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[Essay] In connection with Hanne Nielsen and Birgit Johnsen's panoramic video installation Camaraderie’sat ARoS, Søren Pold has written an essay on the term panorama, in a contemporary and historical sense.




By Søren Pold, The Department of Information and Media Studies, Aarhus University.

Camaraderie’swas exhibited at ARoS in the period 1 - 9 September 2007


An advanced picture from the outskirts of the city
A picture represents a space. When one stands facing it, one can look through the surface of the picture and see the space it depicts - a place in a city from a summer holiday that has past, for example. Pictures with a one-point linear perspective, as is the case with most pictures, even see the space from a particular position: the position from where the picture is taken - where the observer has been and finds themselves again, virtually, when the picture is viewed. The one-point perspective simultaneously establishes a particular order, a perspective, with a direction indicated by vanishing lines, a centre and a periphery, a balance, an order. It orders the space for us. Moving pictures are also dominated by linear perspectives even though the camera, and with it the perspective, is moved and turned. Often the camera angle follows a point of view, a person, or a narrative logic, and reality is organised visually and narratively.


But pictures do not only represent a space, they also constitute a space in themselves. This becomes clear with Camaraderie’s - a moving image of 2.9 x 14.5 metres, created by the video artists Hanne Nielsen and Birgit Johnsen. The dimensions alone mean that it is too big to be able to be taken in with a single glance, together with the fact that things taking place evade a collective order. More than one thing happens at a time, and the actions are maybe - maybe not - related to one another. Camaraderie’s deviates from the traditional one-point perspective and draws on another picture tradition.  


Camaraderie’s is panoramic - both due to the imposing scale and also the way in which a clear one-point perspective is not imposed. The word panorama is used today as a metaphor for something big, or spectacular, but the term originates from a patented invention from 1787, "the all-embracing view" by the Scot Robert Barker. In 1793 the first panorama opened in London and with it ushered in a new epoch as the first visual mass media, a little less than half a century before the invention and diffusion of photography, and a full century before film. Through the 1800's panoramas opened in large cities all over the world, where people flocked to see pictures of distant cities, historic events or impressive church spaces. These consisted of gigantic painted canvasses mounted in a round building containing a special roof construction, with a canopy and a central platform, which meant that the spectators couldn't see the edge of the picture - thus it was a picture without a frame mounted in a building without windows, where the audience were able to obtain the latest overview of the images of the day. Here the spectator could experience the spectacular events that the newspapers wrote about, see a faraway city with a tourist gaze, and the perspective of the panorama was also - in a concrete sense - a mass perspective: unlike in the one-point perspective, there wasn't a fixed perspective with a gathered vanishing point, but a mass perspective with a lineal horizon, which the eye could wander along and long for. A mass perspective of the modern age where the spectator, in the form of an enterprising businessman or politician, was able to fill the space and move themselves around towards new horizons.


In 1822 the scenographer and developer of the daguerreotype, Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre, invented the diorama. The diorama used light and later sound effects to illustrate time and movement, and throughout the century kept the panorama format alive with numerous new inventions, patents and names for the three-dimensional viewing machines. The panorama's swan song was the Universal Exposition in Paris in 1900, where a palace was built on the Champs des Mars and a mareorama was installed, enabling spectators to board a swaying ship and regard the landscapes passing by, as if on a sea voyage. In the 20th century the panorama was quickly made obsolete by the cinema or ‘cosmorama as it was often called. In the panorama the picture was in itself a room with the painted canvas as walls - a picture construction we recently have experienced with Virtual Reality and the 3D or 4D cinemas of the amusement park, where the picture is made roomy and takes over our field of vision.


The panorama became famous for it’s, at that time, unprecedented realism. "The illusion was complete" remarked the French Romantic Chateaubriand; Balzac built his depiction of the Paris of the 1800s up around it, and here in Denmark Hans Christian Andersen was also taken with the panorama. The observers of the time forgot - in any case in their enthusiastic comments - that they 'only' saw a picture, parallel with how we actually are becoming taken by computer-driven visual machines, from Virtual Reality to 3D games.


