On New Year’s Eve I went walking up Crookrise Crag on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park with my dad, who wanted to photograph the sunset. Given that it was the middle of winter and quite a dull day, I was expecting quite a grey and muted landscape. Imagine my surprise, then, upon finding a black earth carpeted with mosses of vivid green and red, and stones covered in multicoloured lichens.
After yesterday’s glorious sunshine, today is a tumultuous mix of rain, hail, high winds, and occasional blue skies. Right now, in the distance beyond the bedroom window, I can see two lines of clouds. The closest is thin and wispy, moving across the rectangular cut-out field of view at some speed; the second, over the edge of the distant hill, is thick and puffy, and moves ponderously (though this apparent difference in speed might just be a trick of perspective). This latter cloudline slopes upwards into peaks, a snowy mountain range crested with yellow winter light.
Office blocks on Holloway Head. Maybe it’s the cold weather with its light dusting of snow, or the apparent signs of low occupancy, but to me these buildings seem to have taken on a strange sort of quietness. They weren’t quiet when they were built — they were the brave new future of society. They have become quiet, through some process I don’t understand.
Near where I live in central Birmingham, there’s a patch of waste ground, maybe 150m square, surrounded by a metal fence. Left untouched by developers, tall grasses and shrubs have flourished, and magpies and other birds can often be seen hopping about looking for insects to munch. Here, in late summer, the constant drone of crickets drowns out the traffic on the main road a stone’s throw away; the autumn sunsets, unobstructed by tall buildings, are spectacular. A wide variety of rubbish has accumulated on the east side of the fence, including an empty suitcase and bottles and cans of all descriptions.
In a densely occupied city like Birmingham, sometimes you have to strain your neck to see the sky, tall buildings blocking the view on almost every side. Sometimes, however, a demolition will clear a wide open path to the clouds. Coming across one of these views, where I’d gotten used to seeing another brick or concrete façade, can be quite jolting. The above space used to belong to a leisure complex offering ten-pin bowling and skating; now it is a hole, filled with sky. A billboard at the end of the street indicates that it is destined to become student housing.
AK Dolven’s solo exhibition at Ikon Gallery in Birmingham takes the form of a dialogue of sorts with fellow Norwegian Peder Balke (1804-1887). The two artists share a common interest in the dramatic landscapes of the Arctic north, but while Balke had recourse to a Kantian understanding of the sublime that ultimately reaffirms and grounds the viewing subject, Dolven operates in a context in which such notions no longer ring quite so true — a context of which she is keenly aware. Her contemplation of the figure in a frozen landscape is therefore marked by uncertainty, instability, and disorientation: a ‘becoming-grey’ of everything, all distinctions erased.