Anne-Karin Furunes
Dialogue with Light
Your first impression is a black area, like Malevich’s black square, then light touches the canvas and a play begins. You realize that the black square is alive with the surrounding light and the whole thing changes in accordance with the conditions of light. The picture becomes an event in which you participate with your own movements. The image is often a face, but can also be a group of people or a landscape.
Anne-Karin Furunes has been developing her special perforation technique since she was studying at the Art Academy of Trondheim 1993-94. Her years of study lasted for a decade consisting both of art studies in Oslo and Trondheim and architecture studies in Trondheim, Oslo, London and Copenhagen. She first became an architect but then chose to dedicate herself to art.

The ‘New-made’ Photograph
The punch-a-hole technique is based on photography. The discussion of the role of photography as document or as an independent aesthetic genre has been one of the major themes in the art of the last few decades. Besides language, photography has served as one of the main visual forms in Conceptual Art. And it has been the documentary, ‘unaesthetic’ form of photography that has been in focus. “Several relatively distinct uses of photographic image could be employed as an artless or free-style document, can be identified in Conceptual Art.” (Themes in Contemporary Art, ed. by Gill Perry and Paul Wood, p.137)
Photographs, often employed as readymades, is the main source of Anne-Karin Furunes’ art. She does not copy the photographic image as was the case with the earlier photorealism, instead she uses it as a starting-point, a document, a ground for further aesthetic decisions which include cropping the original image to reveal the main features of the given image. She changes the coloring of the original image – from white, gray and black- most often to a monochrome black or white and then infuses it with light by perforating the picture surface.
All these decisions are both aesthetic and spiritual. The original photography which frequently is a document has been subjected to a process of aesthetization which also gives the subject a new kind of dignity. Human face is beautiful and each face is unique and mesmerizing. She does not want to point too clearly to the origin of the photography, instead it is the beauty hidden in the original that she wants to uncover.
The holes echo a screen of photos, but only echo as here each hole is hand-punched and based on an emerging pattern. The first patterns were uniform in their size and regular in their internal relations. They were used to evenly cover the entire picture area making a kind of perforated veil on the surface of the picture. Since that time the hole screen has been under continuous development and it has become more and more precise in its role as creator of specific light conditions as well as in its function to enliven the image as well as in the manner it allures us to keep our eyes on the picture and leads us to change viewing positions to observe the play of light in front of the picture.
The first paintings made in this technique were taken from her own family album. It was a time when Anne-Karin Furunes lost her mother. While in deep mourning, she could make her a little more present by selecting pictures from the family album and infusing them with a screen of light. She then widened the selection of album pictures using not only faces, but also groups of people, for instance, a family excursion to a sunny summer beach. She has also infused this magic in the photographs of some of her friends’ loved one who have passed away.

From Album to Archive
Album is a private family archive, but gradually she got interested in archives more generally. This led to the pictures of German soldiers who took part in the occupation of Norway 1940–45. They show young serious-looking men who in her choice of images look more bewildered and clumsy in their military uniforms than feared occupiers The humanity of the faces shining through their historical roles and destinies was to become the next theme in her work.
To bring the faces to our contemporary world, she made a series of staged portrait photographs. The photographs to be used in the later paintings were always discussed with the persons portrayed. The artist wanted the subjects of these works not to feel like objects. The mood, the posture, the angle was decided upon in co-operation. These are pictures are of our contemporaries, young women, who in their attires and ways of reacting to the presence of camera, bear a documentary resemblance to the people we meet in the streets or in our working places.
The plight of the German Nazi soldiers was to fight, while the female fighters who, on the red side took part in Finland’s tragic civil war which lasted for about four months in the spring of 1918, took to arms on basis of the social injustices and lack of democracy among the working class people. They posed what today would be called an ‘internal terrorist threat.’ The existence of these female fighters was until recently an almost forgotten chapter in the country’s history. Here again we see young women, particular of their looks and poses in the photographs, while we also know that they were ready to fight for their convictions alongside with the men.
Next step was to look at her native country’s own history and the sorrowful chapter of the way Jews were allowed to be deported to Nazi Germany. This took place at the beginning of the World War II. The Nazi occupation of Norway at the time naturally made the situation extremely precarious. Beyond all the historical facts, we see women who were photographed at the time when the threat of their deportation was in the air. The holocaust victims were besides Jews, gypsies and homosexuals. As an echo of this tragic time, several European countries initiated a cleaning of the racial and ethnic groups living among them. The people were not killed but they were sterilized and documented for the archives. These archives, still a most sensitive history, have provided pictures for Anne-Karin Furunes’ further studies of the cruelties of the Modernist age.
Eugenics - the doctrine of racial improvement is a black spot in the history of many countries. “Taken up by thinkers of all social shades, it dovetailed especially well with the ambitions of social reformers. If one’s social goal was to improve human condition wholesale…. Why should the prevention or abolition of imperfections in the human condition not extend to the prevention (or abolition) of imperfect human beings?” (Tony Judt, Postwar: A History of Europe since 1945, p. 368)
With a few exceptions, like the fate of contemporary gypsies in Romania, this is past history. Scandinavian authorities continued the practice of ‘racial hygiene’ longer that the rest of Europe who after the disclosure Nazis’ concentration camps generally abandoned the theory and practice. The Scandinavian countries continued the practice from 1934 until 1976 and history tells that 60 000 people, 90 percent of them women were sterilized in Sweden. The figure given about the situation in Norway is 40 000. (Ibid. 368 The categories were simply “stupid”, “pervert “or “burden for society”.) This policy was carried out in many countries across the globe. Today, forced sterilization is considered a crime against humanity.
The two last-mentioned themes offer an incisive movement of correction in our visual memory storage. Pictures that had been taken to document the race, the state of people’s mental health are here turned into portraits with restored dignity of the individual and an understanding of their having been victims of society’s hideous crimes, done as a collective act. How many people knew what was going on? The pictures don’t tell the stories of what happened to these women, they concentrate on the universal humanity of their faces. As in life so also when looking at these pictures, we read faces and focus on the eyes to see what another person is feeling or what kind of person she was. In the case of these persons, their voices, and their presence are no longer to be heard or experienced. We have only these archival images and general knowledge of the destinies that at the time of photography was awaiting them.

