Ulrik Heltoft “Recurring Sightings” Naples: 11 April/30 May 2008

Gallery B: Ulrik Heltoft “Recurring Sightings” 

Press Release

Opening Friday April 11 from 19,00 to 21,30 – From 11 April to 30 May 2008

When observed through a filter, reality is changed by an altered perception. We see what surrounds us through our sensitivity and the lens of our own experiences. In Ulrik Heltoft (Copenhagen, 1973) this perception is controlled not only by the artist’s creative capability, but also by whom, before him, tried to give a shape to their own thought’s  images. The Danish artist transforms in images, the words and descriptions of artworks which were never created by the French writer Raymond Russell in 1927 for his book “New Impressions Of Africa”.  Scrupulously following his instructions, Heltoft realized a group of photographic works contextualized by Russell’s descriptions:  the logical relation between the single images is apparently absent, and anyway decodable only through the text reading.  In this, one can see the will of who prefers catching a glimpse of reality also through someone else’s imagination;  and it is in this umbra, between what is revealed and what is not, that the artist’s interest lies. The same operation is repeated in the free realization of the video “Backwards to Africa”, inspired by Michelangelo Antonioni’s manuscript titled “Technically Sweet”, never translated to film by the director: a story that runs along two parallel plots,  chronically in the balance between reality and dream. Only through an attentive and repeated vision, one can metabolize the details that appear in the two stories, inducing to reflect about the content of the film. The same concentration and attention requested for the site specific video “Recurring Sightings”, in which the artist, in action inside the art gallery, repeats what the audience normally does entering an exposition area. Heltoft, though, inputs small visual distractions in the action overview, like stumbling on a step, that relate to the vision of space. This place becomes external and unknown in the video compared to what the observer actually perceives and lives remaining  in the same place the action was recorded in. But more could be hidden in the folds of the recorded images that we see in the video or the setting realized with simple white polystyrene blocks, imaginary ruins of minimal elements, and yet present within the rational spaces in which we live.

Ulrik Heltoft – “Recurring Sightings”

Danish artist Ulrik Heltoft, born 1973, is preoccupied with the process of transforming an act, an image, a text, or an idea from its original state to a new one. In a number of works he has worked from existing instructions given from others, often meant for other purposes or intended for different kind of medias. Two years ago he started the absurd process of realizing – one by one – the already absurd 59 instructions given verbally by the French author Raymond Roussel to a newspaper illustrator via a private detective agency in 1927. Roussel carefully describes different individual motives and situations, which the illustrator Henri A. Zo should then draw. Ulrik Heltoft has set out to use these very instructions to make a series of photographs. The overall idea or the logical relation between the individual images is seemingly absent – or did never exist.  Ulrik Heltoft’s project is not to detect a possible hidden secret which might not have been there in the first place, but rather to investigate the very transformation from the verbal to the visual format.

In the video ‘Backwards to Africa’ something similar is at stake. The video is a free interpretation of Michelangelo Antonioni’s never realized manuscript ‘Technically Sweet’ written in 1972. The process of translating the written document to film becomes again a central aspect of Ulrik Heltoft’s work. The title of the video refers to Jules Verne, another recurrent hero of the artist, whose fantastic travel literature was coined before the genre even existed. An early work by Jules Verne is entitled ‘Backwards to Britain’ a travelogue but without the adventurous plotline that earned Verne his fame. In Ulrik Heltoft’s mind this idea of traveling as a regressive rather than progressive act is also present in the Antonioni script. In the script a man is traveling to the jungle to find the truth and ends up finding his own death. Ulrik Heltoft‘s video dramatizes surprising visual references between the interior of the main character’s private surroundings and the wilderness of the jungle. Details such as foliage, reflections and surfaces reoccur from one location to the next. Visual repetition and overlay is always important in Ulrik Heltoft’s work. Even the persons become objectified as they re-enact the stereotypes of a young woman hanging around (the character actually played by three different actresses), an editor (presenting the only bid of dialogue in the film based on the manuscript), or the main character personalized by the artist himself, bewildered and lost in the jungle and in himself. As an extra arbitrary bonus to the title, the drawings ordered by Roussel were intended for his 1912-27 novel New Impressions of Africa. This apparent coincidence is typical of Ulrik Heltoft’s work, it is always informed by a doubleboundness that at the same is vividly complex and unpretentiously straight forward /literal.

‘Recurring Sightings’ is Ulrik Heltoft’s site specific video installation in Raucci/Santamaria. This work introduces a different kind of re-enactment, as it is not the artist himself who repeats or reconstructs an act described by somebody else, but actually the audience, oneself, who unconsciously repeats the act of the artist who enters (or as Ulrik Heltoft, literally stumbles), in to the very same space. The idea that it is a bad omen to stumble is one of the few superstitions which have sufficient documentary record with a relatively unchanged meaning. (Plutarch (c.110 AD), Shakespeare (1592), Andrei Tarkovsky (1972)). Stumbling on the way out means your journey or mission will go badly, stumbling on the way in (e.g. at the threshold) means that danger or ill luck lurks inside.

Ulrik Heltoft is reoccurring in his own works. His use of himself as characters in his videos or persons in his photographs is not is strangely depersonalized as he is using himself randomly whenever it fits the aim of the work, just as friends and acquaintances are used whenever it seems plausible.