PARALLEL LANDSCAPES

Text by Mads Damsbo

Thomas Baines already had the scent of Africa’s red earth in his nostrils when he alighted in Cape Town in November 1842. Driven by the classic Victorian urge to discover the ends of the earth, the artist had left England to take part in the Empire’s expansion into the black continent. In the name of rationality and of his employer, Dr. Livingstone, over the next few years Baines made hundreds of drawings and paintings of the landscape of southern Africa and its conquest by civilisation, only to discover that the outward journey had also been a journey towards home…
The sense of the ends of the earth is a recurring theme in Astrid Kruse Jensen’s new works Parallel Landscapes. As in her earlier series Hypernatural, she takes her audience on a journey to the remotest corners of the Nordic countries, this time to Norway and Sweden whose taciturn mountains mark the bounds of culture and the beginning of nature in the photographic landscape. This classic dualism of nature and culture is the seductive pivot of Kruse Jensen’s work. We are never so lost in the wilderness that we cannot meet a charming young woman dressed in a red tailored jacket. On the other hand only this solitary landscape, this remote place at the ends of the earth, can embrace this woman and her contemplation of the world. Her back always turned to the onlooker, the woman becomes an expression of human inroads into the darkest recesses of the world and of the mind in a constant search for the self.  
Parallel Landscapes unfold an image of nature as the object of human reflection of the world. With strong utopian overtones the artist’s lens stages chilly Nordic landscapes as a mirror image of our search for our selves as we contemplate the world. Using light as the only feature in the otherwise dark images of evening and night, Astrid Kruse Jensen constructs an interplay of contrasts that gradually allows the landscape to emerge as contours in the photographs. Among the dark shadows of the trees, dimly lit by the moon, traces of human existence materialise in the pictures. In a beam of light, behind the windows of isolated houses, the photographer recounts a tale of the beginning of our world and of us. 
Despite the peculiar realism of photography, the artist creates dreamscapes whose roots are dissolved in time and place. The silence of the mountainous landscapes becomes the evocative setting of another untold drama, and the landscape itself sets the stage for a tale awakened only through its encounter with the beholder.  Some of the pictures are so dark that the only contours visible are the austere fragmented forms of nature, silhouetted against the pale light of the night sky. Only slowly do our eyes become accustomed to the darkness that seems to promise everything and nothing. And only slowly do the contours take shape against the sky, evoking a concentration of action and presence in the emptiness of the night. 
In step with the meticulous global mapping of the 19th century world, an interest evolved in exploring yet another universe, namely the emotional life of man. The outward journey paralleled the inward journey, and the modern ascents of the pinnacles of the world became the reverse vertical expression of the soul’s descent towards the unconscious. With the advent of Romanticism, the mapping of the tangible world became a metaphor for the discovery of our inner self. While culture and rationality gave their names to the first, nature and emotion became a yardstick for the second. Romanticism transformed landscape as a genre into a hybrid between the two movements. On the one hand, nature worship was a response to the longing of the period for a pre-cultural state of absolute meaning. On the other, landscape gave natural expression to culture’s civilised unification of the world. In the words of Joachim Ritter, the Romantic landscape became the comforting mediator between modern man and his lost nature. 
In her photographic landscapes, Astrid Kruse Jensen creates dreamlike spaces between reality and imagination, the real world and fantasy. Through the site-specific realism of the non-manipulated photograph, her works of art are anchored in the physical experience of the ends of the earth whose momentary eternity is captured and repeated in the photographic moment itself. With the Romantic predilection for mountains and forests as metaphors for human emotions and moods, the artist develops the strangest and most evocative aspects of this remote landscape. Through the effective use of darkness and the ingenious play of contrasts, Kruse Jensen transforms nature into a personal performance whose secret plot is played out in the beholder’s encounter with the work of art. 
Despite their embedment in the real world, Astrid Kruse Jensen’s photographic landscapes open up subjective worlds of dreams and fiction. Influenced by today’s neo-romantic currents, Kruse Jensen defines nature on the basis of our subjective mirroring and emotional self-projection in the world. But it is not real, living nature that represented the moral and metaphysical order of the Romantic era. On the contrary, it is nature after nature, a conception of nature whose dreamlike and melancholy substance seems to be the only suitable medium for rediscovering and reconstructing the self that almost vanished within the abstract forms of modernity. It is this idea of nature as the origin of self that slowly emerges from the darkness of Kruse Jensen’s photographic landscapes.