Notes on the text
(1) Shirley cards are color reference cards that are used to perform skin-colour balance in still photography printing. They were introduced by Kodak in the '50s and are based on a solitary Caucasian female dressed in brightly coloured clothes. Light skin tones therefore served as the recognized skin ideal standard.
(Cover) Anu Ramdas and Christian Danielewitz, Against the Grain, Galleri Image, Aarhus, 2016
(1-10) Anu Ramdas, Mauna, Dansk Grafikere Hus, Copenhagen, 2016
(11-14) Anu Ramdas, One and Three Monochromes, C4 Projects, Copenhagen, 2015
(15-18) nu Ramdas, Light! MoreLight!, Atelier 35, Bucharest, Romania, 2012
Ramdas is one of these persons that appear as they are, very
spontaneous and open. Five minutes after shaking hands at our first
meeting in a popular coffee bar in Nørrebro, the hipster
neighbourhood in Copenhagen, we were already deep into conversation
about the use of photography in Western society, its complexities and
contradictions, and even how wrong the colour of our skins may result
if compared to Kodak's Shirley
Anu is currently traveling back and forth to China together with her partner Christian Danielewitz, also an artist, to carry on a project that bravely puts technology, economy, ethics and aesthetics together.
When I asked her why she chose China in first place, back to her first exchange program in Beijing in 2009, she frankly replied that she wanted to see how things go outside the protected and privileged courtyard where she was born and lives. Photography, in this process of discovery, has been an empowering tool as much as it has been put under question in its functioning and meaning.
work with 'the photographic' rather than with photography, since your
approach to this medium is very inclusive and multidisciplinary. So,
what is a photograph, in your opinion?
A photograph is an image of concepts. Images signify - to quote Vilém Flusser - something ‘out there’ in space and time, that they have to make comprehensible to us as abstractions. That is, reductions of the four dimensions of space and time to a two dimensional surface. This specific ability to abstract surfaces out of space and time, and to project them back into space and time, is basically what we call ‘imagination’. It is the precondition for the production and decoding of images.
is a universal and objective way of looking at a photograph. But what
does it mean to you, as an artist?
means that, rather than depicting an actual event on photographic
material, I'm more interested in the possibility of triggering an
image in the observer's mind. We need a ‘screen’ to project our
images onto, a mirror of the mind. I find Robert Smithson's concept
of 'crystallography' useful, when talking about the photographic: "We
define an abstract crystal as solid, bounded by symmetrically grouped
surfaces, which have definite relationships to a set of imaginary
lines called axes."
you explicate these concepts through some examples taken from your
my latest show MAUNA, at Danske Grafikere Hus, I was
preoccupied with the notion of weightlessness, both in a literal and
figurative sense. I was interested in putting together a show with
elements that each related to different photographic concepts and
theories of optics. One of the elements was a small hourglass
containing magnetic sand, which I placed horizontally between 40
hard-drives. Each hard-drive contains very strong rare earth magnets,
pulling half of the magnetic sand to each end of the glass. I wanted
to visualize the Bathesian photographic notion of stopping time - in
a frozen instant - capturing what I call 'the imaginative now'.
Another element consisted of three plastic cards in white, grey and black colours. They are used exclusively to colour-balance images in digital photography and are also known as white-balance adjustment cards.
However, the narrative of the exhibition revolved around the case of Rakesh Sharma, the first and last Indian cosmonaut, who attended the Soyuz - T 11 space mission in 1984. One of Sharma's tasks was to perform yoga in a non-gravitational environment. The press release deliberately gave the impression, that the audience would see the actual images Sharma took on his odyssey in space. But instead of presenting his images, I wanted to guide the observer into a kind of meditative state, through four projected images made of graphite powder, based on ancient, geometrical tantra paintings.
The tantra images were made using a scientific method discovered in 2004. The scientists succeeded with the creation of a single atom layer sheet out of graphite powder known as graphene. The material is proven to be as light as a feather and strong as steel. The organic substance is highly conductive and can be used in a variety of appliances. Researchers are using graphene to develop artificial retinas that can be used as optical prostheses to help blind people see again. Fujifilm and Panasonic are working on developing the new organic photoelectric sensor, which is argued to be a 1000 times more light sensitive than our current CMOS imaging system.
studied in Malmø, Copenhagen and Beijing and you live and work in
Copenhagen, but you have Indian origins. How do you balance your
personal experience with universal topics such as identity, history
are topics I have been preoccupied with for a long time. Some of my
projects are rather personal, yes. But my intention, like every other
artist, is to say something about the human condition as such, to
find a way to work around basic ideas of what it means to be. I try
to find a voice that hopefully resonates across identities, history
your project, One and
Three Monochromes, you compare the artwork par
excellence - the monochrome - to the holy cow; something which is
untouchable in its sacrality, but is also “rottening in the sun”.
Can you tell me more about this vision?
project was an attempt to accentuate my works through the
iconoclastic piece Erased de Kooning by Robert Rauschenberg.
Erased de Kooning can be perceived as a symbolic patricide,
and I wanted it to be some kind of analogical point of departure for
the monochromes I presented at the exhibition. The three monochromes
were made up of three blank pages that had my horoscope written on,
before I meticulously erased it, in the same manner as Rauschenberg
erased the de Kooning drawing. The horoscope was written in absentia
in Delhi sometime in the '90s, a decade that also saw the mass
extinction of the Indian vulture, caused by the antibiotic treatment
of the holy cows against inflammation. The vultures fed on the toxic
carcasses, and this let to the fastest decrease of a bird species in
This sudden collapse of the natural animal disposal system in India has had multiple consequences. The carcasses were left to rot in the village fields, and eventually contaminated the drinking water. But the comparison between the modernistic artwork and the holy cow is rather speculative. I simply try to articulate a chain of events and coincidences, interweaving the personal with a larger narrative. There is no fixed reading.
You have collaborated with Christian Danielewitz on several occasions. What do you gain and what do you loose, in a collaborative process?
Yes. So far, I have collaborated on three projects with Christian. We work together whenever our fields-of-interests overlap. I don't think that anything is lost when you collaborate. On the contrary, you will always gain something, if you are receptive. I see that the discussions we have are generating new perspectives and ideas. Of course you encounter compromises when you put up a show with another artist, but these are often mainly centered around formal decisions.
What are you currently working on?
currently working on a new project with Christian. In February this
year we travelled to the outskirts of the industrial mining city of
Baotou in Inner Mongolia, China, in search of the radioactive lake
Weikuang, also known as Baogang tailings dam. Weikuang is the gross
and lethal byproduct of the refinement process of rare earth
elements, which are used to produce almost every kind of technology
you can think of, from digital imagery to communications and memory
technologies. The process is highly toxic, since most rare earth
minerals are extracted from the same ores where the radioactive metal
Thorium 232 is found. Thorium, with a half-life of 14 billion years
(!), is discarded in the process and dumped into the lake, and when
the wind blows in from the Gobi desert, it whirls up the radioactive
dust and spreads it out over the city and the nearby villages.
Without being sure if we could actually have access to the lake again, we went back in June with large format b/w analogue negatives, sealed in tin foil and lightproof envelopes. We decided to inject the radioactive dust into the envelopes through a syringe, and hoped we could get something out of it. The resulting images are simply stunning - they resemble explosions of entire planetary systems! These images, and other newly produced works, will be presented in our show Against the Grain opening on August 27th at Galleri Image in Aarhus, Denmark.