Denise Gründstein: Figure out

Even though the Swedish photographer is very inspired by ancient romantic painting, she certainly has her own unique mysterious style, and shows a different modern view on the classic motive: woman in nature

Denise Grünstein: Figure Out, Head Hunter, 2009
Denise Grünstein: Figure Out, Head Hunter, 2009.

Long wisps of hair are falling meditatively down from above in front of a woman’s torso, dressed in what appears to be men clothing. After a while, a huge pile of hair is lying there on the white tablecloth, then the video reverses, and the hair motions backwards up into the ceiling or sky.

The very beautiful and melancholic setting about time, and the transitory of all things, from the Swedish photographer and video artist Denise Gründstein’s piece All Flesh is Grass.

Denise Gründstein is one of Sweden’s best-known photographic artists. Her work is lyrical, atmospheric, and has a strong reference to romantic painting and surrealistic photography.

Denise Grünstein: Figure Out, Female Gaze, 2009
Denise Grünstein: Figure Out, Female Gaze, 2009.

The artist focuses on stage-like, artificial ambiance in her photos, which are often inspired by her personal experiences and memories, with an undertone of feministic thoughts. And like the video piece, All Flesh is Grass, most of her photos become significant to the point of symbolic, because of their minimal action and set-up.

Artificial ambiance

The Exhibition Figure out at KIASMA The Museum of Contemporary art in Helsinki takes its name after Denise Gründstein’s series, which emphasizes almost symbolically on hair. The staged photographs show different women, who are mysteriously veiled behind their hair or maybe wigs. The women are captured on a beautiful beach, very dressed up and either in front of, or lying on a table.

Denise Grünstein: Figure Out, Head over Heels, 2009
Denise Grünstein: Figure Out, Head over Heels, 2009.

The strong and sophisticated work is a puzzle, and not to be really understood, but it raises questions and implies issues about culture versus nature besides the feminine, and the relation between the woman and nature. It seems as if the women are hiding themselves behind a mysterious and maybe fake fragility, but at the same time they seem lost out there in nature.

“I’m interested in what I cannot understand” a statement from Denise Gründstein, which is easy to relate to her wonderful photographs. All the pictures are taken by a large format camera, which furthermore strongly emphasizes the artificial mood.

This type of camera requires models to stay motionless for quite a while. One of the artist’s surrealistic inspired pictures is even showing a female model leaned back against a steel neck support. This kind of device, which of course also stresses the artificiality of the picture, was used in the early days of photography, when the technique required long exposure times.

Modern women in nature

In the series, Figure in Landscape, Denise Gründstein explores the landscape in a very painterly way. The almost romantic set-ups show the countryside: a wild forest, a riverside, or a garden full of plants and flowers in bloom.

But there is also a woman in all of the images – a lonely woman, who seems to struggle with nature. She is dressed in modern clothing and her body is captured in juxtaposed positions. She is not at all in harmony with her surroundings, and can be seen as a symbolic image of an opposition to the romantic idea of women being part of nature.

Denise Grünstein: Figure Out, 5 krs, ripustuskuva
Denise Grünstein: Figure Out, 5 krs, ripustuskuva

But at the same time the beautiful aesthetics, the colors and the compositions of the series, draw strong references to romantic painting and sceneries, which create a wholeness of the images. Nothing is left out to coincidences. In one of the images, the plastic bag the woman is carrying is even matching the flowers in the garden.

Thus, Denise Gründsteins photographs place themselves a little bit in between modernity and romanticism. They are either or, and this is really the high quality of the artists work. The puzzles and questions they implicitly raise about modern feministic topics are very current.

Denise Grünstein: Figure Out, kuva/photo: Henrik Palmberg
Denise Grünstein: Figure Out, kuva/photo: Henrik Palmberg