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Odense Foto Triennale - Odense, Denmark
October 2006
Report by Fred Baldwin

After a long ride from Houston to Copenhagen via Newark, it was a pleasure to arrive at Copenhagen's modern airport/train station to have a smooth and effortless train trip to Odense. I found myself on another voyage of ongoing surprises on many levels that are still swirling around in my brain after a week at the Triennale.

On October 4, Odense Foto Triennale opened its third festival on the theme of Food. Thirty-five exhibitions scattered over 21 venues through Odense (Denmark's third largest city) and nine small towns and villages located on the island of Funen. This cornucopia of offerings describes food in various ways, ranging from agricultural production, to obsession, starvation and kitsch. Forty artists gave interpretations that were described as democratic but could also be viewed as incongruous, depending on interpretations of the word "food" to hold it together. The imagination of the artists was allowed free reign and we were treated to esthetic levels that wildly oscillated from the enchanting to vile, serious to silly and lots of steps in-between. The exhibition tours followed two half-day morning photography portfolio reviews. This gave reviewers a chance to spend two half-day afternoon/evening island tours to exhibits on the island of Funen after which two full two days of portfolio reviews, called the Meeting Place, were continued at the Brandts Museum in Odense.
It was possible to get off my plane, clear customs, get an escalator to the train station and be on my way to Odense within 30 minutes. My destination was bathed in a spectacular light.
The northern October light cast a magical aura over the picturesque city of Odense.
There was much discussion at English artist Felicia Webb's exhibit about eating disorders. Ms. Webb has made a serious study of the effects of both Obesity and Anorexia and brought both subjects together for the first time with her powerful exhibition at Museet for Fotokunst in Odense Foto. The photographs raise many important questions about the direction that Western society is headed with regards to Food where it is plentiful and abused in contrast to regions that don't have enough food to meet the needs of their people.
The exhibit called Blood as executed by Angelica Julner, a Swedish artist living in France, with her version of the Food theme. (below) A special Food Reception was held at English artist Felicia Webb exhibit during the Grand Opening at Brandts Fotokunst Museum - Odense
Danish sticky-ikkeys being sampled at Bornekulturhuset Fyrtojet in Odense
In addition to much art that celebrated the Food theme, there was much food to make sure that everyone got the point. The little pink sandwiches, I was told, were significant for their artistic color and tasty tasteful garnishments.
The wine container, no doubt, gave a nod to innovative Danish design, solving the corking problem with a trendy modern plastic.
One of the most important contributions of the Odense Foto Triennale to photographers of Denmark and elsewhere is the Meeting Place, an event that replicates both the name and style of FotoFest's Meeting Place, a proven format that has set the pattern of portfolio reviews all over the world. The twenty-six invited reviewers composed of international curators, publishers and festival directors, half from Denmark and half from abroad, were invited to Odense for six days. This group, because of their contacts and official capacities, can be most useful to photographers by publishing, purchasing or exhibiting their work. The Triennale reviewers came from 13 countries. In Denmark, where it is very difficult for art photographers to sell, publish, or exhibit their work at home or abroad, the Odense Foto Triennale provided a smorgasbord of career enhancements, opportunities, and contacts with influential reviewers and fellow artists. Yet, not nearly as many art photographers from neighboring countries, just a short train ride away, arrived for the Meeting Place. However, I reviewed artists from Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Mexico, Russia, the UK, and the USA but nearby Swedes and Norwegians were conspicuous by their absence.
The Meeting Place consists of a 20 minute face-to-face portfolio review. (below) Alejandro Castellote from C Magazine in Spain reviewing an artist's portfolio.
Danish artist Linda Hansen showed me her collection of plastic toy photographs at the Meeting
(above) The Hans Christian Anderson statue in Odense. (below) German Artist Anders Weinand joined the fun at the Bornekulturhuset Fyrtojet (dedicated to Hans Christian Anderson) wearing one of the hats provided for children and the young at heart
The whimsical check-out counter at Bornekulturhuset Fyrtojet contrasts (below) with serious efforts of the young artist at the same museum.
Meeting Place reviewers and participating artists boarding the bus for a nine-town tour over a period of two afternoon and evenings. (below) The Danish Ceramic Museum Grimmerhus in Middelfart.
