in which they are different and the ways in which they are essentially seen as same. Photography is then document, and the shutter release becomes a trigger for discussion, an imprint of control, an affect of our gaze.


Uncertain States of Scandinavia is an artist-led project that publishes and distributes a free quarterly broadsheet newspaper showing lens-based art. Formed in 2016 by Tor S. Ulstein, Dagny Hay and Charlie Hay.