Many paths cross in the world of ideas that is the foundation of the artistic endeavour of Charlotta Hammar. Already in the exhibition title – The Sky Shall Turn no 55 / Silky Pink – an expansive highway is established, touching upon the human drive to consume, as the title refers to the shade name of a lip gloss. A Silky Pink sky sounds amazingly beautiful, but calls to mind the memory of photographs trying to depict the meteorological phenomenon of inversion, when hot air does not rise the way it is supposed to, but instead forms a sort of lid over a city, where exhaust fumes and other kinds of air pollution are made visible. The sky simply should not be pink.
The title also prompts associations to how capitalism efficiently and creatively spawns seductive linguistic imagery in order to deceive us. The shortcut from consumerism to climate crisis is not a long one; in fact, it is vanishingly short. Over a period of about 250 years, the world’s leading nations have transitioned from a lifestyle that was bound to surrounding natural conditions, to a world that is hallmarked by utter decadence. It is said that development cannot be held back, and interestingly enough, the lead-up to industrialism, as this period is known, has been named the Industrial Revolution. We believe ourselves familiar with the concept of revolution, but this has been no uprising against oppressive politics, laws, or authorities, but a proxy attack on nature itself. Few people today would not agree that we have created an unsustainable situation, in contrast to how nature strives for harmony.
Consequently, there is a lot of natural scenery in Hammar’s photos: rocks, forest groves, a majestic sea. A few houses, and some children. The shades range from drab realism to psychedelic pink, turquoise, and purple. The images are tranquil, lonely, and pensive. It is made clear that the children in the photos represent the future as a place in our shared imagination. A place in stark contrast to the 1950s faith in the future, and the conviction of the parents of that time that their children would lead better lives than they had themselves. No one would have thought that this belief came with a price.
When Charlotta Hammar was enrolled in the Master of Fine Arts Programme in Photography at the Valand Academy, University of Gothenburg in 2018, she was one of the contributors to an exhibition based on the poster as idea and materiality. As her baseline, she chose the pamphlet once distributed by the State to all Swedish households, Om krisen eller kriget kommer, resulting in the suite titled Important Public Announcement. Carefully composed photographs of objects identified by Hammar in her own home were contrasted with fragments of text and advice taken from the government brochure. The result was an alternative poster campaign, both tragic and hilarious, and with a surreal message; are you prepared!? Hammar was evidently not prepared, and neither were you. We have gotten used to a functioning and stable existence, where power cuts and standstills within public transport are considered attacks on personal integrity. We have placed our faith in the hands of others; we are incapable of shouldering our own responsibilities.
Plato and Aristotle, too, were discussing the problems caused by our acting against our own better judgment. Despite our awareness of the consequences, both in our everyday life and on a global scale, we frequently choose the wrong path. Within philosophy, this phenomenon is known as akrasia, and as a layman, I understand that there are quite a few theories concerning the matter, but that it seems nevertheless like a kind of mystery that people will not do the right thing, despite the awareness of what is wrong. Two of Hammar’s photographs resound with me even more than the others: they are two portraits of children seemingly playing dress-up with a couple of shiny blankets. One child gazes steadily into the camera, while the other keeps its eyes closed, as if to reinforce the make-believe of its own game. The composition of these images is reminiscent of icon painting, where the element of holiness is sometimes highlighted with gold leaf, but the aura of the blankets also denotes danger, as if there has been an accident, and these children now need to be warmed up, protected, and enfolded. Perhaps the images really represent the excessive anxiety of a parent, and the inability to cope with an invisible threat? The positive thing about a world in crisis is that the perception of nature can change. From being predominantly a resource in the construction of human society, it is now possible to view the organism as a holistic entity of which we all are part, and must communicate with.
I am reading Charlotta Hammar’s video work Beethoven Comfort in the light of this nagging feeling that we must change both ourselves and our way of life. To sit daily at the piano in order to learn how to play the Moonlight Sonata could actually be the first step on the path to a simpler existence, less prone to consumption. Does it sound naïve? If so – that’s a good thing, as it is our damned lack of imagination that has prompted the climate crisis.
Annika Elisabeth von Hausswolff
Visual artist and adjunct professor of photography
HDK-Valand, University of Gothenburg, Sweden