Gallery M is situated opposite privately owned Gyldensteen Castle in a beautiful park close to Bogense, one of the most well perserved provincial towns in Denmark.
Danish artist Anne-Li Engstrom's work was on view with eight large works at Galleri M including this fish cross section.
There was a competitive event going on in Copenhagen as well as one in Stockholm, and in conspicuous non-collaboration, two UK photo festivals flummoxed themselves by holding simultaneous events in Brighton and Hereford during time of Odense Foto Triennale. To top this, I was informed by an American living in Germany that Berlin, in spite of major financial problems, hosts four photography festivals that have no connection with one another - a surprising reminder that intelligent creative people, unlike the organizers of the Odense Foto Triennale don't necessarily cooperate for purposes of survival.
This statue of the founder of the Faaburg Museum is an imposing monument to himself and the wonderful 19th Century paintings of Danish romantic landscapes. The statue below represents and ancient the mythic Danish cow and her life giving utters that provide our hero with direct nourishment. It's kind of a Danish Romulus and Remus fable. The bust looks on the grim concentration
The group visited the garden and attended a reception at the charming Johanes Larsen Museum in Kerteminde. I regretted not having more time to explore this and many of these regional museums.
Heidi Bradner, and American artist whose remarkable work on the nomadic reindeer herders was shown at FOTOFEST2006 was on display at Johanes Larsen Museum in Kerteminde along with Russian artist Vadim Gushchin whose work on Bread was also featured at FotoFest. These two exhibits, as well as several others that were found in Houston illustrate an important point about international collaboration. In addition to an exhibition Foto: New Photography from Denmark, which will open in Houston on February 1, 2007, FotoFest has shown many artists who we discovered directly and indirectly through Finn Thrane, the Director of Foto Triennale Odense. Likewise, Finn has benefited from international contacts at FotoFest and other festivals around the world.
Denmark at first glance seems like a containable experience, a small progressive land with picturesque towns, that like Odense, that have a certain magic to American eyes that might be ascribed to the spirit of Hans Christian Anderson, an Odense's home-town boy. As we were bussed around the nine towns of the island of Funen, I sat next to a Danish photographer who told me that he and many Danes on the bus had never set foot in the rather magical museums, libraries, castles, or private estates where the exhibitions were located or ever visited the island of Funen. Of course, most foreigners are clueless that anything exists other than Copenhagen and perhaps the extraordinary Louisiana Museum and Hamlets castle, etc. and I was further surprised to hear grumbling among some of the Danish artists and curators about the lack of collaboration and damaging rivalries that set some important cultural institutions apart. This didn't come as great surprise but it was somewhat disappointing to hear artists who live in relaxed progressive Denmark have the same complaints as their aggressive market driven colleagues in Houston, the US and other countries. At the same time, it was striking that while I was hearing about the lack of collaboration, we were being bussed to visit 35 exhibitions in nine towns on one island that had been brought together through the efforts of Finn Thrane and labeled The Funen Festival of Photography.
The Fyns Kunst Museum in Odense is also filled with 19th Century romantic treasures. I wonder what the nun and her friend have been influenced by the two marble love birds over the passage of time? He seems to be scoping out the nun but she is obviously above it all. (below) Reception at the Fyns Kunst Museum
Children become art lovers at the Faaborg Museum where the work of Danish artists Trine Sondergaad and Nicolat Howalt. Those are the artists kids, by the way. (below) The Mayor of Odense (with yellow tie) listening at the opening, prior to his own speech.
The Brandts Museum in Odense, of which the Museet for Fotokunst is a part, has some wonderful non-photography exhibits and was very popular with young people on this day.
There were lots of young people at the opening of the Odense Foto Triennale at Brandts Museum
We were taken to exhibits housed in small rather exquisite sites, others in castles, and I was delighted to discover that many contained local art of high quality. I was sad not to have more time to view it. Danish 19th Century landscape paintings, drawings and sculpture are a joy and I vowed to return for a longer visit as soon as I get a chance. Finn Thrane's sprinkling of photography throughout the island combined with touring influential foreign guests is a brilliant way to prime the tourism pump. At each stop we were greeted by local people who had come to the special receptions organized at the venues. The local cultural leaders and politicians would be blind not to notice what was going on and catch on to this clever way of promoting nine cities, towns, and villages and the island of Funen.

