Full Moon, Divided Heart
By Jacob Lillemose
At first glance we are inclined to describe Moonlight Moments (2004), Nikolaj Recke’s new series of photographs, as a collection of visual pop tunes. Filled with cliché-laden emotions, thick symbolism, and a large number of cultural connotations. The series refers to a recognizable bittersweet side of human existence in simple words. But make no mistake, Recke is fully aware of this flirt with banality and pathos. He uses it intentionally to attract our attention and create points of identification that let us into his works. Then, after absorbing the pictures’ glowing light for a while, the catchy sing-along refrain fades away and he unfolds a deeper, more complex, and subtle artistic expression. Our gaze is distorted, “brought out of tune” by the awkward and sometimes barely readable words (these are difficult emotions and difficult to express too), and a sense of estrangement and wonder replaces the familiar formula.
The set-up is quite simple though. With a 30-second exposure time, Recke uses the full moon as a light pen by carefully moving the camera (and not looking through the lens/objective) in tiny curves and lines according to the different letters. This use of a light source for writing, or drawing, echoes legendary performances by Asger Jorn and Picasso. But unlike the physical gestures of these modern masters, Recke’s photographic writing in the sky is concerned with a space of imaginary as well as psychological and conceptual dimensions. It is a space that the eye alone cannot grasp. It is simultaneously real and an artificial construction, created somewhere in the delicate interplay between the receptiveness of the film inside the camera, the coordination of the focus of the mind and movement of the hands, and the distance between the artist’s position on earth and the moon’s changing position.
In this peculiar photographic space, Recke produces a blend of diary notes, confessions, and graffiti; the introspective reflection on ones own heart and mind, the semi-public announcement of ones failures, and the making of a personal imprint on the surrounding world. He projects the intimate personal sphere onto the inconceivable endlessness of the universe. The emotional intensity of the words and the act of writing them becomes closely connected to a spatial, as well as temporal, expansion. The presence of the artist all by himself on the dark field far away from the city lights of Copenhagen, the muscles in his arms throbbing from holding the camera for hours (or is it from the weight of the emotions?), becomes the scene of a communicative absence. Someone, the other part, the recipient, is missing. Is this forever or just there and then? We do not know for sure. The endings happy or tragic, of the one-picture narratives in Moonlight Moments continue on to a place and time beyond the frame. Closure is not the issue here. Instead, the series documents and displays the romantic act of continuously trying to reach another person across overwhelming distances by opening hitherto unknown spaces filled with equal parts of joy and despair.
Moonlight Moments connects to a number of Recke’s other works, thematically as well as formally. The cunning romantic tone and reflection of the double sided nature of twosomeness in its many diverse forms is a characteristic of his entire, very coherent oeuvre, but those works, in which he incorporates nature and light, seem especially relevant as reference points in this context. In the two recent videos entitled Fireflies. Dialogue I & II (2002) he tries to “talk” to thousands of Pteroptyx Tener, the master fly of synchronous flashing) in the Malaysian rain forest, by flashing a lighter. In the two related videos, Human Fireflies. Dialogue III & IV (2003), he establishes a similar communicative relation between three flash-light equipped persons in a park. Actual communication seems unsuccessful if not down right impossible, but that is of minor importance, just as in Moonlight Moments this work is an attempt to communicate with someone or somewhere outside oneself that interests the artist.
The idea of communicating with oneself (in the absence of the other) is quite literally the case in a work made with Christian Heide, entitled Touched By Your Presence (2000 & 2002). We are invited to put on a headset and talk into the microphone facing a vertically curved white wall. Our words are recorded and played back at us like an echo from a machine placed behind the wall. His interest in the process of creation and the intangible aesthetics of presence (not the object as such) is also expressed in the early video In the Moment of Realization (1997) in which he records the sparkling light from an angle grinder working on a piece of metal. The use of the moon as a subject and the only light source, found in Moonlight Moments, is interpreted very literally in the video installation Lunatic (2002). A video projection of a telescope close-up of a full moon’s surface covers an entire wall and envelops the exhibition space in a light of magic, dreams, and as the title indicates, a bit of insanity. An illuminated space of a correspondingly strange and comprehensive kind is unfolded in Broken Kilometer (2002), an installation consisting of a network of laser light beams reflected in small mirrors placed a few inches above the floor. We cannot see the laser beams unless smoke is blown onto them and thus for most of the time they remain invisible, the kilometer, a virtuality.
With these works and Moonlight Moments Nikolaj Recke creates aesthetic spaces, and in a wider sense realities, which are not only physical phenomena, but the result of the interpretive and creative acts of our perception and imagination; spaces that invite us enter them and embrace our searching, lamenting and hopeful existence.