Pernille With Madsen

Uncountable Ambience

31 May – 17 Aug 2024

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Pernille With Madsen, Installation View, Uncountable Ambience, 2024

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Pernille With Madsen, Element_II, 197 x 109 x 8 cm, 2024

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Pernille With Madsen, Installation View, Uncountable Ambience, 2024

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Pernille With Madsen, Installation View, Uncountable Ambience, 2024

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Pernille With Madsen, Yeild_Ability, 75 x 105 cm, 2024

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Pernille With Madsen, Installation View, Uncountable Ambience, 2024

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Pernille With Madsen, Installation View, Uncountable Ambience, 2024

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Pernille With Madsen, Independent Frequency, 75 x 105cm, 2024


Idiography, gimmicks and borrowed plumes – material investigations of the nature and culture of images in Pernille With Madsen’s Uncountable Ambience

Exhibition text by: Anne Kølbæk Iversen, translated from Danish to English by Nanna Friis

Sometimes an expression has to be withdrawn from usage and sent for cleaning – then it can be put back into circulation.[1]

There are the kind of motifs you have seen so often that they almost become invisible. Motifs and shapes merging into that particular background of expected recognizability, and only draws attention to itself when they’re no longer a given. Van Gogh’s strong-colored starry night on a postcard in the museum shop, printed and reprinted so many times that any relation to the original scale of the work has dissolved. The first man on the Moon depicted on a grainy black and white photograph (perhaps standing in the shadow of a dinosaur), Taylor Swift in a sparkling bodysuit at a stadium, or other cultural, visual icons such as the smiley and the positive like-thumb circulating so inconspicuously and smoothly through social networks that you don’t pay many thoughts to where they come from and why they look like they do.

Gradually, the circumstance that we produce images while images are simultaneously producing us has become quite a stale trope, a fact we can no longer ignore – there are no limits to what we’re able to turn into an image, no place that hasn’t been photographed, circulated, exposed, and liked in to uncountable extent, no angle that hasn’t been tested and already seen. Yet, any encounter and any photography bring about a dimension of something new. Within the repetition lies also a subjective displacement. Today, the photographic image is not first and foremost a testimony of reality as imprints of whatever has been located in front of the camera lens – rather most images are meant for recording and further distribution in various circuits, symbolic as well as economic ones. With video platforms like YouTube and TikTok, a whole new tendency to react on someone’s images with one’s own images has emerged, just like meme culture is an example of how countless and uncountable reinterpretations of the conventional meaning of images circulate in social, digital spaces. Any person owning a smartphone walks around with (at least the opportunity to possess) an impressive library of snapshots and screenshots mixed together with selfies and nature.

Inside Pernille With Madsen’s image laboratory, the images are dragged out from camera and computer drives through complex processes of re-materialization, projection and cropping, before being re-inscribed as new images in an ongoing examination of when exactly the image becomes an image. Usually, the source is a photograph – of a jet motor, a taxidermic seal or owl, a hairdo, a location – or of an already existing image, for example a commercial or microscopic images of liquid crystals. Departing from these image sources, new images are composed in an interplay between photography, sculpture and animation where images are projected onto a surface or a material, being enlarged or diminished, cropped and photographed again several times. The new compositions do not abide by the rules of scale: a ball made of gel overshadows the image of an airport while a crystal looks like something you could hold in your hand. Moreover, there is no unequivocal relation between medium and motif: in some cases, the paper is what carries the motif, in other’s the paper itself becomes a motif, just like the marble plates are not only photographed and used as background in some of the photographic prints but also stand in the room as a substrate for a series of serigraphic prints. Similarly, rock, clay and crystal both function as mediums displaying images while also becoming a part of the actual works.

The images being produced do not follow an already devised plan or composition, rather they are the result of an experimental approach and repeated, improvised exercises. The new images, composed and assembled as they are, develop through the process of an interplay between photographic sources, exposures, materials, arrangements and cropping. The result is images appearing simultaneously straightforward, playful and very complex.