Faces
Anne-Karin Furunes is totally enchanted by faces. She has told me that in big cities she can walk along streets for hours just looking at the faces of the passers-by. It is an inexhaustible area that fascinates and intrigues her.
Her aim with these pictures is not political in any narrow sense of the term, instead it is a plea to remind us of the beauty and vulnerability of all people. It seems that we should rather see these pictures in the light of the humanistic traditions but also the teaching of the Old Testament. The message reminds us of Emmanuel Levinas’ philosophy. According to Levinas:
"The face of the Other – under all the particular forms of expression where the Other, already in a character’s skin, plays a role – is just as much pure expression, an extradition without defense or cover, precisely the extreme rectitude of a facing , which in this nudity is an exposure unto death: nudity, destitution, passivity, and pure vulnerability. Such is the face as the very mortality of the other person." (Emmanuel Levinas: ”Time and the Other”, p. 107)
Faces make an open mystery creating the crucial moment of encounter with any other people. In the pictures we see women looking like any of us, dreamy eyes, slightly cautious of the situation of being photographed, mostly totally devoid of any posing, blank faces, eyes full of sorrow or wonder, the origin of which is not outright revealed. One ponders who these persons were and what they knew about their fate? Sometimes the face just conveys a feeling that we all recognize from moments of being ‘officially’ photographed: do I look serious, trustworthy and respectable in this picture.
All these groups of people were victims of the blind ideologies and beliefs of their time. They were powerless in confronting them. They were objects of these actions but in these ‘new-made’ pictures they recover their dignity and remind us of the humanity that should guide all our ideologies and actions.

From Picture to Event
A recognizable characteristic of Anne-Karin Furunes’ work is the way she crops the images. The eyes always interest her and in some pictures she has chosen just to show the eyes in a narrow horizontal panel. She also uses double portraits, en face and in profile, which as a method remind us of the way criminals, or suspected criminals, are documented by police. In these pictures, however, the double portrait actually heightens the sense of vulnerability in their subjects. The people portrayed may have been different from the rest of the society which further emphasizes their humanness. In some cases, their obvious fragility further calls for the need to treat them in a human and compassionate way.
The role of the perforation in the images seems to be twofold. As a physical mark it can be considered to be an index that refers to time. The perforation resembles photographic pixels and in this way the images seem to be brought into the public sphere in the same spirit that we understand the role of the media as public space or sphere today. The publishing process in this case takes place in two steps; first by the selection of the photograph to be the subject of the painting and secondly by its reference to picture technique used in mass media. The pictures become contemporary and simultaneously part of our common consciousness, something that touches us with their beauty and humanity as well as with the fact that the pictures change according to our movements; in the spirit of today’s art we can decide what and how we see.
This is particularly clear in the pictures which already bear distinct references to bygone times. It is actually very interesting to notice how sensitive we are to period signs as they appear in people’s hairdo, the collars and we also trace it in their general appearance. It makes one wonder whether it is the manner of reacting to being photographed that tells the time: do we actually have period miens and bodily ways of acting when facing the camera lens? Photographing was a much rarer thing at the time of these photographs and you sense it while looking at these pictures. It would be strange today to act in this totally serious manner in front of the camera and is met mostly when people are photographed for passports or for other proofs of their identity or position.
When we study the hole punching technique during the ca 15 years’ period that she has used it, we become aware how much it has gained in expression. It has changed into an abstract element, something like the modernist grid that lives its own life along with the visual images chosen for the works. It seems to breathe with the pictures. The hole structure has two functions in the overall pictorial space: to bring time into the image and to create a dialogue with light and the surrounding situation. This has become more and more nuanced, refined and expressive along with Furunes’ need to better control the viewing situations.
There is an interesting ambiguity between the refined aesthetics and visual precision of the pictures when we are aware of the background of the pictures. It seems to me that it is a conscious decision of the artist not to let us being instantly caught in the theme of the victim. This testifies to her underlying wish to talk about human problems, how we meet other people “face-to-face”. Are we sensitive enough to without exception to accept that “The I before the Other is infinitely responsible.” “That is to say, in the face of the Other, goodness emerges as the responsibility of the subject which has always already been responsible, prior to any explicit agreements, prior even to the subject’s ability to welcome the Other. “The beyond from which a face comes signifies as a trace.” …. “A face is in the face of the utterly bygone, utterly past Absent… which cannot be discovered in the self by any introspection.” (Emmanuel Levinas, “ Time and the Other”, p. 18–19)

