Pétur Thomsen, Très loin à l’Est, il y a l’Ouest /3*
If Caspar David Friedrich had spent time in Iceland, I wonder if he would have populated his landscapes with little men dressed in red with matching helmets, or with the Dinky-toy sized Caterpillar tractors that you find in Pétur Thomsen’s photos. Why Caspar David? Perhaps because the great Romantic painter of vast landscapes, like the artist he was, did not paint what he saw in front of him, but what he saw inside himself; which is what Pétur gives us in his photography. But hold on! Photography, did I say? Romantic? And why not? Seek God in nature, said Caspar David Friedrich. Pétur Thomsen shows us the edge of Hell. Industrial Romanticism – photos that lead us towards the sublime. But this is nature, stained, lacerated, clawed, and scratched. Nature, becoming land art, like something by Robert Smithson, or oddly attired Markus Raetz-style constructions, that tend to the abstract. But hold on! Pétur does research, he gets informed, and he studies those dams and power stations that are disfiguring the Icelandic landscape. He goes to the construction site, camps out, he has a car with caterpillar tracks, it might be –30° but he stays for a week, two weeks, three weeks, and then he comes back a month later, prowls around with his view camera on his shoulder to get the right angle, the perspective, the colour – Caspar David Friedrich revisited by Kandinsky, that’s what turns Pétur on. I don’t know if Andreas Gursky ever photographed Icelandic landscapes. I’m talking about his superb photographs, the ones before he turned to the grandiloquent stuff. Clément Rosset’s definition of grandiloquence is “transforming little stuff into big stuff and giving significance to insignificant stuff”. All this to say that Pétur Thomsen has the ability to give us works that are probably better than Gursky’s early stuff. But let’s hope that the recognition he clearly deserves doesn’t lead him off into that grandiloquence that threatens all recognized artists.
Jean-Luc Amand Fournier, curator and teacher for the ENSP
*Très loin à l’Est, il y a l’Ouest : Far to the East, There is the West.
Exhibition venue: Grande Halle, Parc des Ateliers, Rencontres d’Arles 2012.