Finn Thrane has been intrepid about launching the third Odense Foto Triennale. It is normal practice for cultural organizations in Denmark to secure full budgets in advance of delivering programs. Some flexibility is possible by securing money from local, regional and national sources but there is a comparatively tiny amount of private money available for political change and other unexpected contingencies. Odense Foto Triennale invited guests and secured exhibitions with encouragement from major sources on the expectation that they would get full funding. As Finn Thrane put it in the Triennale catalogue: ".combined funding was, however, far from being sufficient to cover the festival costs." and he goes on to say how this problem was finally fixed. However, the problem was not fixed and the important official funding that looked so promising at the time Finn wrote these words for the catalogue, looks doubtful. Toward that end I have written the following letter to the Danish Minister of Culture that closes this report. I hear that the Minister is an intelligent man and likes the Odense Foto Triennale. I deeply hope that this is true. The following letter expresses how many of us who attended the Odense Foto Triennale feel about the event.
Big Bears, an exhibit of gross gay gentlemen had its opening in Tobaksgaarden Assens Culture House. The work is by American artist Sigrid Jakob.
The local turnout from Assens was good and it was not considered inappropriate to bring your dog.This little dog may have heard that Food was the theme.
Another charming opening - this one in Toldboden in Kertminde (below) Danish artist John Olsen, whose I found exceptional, (right) talking to mother with child.
Danish artist Ditte Haaarlov Johnsen's exhibit was in Toldboden in Kertminde. She has lived much of her life in Mozambique and her images are haunting, particularly in a setting that seemed so alien to the subjects.
Finn Larsen's photographs of Greenland shown at Greenland House in Odense. (below) Native Greenlander singing a special Greenlandic song.
I found that both the Odense Foto Triennale and Danish culture provided scacatological impulses worth nothing. Ype Van Gorkum from the Noordelicht Festival in Holland and Alejandro Castellote from Spain discuss - I am not sure what - but perhaps it was Swedish artist George Sesler's delicately rendered feces photos at Gallerie Rasmus shown in the background. Mr. Van Gorkum book provides a detailed menu of the food that created these works of art. He writes that he finds beauty in ugliness. On the commercial level I was encouraged to see that the Dans have made strides in advertising that even Madison Avenue could not imagine. www.Fushad.com may lead us to new levels of information disseminations.
In addition to the Dane's urologic promotional talents, they are able to deliver sensitive messages in the most politic manner - in three languages.
Military manikins in uniforms of the past are displayed in well lit containers in Nyborg Castle once the seat of danish kings. The castle provided an historic setting for Brazilian artist Numo Rama's work. Unfortunately, it wa snot possible to secure presmission to light the work sufficiently to see it, as the photography as well as the chamber was very dark, particularly toward the end of the day when we got there. I suggest visiting at high-noon and don't forget to bring a flashlight. The same conditions were true for talented Mexican artist Luis Delgado, another veteran of FOTOFEST2006. Finn Thrane talks about Numo's work.
The Naturama in Svenborg is a wonderful place to visit and an meaningful experience for all ages. The space abounds with whale calls and the stuffed animals are quite spectacular, a kind of Noah's Ark of northern species. I was particularly taken with the cries of whales that followed you around the exhibits. They even greeted you when on entering the WC, althought I am not sure what they were saying, probably something about washing your hands. American artist Catherine Chalmers' exhibition was particularly interesting. Food Chain depicts a cycle of death and survival that begins with a rotting tomato. The worms that emerge are eaten by a Preying Mantis, that in turn is devoured by it's female mate after copulation and the predatory lady is finally consumedby a frog. This grizzly cycle is funny, educational and superbly delivered in a well lit beautifully installed exhibit. Aperture has published a book, Food Chain and it's worth purchasing.
(above) The reviewers and artists have a collective mid-day fueling-up near the Brandt's Museum. Although Odense Foto Triennale 2006 was about food, and there was plenty of it available, it was mostly about the spirit of what can happen when people who have common interests and good will sit down as much and share their ideas. All the different nationalities, styles and ambitions are adjusted and improved through the sharing of food and drink. (below) After a long day of collectively gathering a mass of impressions, it's fun to let go.