Public Intimacy
Another important line in Anne-Karin Furunes’ work is made of the group of works that she has made for public spaces and situations as well as artworks integrated in architectural situations. Here her training as an architect makes her work often more conscious of the possibilities and limitations of the given space. A connecting feature in these works seems to be infusing private, intimate moments in situations which are public. Furunes’ artistic work has comprised public works since 1999 when she won the competition for a public work to be placed at the National Theatre’s underground station in Oslo. In this work, which coincides with her album period, she is using visual elements which are familiar to all family albums: children’s portraits, scenes from excursions etc. The material is aluminium which is painted and perforated. This is the technique that she has used in most of her public works. The material and technique also possess sculptural characteristic, something that she is further researching for the time being.
As the themes of the public works are parallel with her overall interests of any period she chose a contemporary staged portraits for her large-scale public work at the Norwegian Hydro’s oil platform at Grane out in the North Sea.
There is, however, one exception in this choice of theme. It is her large-scale aluminum relief on the façade of the Henrik Wergeland’s House in Eidsvoll. This building was made to mark the centenary of the Norwegian constitution in 2005.
Here she selected flowers with their nature-based symbolism inspired by Henrik Wergeland’s poetry.There are soft-petalled flowers together with spiky leaves which your hand instinctively avoids when picking them in the meadows. The coloring of the flower landscape is muted, but contains more tones than her other works.
The way she works with these public commissions is both intimate bringing them close to our own lives and feelings but simultaneously monumental which raises these mental and emotional situations into a public sphere and thus translates them into something shared.

The Mental Icon
It is a great credit to her that at a time characterized by fast speed, quick changes and fragmented culture often imbued by irony that almost empties every attempt to take a serious, meaningful look at our near history or around us here and now. We know how our attitudes are still colored by prejudices, fears of difference and egotism often masked as individualism. Anne-Karin Furunes seems to wish us to look into the eyes of these faces before we start acting on racial discrimination, homophobia, and the ideas that our opinions are always right and our own needs have to be taken care of first at the cost of the others’, often more urgent ones. The objects of our fears may have changed, but we are far from having solved the deep-lying problems of our attitudes.
As an introduction to the world of pictures of Anne-Karin Furunes, there is a poem by the Swedish poet Gunnar Ekelöf (1907–68) which seems to paraphrase the intentions of the artist not only when in what concerns the force sterilization of these women but more generally her search for elucidation of how these things have been possible. The question is about shared responsibility and the eternal one of whether we have learnt something from these tragedies.

To See Yourself in Others
"To see yourself in others / your condition / your need / your weakness / your humanity: / To be social in your heart / you others, all social in the head! / And the heart is not an impulse of the moment / but lasting / The heart is not a business cycle."
(Translated from the Swedish by Muriel Rukeyser, published in Modern Scandinavian Poetry 1900–1975, Italy 1982)
There is a beautiful and solemn feeling surrounding these images. They emanate the beauty of humanness, in its fragility and plead us to recognize it in ourselves. They are icons both in the generic meaning of the word, but also in the spiritual, meditative sense. These are portraits of people chosen by the society to be sacrificed for racial purity reminding us of the great tragedies of the 20th century. Light pierces these images making them momentarily alive sharing the space and time with us.

Maaretta Jaukkuri