With Madsen’s visual universe draws its energy from an unauthorized handling of images. Is it possible to speak about intuition? Idiosyncrasies? The artist as an idiograph (“idiography” deriving from the Greek idios = one’s own or something distinctive and graphein = to write or describe). Here, images are uncountable but they’re also unaccountable They are not meant to be seductive by coming off as seamless, hyper realistic and “well made” in such ways as digital imagery of commercial industries should be. Neither is it a question of material fetichism and a desire to accommodate the tactility, depth, quality of the print. Rather, a surprise-like and wondering effect – perhaps even skepticism – towards the different image layers starts to happen. Because are you actually allowed to enjoy, to be seduced or challenged by something you cannot say is “true”, “beautiful” or “critical” for certain? As the artist herself has described it:

“I was biking to the studio one January morning looking up at the sky thinking (with consolation and a warm heart) “Ah, sunrise”. I was biking a bit further and then I saw the big red logo of the Bauhaus hardware store beaming at the sky above so that something resembling a sunrise occurred. I thought: What should I do with my spontaneous thrill of that exact same scenario? Namely, that what was looking like a sunrise was in fact the reflection of a very large retail logo at the Ringway 2”

The surprise arising in the wake of a broken illusion can be associated with satisfaction as well as disappointment. And just as the artist describes being tricked by an urban design perceived as nature, her own images work in a similar way: as magic or tricks that may want to deceive us, may want to seduce us, may want us to wonder. The gimmick, as it has been theorized by Sianne Ngai, inserts doubt and skepticism in the aesthetical experience, but not only of a negative kind – a lot of joy can be found in unfolding one’s skepticism towards the images and their playing around with us. As Ngai explains: ”It is a phenomenon in which one’s cultural skepticism, coupled explicitly here to enjoyment, comes to hang on the abstraction of a believer elsewhere.”[2].

At the same time, the gimmick does not make a big deal out of itself, but still, it attempts at getting our attention. We’re dealing with an outstretched and postponed illusion. And as it goes with the gimmick, there is a sense of With Madsen’s composed images having arrived either too early or too late, that they over- or under-perform in relation to the historical norm. Ngai’s analysis of the gimmick offers an entry point to With Madsen’s images which simultaneously prepare the ground for us to be able to figure out their composed layers while also making us want to be deceived. “The gimmick is a trick, a wonder, and sometimes just a thing.”[3] Most of all, With Madsen’s images offer themselves as a wash-up of motifs and tropes we thought we knew. Here, they are recirculated so that we can look at them in all their composed disarray, at the border between recognizability and blurriness, as alienated elements freed from their origin and meaning.

“I create images which I myself find trippy. This means images I can slip into and slip out of. Images where material concreteness and illusion are present in equal measures. Where the clearness of the actual image production – its material tangibility – makes you slip out of the image illusion while that illusion is also the first thing you see. And so on, you can switch your gaze between illusion and production. As a form of meditation. Or a massage for the imagination.”

In a visually overmodulated culture like the one we live in, creating images in their own right is a difficult exercise; images that are not already loaded with meaning, images that we don’t already know (or expect that we know) how to read. Pernille With Madsen presents us with such images which at the same time cause astonishment, skepticism and surprise in the reciprocity between beholding illusion and admiring production. Rather than drawing on existing meanings they point towards questions of how meaning is constructed in an interplay between expectation, convention and recognition.

[1] Ludwig Wittgenstein, Culture and Value (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998), 39.

[2] Sianne Ngai, Theory of the Gimmick. Aesthetic Judgment and Capitalist Form (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2020), 5.

[3] Ngai, Theory of the Gimmick, 6.


Pernille With Madsen, Uncountable Ambience, 31 May – 17 Aug 2024

Pernille With Madsen, Uncountable Ambience, 31 May – 17 Aug 2024

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