I’ve just spent a few days in Stockholm. On recommendation, I visited Fotografiska, the city’s center for contemporary photography. It is an industrial building near the water. I liked it right away. The exhibition Like a Horse is currently on. Quite a surprising title! I thought I’d tell you about it.
As its name indicates, it is about horses. The opening words by the curator, the photograph Sophie Mörner, explain that the show has been ‘shaped by [her] own history both as an artist and a horse person’. She tells us her story, using the animal, but addressing life, women and the notions of femininity and masculinity. The first room shows beautiful works by Steven Klein: Centurion and Rio Bravo, both dated 2004. The image of an unrealistic white horse next to the one of a black, is striking and questions – I couldn’t not think of race-related issues. There is also works by Illona Szwarc depicting young girls dressed like cowboys, playing with the notion of queerness. This introductive room says it: we might see horses, but it is about something else: society.
Joined to this room is a small enclave which presents an installation by Signe Johannessen. A horse-face sculpture on the top of a pyramid made out of straw faces a video showing horses in their everyday activities, the whole with some mystic music: a true commemoration. Clearly, the horse is the star, celebrated for what it brings to humans and society.
The next room displays several works by big names of a well-known history of photography. Herb Ritts, Helmut Newton, Mary Ellen Park, … special mention to the famous work of Eadweard Muybridge from the end of the 19th century, depicting a horse in movement in a series of small images, showing our long-time closeness to the animal as an object of study and a life companion. This room, while presenting incredible photographs, situates the subject in a history of art and photography demonstrating its relevance and seriousness.
Then, the rest of the exhibition is a display of photographs with horses. The selection is impressive with some treasures of photography. The work of Yann Arthus-Bertrand for instance is creative and precise, the images of Angelina Jolie by David La Chapelle are amazingly beautiful and Bianca Pilet’s series of a foal around a family house obsesses by its softness. However, after a few room well organized with a curatorial logic, this part of the show (which represents half of it in terms of number of artworks) appears like a random bunch of photographs. The works are masterpieces but their configuration seems arbitrary and their links to the original topic (queerness) has disappeared. As a result, as a visitor, I felt lost, wanting to leave before doing an overdose [of pictures with horses].
What about audience engagement? Each artwork is individually well contextualized thanks to informative captions. Short bios of the photographs also help to apprehend their work. However, like in other art institutions, its poor (I will discuss this in a future post). The only interaction offered is in one of the last rooms: a case with several scents to smell and find their link with the horse: interesting but isolated. Moreover, the interaction is not introduced, consequently, the visitor is not prepared and it looks random. It lacks mediation and thus does not foster participation.
The exhibition ends with short films and ‘Raised by horses’, a word by the Swedish horse-rider Lisen Bratt Fredricson. She explains her relationship with the animal and how it makes her stronger. On this emotional note, I discovered that the show is funded by a company which supports horse racing and fights for a healthy horse industry, which is a nice touch. To conclude, I would thus say that Like a Horse is a surprising exhibit, which displays incredible photographs by well-known artists, touching your curiosity enough to make you leave thinking that the horse is quite a creature.
Until 3rd September 2017 @ Fotografiska, Stadsgårdshamnen 22, 116 45 Stockholm, Sweden.