“Torbjørn Rødland: The Touch That Made You” opened at Fondazione Prada Osservatorio at Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II early this month. The exhibition of work by the Norwegian photographer was curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist and Amira Gad. Originally presented at Serpentine Galleries in London, it brings together a range of images Rødland made over the past 20 years. Whitewaller asked Gad about the artist’s exploration of light, touch, and framing.
WHITEWALLER: What was the starting point for the exhibition “The Touch That Made You”?
AMIRA GAD: The exhibition “The Touch That Made You” was the artist’s first solo U.K. exhibition, and we aimed to conceive of an exhibition that would be a survey of his work and an introduction of his practice to our audience. The exhibition, both in London and in Milan, demonstrates the breadth of subjects captured and scenarios created by the artist. At first glance, Rødland’s work often inhabits the aesthetic space of commercial photography, due to a formal clarity and, at times, fetishistic approach to subjects, objects, and materials. Recurring tropes within his images include produce such as oranges, bananas, cakes, and octopus tentacles, and close-ups of body parts and related accessories. Knees, feet, and torsos partner with pads, socks, and tattoos, while viscous substances such as honey and paint coat, ooze, and drip over his subjects.
WW: How, primarily, does Torbjørn Rødland explore the sense of touch in photography?
AG: The exhibition title refers to the physical and immaterial aspects of his images, from the rays of light and liquid touches that gradually reveal an image in the darkroom to the framing and staging enacted through the lens. As the artist himself said, “A touch can be both productive and affective, a silent stimulus. We’re all to some degree a result of how we were seen, exposed, and held as children.”
Tension is at the core of his practice, and the tactile is only one of the ways that he engages the potential of materiality in his images. Intraoral no. 1 (2015) is part of a wider series that Rødland produced while collaborating with dentist Danielle Heller Fontana, as part of Manifesta 11 in Zurich (2016). As the artist explained to me, “Teeth are the only exposed parts of our skeleton.” Through this series, he analyzes our irrational and charged connections to teeth and the complex web of symbols
associated with teeth.
Another example would be Trichotillomania (2010–11), where the title of the work refers to a condition where a person feels compelled to pull their hair out. When choosing his subjects, Rødland often anticipates the potential reactions, associations, and desires of his viewer, and in this particular example he creates
juxtapositions (with oranges and hair) that are suggestive and exploratory.
WW: The exhibition is hung in relation to the whole body, rather than just the head, or at eye level. Can you tell us about the reason for that?
AG: Torbjørn Rødland’s decision to hang his work lower than what we may be accustomed to is a powerful tool that helps
emphasize a physical engagement with the works on display. It’s as though he’s asking for our whole body to be engaged in the reading and looking at his artworks. The varying scale of his works is also important in that respect in the greater experience of the show: We walk around the gallery space, we zoom in and out, we walk closer and study the images. As the artist states, his photographs aim to “keep you in the process of looking,” and his approach for hanging the show plays a role in this process.