Camaraderie’s places itself as a continuation of these spatial, all-embracing pictures, but doesn't hide its mediated character as picture - instead the work uses its duplicity of spatio-picturely illusion and obvious scene setting. At first one experiences the picture as very large and incalculable, with its detailed riches. We see a whole city space unfold - a lawn which marks a little pause in the city space at the end of a boulevard and at the side of a busy square, where individuals and groups fade in and out, from the old man on the bench, the drunk, the council worker cutting grass, to various groups, parents with prams, city planners, scouts, football fans, demonstrators, motorbikes, and finally police and a helicopter, which hovers over the scenery and casts a worried eye down on it.


The sound is spread out over the whole picture surface via six loud speakers. But the sound simultaneously underlines that this is not concerned with a random day in an undefined city space, but an advanced staged scene, which articulates this. One doesn't hear the traffic or the birds; the sound is cleaned of background noise and directs the spectator to the incidents, which are also visually isolated from each other like different layers in the picture, fading in and out. The football fans don't react to the demonstration, and the police behave passively and don't intervene. But as a viewer one cannot help but sense a certain drama, which builds up slowly over the 17 minutes, when the prams drive out the old man, and immigrants are replaced by football fans, demonstrators and motorbikes, culminating in the arrival of the police, the contemptuous racket of the helicopters, and break in the vertical perspective.


Gradually it becomes clear how a social dynamic occurs in the city space. Groups crop up as ways in which to act on the common stage - ways to stand out, establish a difference in respect to others, and to a certain extent opt out of the community - maybe even threaten it? Most of us become a little frightened by uniformed groups - whether they are football fans, demonstrators, immigrants or the police. The groups dominate in different ways, and they build up their dominance through uniforms and clichés, which make them recognisable signs in the public space. At the same time other signs appear, proverbs and ways of speaking are played out, and whilst some bang their head against a brick wall or walk before they can crawl, other empty vessels make most noise and cast pearls before swine.People meet, and sweet music arises, where after someone kicks ass. Like an echo from the Flemish painters of the 1500s, in Brueghel's painting The Flemish Proverbs (1559) it is depicted how actions and groups become social clichés, signs and linguistic constructions, which we in our daily lives use to decode and arrange reality. Reality and the language of it become a kind of choreography.           


The drama is not released. Nothing happens with a clear, unequivocal, dramatic meaning. The police do not intervene, there is no tumult, the helicopter fades out, and finally a bottle collector empties the picture of things litter left behind. Camaraderie’s depicts masses and power relations in a random city space on the outskirts of the city, where they crop up, wrestle and displace one another without instituting a clear narrative order. All are equal, like isolated islands in the social ocean - everything is kept on the same level in the large, flat picture, and nothing pops out or is given precedence, even though it is clear that a power relation is being played out in a social dynamic.


As inhabitants of Aarhus the place is both recognisable as the grass lawn at the end of Ingerslevs Boulevard by Harald Jensen’s Plads, yet it is difficult to pinpoint the city space precisely. The special perspective in the work enlarges the area at the end of Ingerslevs Boulevard and makes it almost park-like, at the same time as Harald Jensens Plads in the background is withdrawn, and the background sounds are toned down. Camaraderie’s doesn't hide its scene setting, and the city space and its social dynamic is created to a large extent by the use of perspective. At once democratic and highly constructed, we are shown the construction. What we see is the social group dynamic and the means by which it is constructed: the power relations, the uniforms, the potentially dominant and threating behaviour, and the counter measures it releases. Camaraderie’s shows the space, but also constructs it with a demonstrative and spectacular clarity, and it is this duplicity which provides us with the work's double view: we see the area as both an undefined space on the outskirts of the city and as a stage, which is constructed by the work's perspective.


After 17 minutes the scene shifts and we follow five paratroopers jump, from each individual perspective, and see them capture territory and perform choreography to instrumental rock music, in a field with a crackling fire in the corner. The weapons become props, the capturing of the territory becomes a dance, and it is a shorter and different atmospheric staging which acts as a contrast to the inscrutable city space. In spite of all the differences we see again how groups occupy the spaces, at the same time as this conquering displaces meaning from a military sense to the playful and dancing.


What are the similarities and what are the differences between scout groups, immigrant groups, parents of small children armed with multi-terrain prams, youths in cars with thumping high music, demonstrators, football fans, police and the military? When do good friends turn into excluding cliques? And what happens when social actions and complexities are reduced to phrases? Camaraderie’s does not show a simple picture, but demonstrates through its advanced spacious construction how reality itself is complex in its construction. Even on a lawn on the outskirts of Århus' inner city.




Søren Pold is a lecturer at the Institute of Information and Media Studies at Aarhus University