October 3, 2006

Minister Brian Mikkelsen,
Ministry Of Culture
Nybrogade 2
1203 Copenhagen K
Denmark

Dear Mr. Minister Mikkelsen,

I am respectfully writing to express my hope that your decision to fund the Odense Foto Triennale, the Funen Festival of Photography will be a favorable one. I am writing from the point of view of a foreign participant and thought it might be helpful to point out how important Museet for Fotokunst - Denmark’s Museum of the Year for 2006 - and its attendant festival is to me.

I am co-founder, along with Museum Director Finn Thrane, of an organization of 24 international festivals called the Festival of Light that span the globe. We meet several times a year to discuss collaborative issues. Basically, FOL is an internet umbrella that enables its members to collaborate and extend photographic information and program possibilities on a global scale. We began the initiative in Finn Thrane’s home in 1998 after one of his festivals. The FOL festivals represent small and large arts organizations around the world. For my organization, FotoFest, they represent unparalleled opportunities to extend our curatorial interaction by means of portfolio reviews and exhibitions. Odense is an important and active player and we have met often as invited guests in Brazil, Argentina, China, Mexico, Slovakia, Czech Republic, and Romania to name a few. The corollary, of course, is that we invite representatives and artists from abroad to our festivals. In this way we promote the work that fits our needs and the international scope is quite extraordinary. FotoFest had benefited from exhibits through Finn such as Highlights of Photogravure from the North, Torben Eskerod’s work that we exhibited in Houston, Brazil, Moscow, Mexico and Argentina. In February 2007, FotoFest will bring Scandinavian Photography 2 - Denmark to Houston. The Odense Foto Triennale has benefited from FotoFest portfolio review and exhibits and those from other countries. Thus the 2006 Triennale will exhibit Brazilian artist Nuom Rama, discovered in Brasilia and Mexican Louis Delgado, American Steven Benson, and Alaskan Heidi Bradner – all discovered in Houston. These are a few recent international collaborations that illuminate and energize the Odense Fototriennale as well as my own organization and those around the world.

The Odense Foto Triennale has also supported innovation in surprising places like Syria. I have just returned from the Aleppo Photography Festival. Finn Thrane invited the Director, Issa Touma, to Odense but the Syrian government canceled his visa at the last moment. Mr. Touma has been battling harassment from the security services for years and is


probably still free alive because of the international support provided by people like Finn, FotoFest, the Prince Klaus Foundation, Goethe Institute and the Dutch Ambassador (and government). I personally saw how heartening the invitation to Odense was for Mr. Touma.

Denmark is a small country which has extended its reach globally with one of the most important maritime fleets in the world. It would not benefit anyone should fuel for this vital transportation system be curtailed. I live in Houston the second biggest port in the USA and I would not be happy to see your ships stop coming. The analogy between what the Odense Foto Triennale does for art photography in Denmark and your merchant navy is a bit trite but not unreasonable. I am sure that from the vantage point of your important cultural capital you can appreciate both of these references.

I am writing to give you my perspective of someone who is bound by friendship and respect going over twenty years with Finn Thrane. I am also responding to the positive results observed over this period – a small museum with big impact worldwide.

I hope that you and the relevant powers can provide a favorable conclusion with respect to funding the Odense Foto Triennale.

Please excuse this overly long but deeply concerned letter.

Sincerely,

Frederick Baldwin
Chairman Co-Founder FotoFest
Co-Founder Festival of Light

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photographs taken with Leica Digilux 2