Jessica Auer, January – James D. Campbell, Bluer than Blue

[Spring/Summer 2016]
Jessica Auer, <em>
Dusk (January 26th)</em>, 2015, épreuve couleur / c-print, 28 × 35 cm

Jessica Auer,
 Dusk (January 26th), 2015, épreuve couleur / c-print, 28 × 35 cm

Who better than a seasoned photographer to explore the phenomenology of light? Jessica Auer’s recent series January, created during a 2015 residency in Seyðisfjörður, Iceland, is a thematic work of great visual poetry the resonance of which lingers within us like a memory of bluer-than-blue Icelandic light, long after we have left the exhibition halls.

Diaristic in nature, and allegorical in its mien, Auer’s work defines her environment discursively and not in terms of objects or mute things, or even people and relationships, but in terms of the infinite configurations and gradients of Icelandic light itself. That strangely ethereal blue light infuses everything it touches with sidereal grace and a hauntingly gravid eloquence. This work seems to take a cue from Claudel’s famous statement that “a certain blue of the sea is so blue that only blood would be more red.”1

Of her first morning in Iceland, the artist said, in the press release accompanying her show, “I alternated between each of the seven windows of my studio apartment, craning my neck to look up the valley, down the fjord, up the mountain slopes, and around all the other houses. It was 10 a.m. and the morning light maintained a dark deep blue. As the day carried on, the sun never broke the mountains, but circled around the peaks – gracing only the tops of the opposing ridges with direct light. I was told that the sun would only find the town again in February.” That hallmark dark blue is beautifully captured in a C-print emblematic of the whole project, Studio (January 27th) (2015).

In what is perhaps her most personal work to date, Auer recognized from the outset of her sojourn in Seyðisfjörður that she would have to jettison the constraints of her usual research-oriented approach and embrace the folklore of the moment wherein she found herself. Like Tangle, the wily heroine of George Macdonald’s famous story “The Golden Key,” who must follow a path without stairs or signposts to reach a land in which the most beautiful shadows are cast, Auer had to free-fall like a skydiver without recourse to the parachute of theory to secure an enduring truth of the Icelandic landscape. In the story, the Old Man of the Earth instructed Tangle: “That is the way,” he said. “But there are no stairs.” “You must throw yourself in. There is no other way.”2 So Auer threw herself in, gave herself up to chance, desire, circumstance, and the unknown, followed an itinerary without paths, and focused on walking every day as an artistic activity, within the limits of the short daylight hours, to see where that would lead her.

1 See Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Visible and the Invisible, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1968), 132.
2 George MacDonald, The Golden Key and Other Stories (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2000), 46.

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