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  Rolf Aamot - Digital Photopaintings  
         
 

Rolf Aamot - Digital Photopaintings

(By Professor Øivind Storm Bjerke)

Rolf Aamot has always been a restless and experimental artist who in particular has

realized the potential of developing his figurative language through the use of technological

innovations. The technological side of his art alone could form the subject

of an entire study. Technique has never been his goal, however; rather it has been

a means of creating images. Rolf Aamot has been an active artist for almost fifty

years. His first major work was a commission to decorate the Museum of Paleontology

in Oslo, which he concluded in 1955, the same year that he graduated from

the Norwegian Academy of Art, Crafts and Design. During his time at the Academy,

which he attended from 1958 until 1960, Rolf Aamot studied under Aage Storstein

and Alexander Schultz - two painters whose roots can be traced to the efforts of

the 1920s to unite figuration and abstraction under the impression of cubism and

neoclassicism. In other words, Aamot had a very traditional academy education.

Aamot began his career as an artist at a time when young innovative pictorial

artists perceived themselves - and were perceived by the general public - as messengers

for abstract painting. That is, abstract painting as it emerged in contemporary

France. These painters paved the way for the evolution of three different

directions: lyrical abstraction in painting, constructivist painting and spontaneous

informalism. Irrespective of the choices made by individual artists, there was general

consensus among them that images were two-dimensional and that everything

in a picture was on one plane. Respect for the fact that an image was flat became

a central issue. A successful picture is initially a decorative pattern on one plane,

before it appears as anything else - e.g. a tree. A successful picture forms a visual

whole consisting of material, color and shape which confirm the image’s two

dimensions. Contemporary paintings were essentially decorative paintings that

sought an ornamental expression. Illusionism was the domain of photography.

Even within the field of photography, the tendency has been that photography in

the 1950s and 1960s that wished to appear as ”artistic” noticeably attempted to

arrange a motif on the surface, so that a picture appears as though it attempts

to represent an arrangement of surface figures. Light and dark are transformed

into abstract patterns and appear as though their intention was to fulfill a compositional

form taken from a recipe book describing good composition in paintings.

It is remarkable in any case how such a great deal of photography that has regarded

itself as ”artistic” has for long periods of time endeavored to capture sections of

motifs and carry out cropping, which results in the picture appearing to be a harmonious

entity where the format of the picture that is perceived of as a surface

is confirmed, whereas amateur photography to a far greater degree perceives the

motif as action in space. We can see this as the result of the fact that throughout

the period during which photographs have been taken the goal of the most prestigious

artistic technique until recently - painting - has been to address the surface.

In his later artistic career, Aamot has moved in the opposite direction of creating

images that are flat. On the contrary, Rolf Aamot has been concerned with creating

space. In particular, this has made it difficult to pigeonhole him in relation to

his contemporaries. Aamot’s imagery emerges in an environment where there

are dominant references to art history, which to some extent can be claimed

to conflict with the content of the ideas that the artist wishes to communicate.

If we use the term ”photography” in its literal sense as ”drawing with

light”, then Rolf Aamot has been a photographer who has seldom or never

been associated with photography. He is an artist who for almost 40 years

has been in the forefront when it comes to experimenting with photo-based

forms of visual expression within fields such as film, video and electronic

art, which he has materialized in the form of individual images produced

as laser paintings and now also as conventional chemical photography.

Aamot’s pictures raise our level of awareness, through their accentuation

of space, that photography is an art form that is linked in equal measure

to performance art such as the theatre as it is to paintings.

In 1969, Rolf Aamot presented his works at the Munch Museum, where he

applied the term ”visual theatre” to his work. On 24 February 1969, in a

full-page spread in VG, the Norwegian national daily, it was announced that

a new theatre had been founded in Oslo: ”The Visual Theatre, instigated by

the ”never-resting graphic artist and painter Rolf Aamot, 34, a campaigner for

the artistic use of our mass media such as film, television and newspapers”.

According to Rolf Aamot, the basis of ”visual theatre” is that our existence is not

linear and that life and art fuse to form one entity. The artist’s task is to ”program

so that the onlooker can be faced with choice, and thus take a creative role”.

Aamot wanted to bring people back to art. Not in the form of figures taken from baroque

paintings, from the romantic period or contemporary modernistic figurative

painting. For Aamot, art is not a means with which to decorate, be it for everyday use

or for festive occasions; rather it is a means of recognition and acknowledgement.

Aamot has chosen to focus on two aspects of recognition: social and political

aspects. In his art, people return in the form of these two dimensions. Art should

be returned to the people and people should be in art. The best way he as an

artist can reach out to the people is through the mass media, since the mass media

is the most effective and decisive system in our time for reaching out to people

- and thus a network that forms a spider’s web that captures unsuspecting visitors.

Of key importance in Rolf Aamot’s world of ideas are knowledge of how the

media exploit images and the visual dramaturgy they use to achieve their goals.

According to Rolf Aamot, good forms of media distinguish between ”I” and ”we”

- they offer a sense of belonging, proximity and intensity, while at the same time

respecting individuality and multiplicity. The ideal is to produce a social space that

allows both individual and collective autonomy using dialogues as the ideal form of

communication. ”Interaction in social space has been the forte of the labor movement

” (Aamot). For Aamot, culture is interaction and the art he seeks to produce

is art that fosters and strengthens interaction. Aamot believes that modern mass

media represent new public spaces and the powers that be seek to gain power over

this public space. Anyone who today seeks power seeks to control the media. In

this perspective, Aamot’s artistic project appears as an attempt to counter power.

Aamot’s pictures contain no mottoes, no figurations that we can identify directly with

political figures, events or current affairs - yet his entire artistic practice is deeply political.

In 1966, Rolf Aamot recorded the first ”music video” on Norwegian television -

using music composed by Arne Nordheim. At the time of its broadcast one year later,

it was the first time television had been used as an independent artistic medium.

Art needs to be included in the task of creating our total environment. The places

people meet and are attracted to each other and repelled from one another appear

as stages where the visual theatre unfolds. It is a dialogue theatre, where the dialogue

can be read not in the form of verbal statements, but in the form of

visually available shapes and colors. In this theatre what is most important

is vision and what one senses through vision. It’s not that strange that Rolf

Aamot has never received a central position in contemporary art, considering

that the dominant trend right from the 1960s has been to deconstruct and

to give less priority to vision in deference to words and their power.

Rolf Aamot’s own contribution to this genre was his visual music. His visual music

consisted of visual tones formed through the mechanical and electronic processing

of light. Aamot has experimented with light and movement and

how the interaction of these two components can be crystallized in the

form of an image. Aamot’s pictures in the form of laser painting, film and photographs

can best be perceived as presentations of an electronic foundation

that forms scores that can be presented in several different ways.

Rolf Aamot’s pictures have an expression that is enticingly beautiful. The reason

why we perceive Aamot’s images as being beautiful in the conventional sense has

to do with the fact that his artistic style can be related to a generational style

which we associate with the abstract paintings of the 1950s and 1960s. If one

gets bogged down in these references as a background for understanding the

pictures, however, one will often miss out on the fact that behind this visual

expression Aamot has quite another frame of reference, one that breaks radically

with many ideals on which the Parisian school of abstract painting was based.

Øivind Storm Bjerke