Ryan Lee is pleased to announce Together but Apart, an exhibition of new work by Anne-Karin Furunes. The exhibition will shed light on the increasingly urgent threat of climate change, particularly as the indigenous inhabitants of Fennoscandia, the Sámi people, experience it. Together but Apart includes a selection of portraits, landscapes, and monumental paintings rendered in Furunes’s signature technique of perforated painted canvas.
Furunes’ imagery is drawn from photographs housed at the Polar Archive at the Norwegian Polar Institute in Tromsö as well as the Sophus Tromholt Collection at the University of Bergen Library’s Picture Collection—a world-famous archive of nineteenth-century images of the Sámi people taken during the first scientific expedition to study the Northern Lights. Though her paintings appear photographic, they are created entirely by hand through a process of meticulous perforation that mimics the looks of halftone printing. Furunes begins with a monochrome canvas. She then translates the photographic image to canvas by creating a constellation of perforated holes in varying sizes that allow for the passage of variable amounts of light. She alters each image to suit her vision, sometimes modifying the tone, perspective, and framing. Like photography, Furunes generates permanent images via the effects of light on a surface, though here the light remains unfixed and in constant dialogue with the surrounding environment.
Together but Apart calls attention to the imminent perils of unchecked climate change—a threat that refuses to slow its pace to match that of the acceptance of climate science worldwide. The large scale of the works—each is at least 5 x 5 feet—amplifies this urgent message. They recall efforts to recover a vintage image that, with each attempt at reproduction, become more fugitive. While the holes in their surfaces are physical indications of disappearance and loss, the images are enlivened by the fluctuation of the changing light. Furunes introduces color in a series of images of the melting Calving Glacier, based on photographs taken over the last fifteen years. Continuing her manual replication of the printing process, she creates stencils of perforations that she uses to hand-paint layers of cyan, magenta, and yellow dots on top of the monochrome canvas before adding the perforated holes. Depending on the position of the viewer and the quality of the light, Furunes’ images become increasingly abstract.
The exhibition also seeks to redress centuries of mistreatment of the Sámi people, who are native to and whose culture is one of the oldest in the polar region. Like many native populations across the globe, the Sámi were devastated by settler colonialism—disenfranchised, robbed of their land, language, and their religion, and were required to attend boarding schools that would “re-educate” them in order to force assimilation into Norwegian society. Sámi culture and identity was systematically suppressed and erased until protest movements began in the late 1970s. Now, the Sámi people, who have lived harmoniously in the Arctic for centuries, are facing the threat of climate change. As Furunes explains, “the time has come to listen to what they can tell and teach us. Up to now we have made them listen to us.” Furunes’ images, such as Portrait of Mikkel Josefson Neckele (2019) portray named Sámi individuals—a significant feature in her efforts to enhance the humanity of these “ethnographic” subjects. Her use of gray scale and simulation of the halftone style paradoxically enhance the presence of these long-absent figures.
As they oscillate between appearance and disappearance, Furunes’ paintings both restore the history and humanity of the Sámi people, and evoke the fragility of the natural environment in which they live. The paintings halt, for a moment, the insidious processes that threaten the Sámi and ultimately us all, preserving a culture that is dissolving into memory nearly as rapidly as the planet’s evaporating glaciers.