Nanna Debois Buhl’s solo exhibition at SAAG, her first in Canada, brings together a body of work, exploring Denmark's colonial history in what is now the U.S. Virgin Islands, an area where Danish, U.S., and African-Caribbean histories intersect. The three Caribbean islands St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix, were under Danish rule from the 17th century until they were sold to the U.S. for $25 million in 1917. Through photography, drawing, film and text, the artist maps the residue of this colonial history—its images and representations—and considers their present implications.
The central installation, The Mapmaker (2008), reflects on the acts of mapping, naming and photographing as ways of occupying space, pointing to the overlap between the territory claimed by the colonizer and present day tourist routes. Integral to the artist’s project and to the exhibition is the idea of a two-way encounter, of traveling and exploring as ways of inverting the positions of “here” and “there.” The video work Postcards - Tivoli (2006), filmed in the amusement park Tivoli in Copenhagen, takes us back to Danish soil. Although it is today considered a national symbol, the park is distinguished by its Orientalist architecture, built in the mid 19th century and modeled on architecture found in London and Paris. A narrative soundtrack examines the relationship between ideology and aesthetics, by reflecting on the architecture of the park as well as the colonial exhibition it hosted in 1905, in which people from the Danish colonies were put on display.
In conjunction with the exhibition, SAAG has co-commissioned the artist’s book A Journey in Two Directions that, in the spirit of a travel journal, documents Debois Buhl’s recent body of works that examine traces of Denmark’s colonial past. The title of the book refers both to the movement between geographic locations, Denmark and the Virgin Islands, and between past and present.
The book includes contributions from Naja Marie Aidt, Johanna Burton, Edgar O. Lake, Thomas J. Lax, Tone Olaf Nielsen, and Louise Wolthers and is published by Revolver Publishing. Available at SAAG and online at: www.revolver-books.de
A research room will spatialize and activate components of the book, making visible the artist’s process. An avid researcher, Debois Buhl draws on a variety of sources, and compiles information using both intellect and intuition. Rather than privilege any specific method of gathering knowledge, her works break down distinctions between real and imagined, organically weaving in personal observations with facts.
Milena Hoegsberg is a New York-based curator, currently working on exhibitions, research, and arts related projects on a freelance basis. She earned her BA in Art History at Columbia University and her MA at the Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College. She recently completed a large research project on biennials, and co-authored a paper on “discursive” biennials, which will be included in The Biennial Reader (forthcoming, Bergen Kunsthall, 2010).
Debois Buhl is a New York-based Danish artist. She works conceptually with film, drawing, photography, text and sound. Her recent projects explore how language, signs, and architecture change meaning over time and between contexts, while shaping and interacting with various forms of identities. Debois Buhl received her MFA from The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, (2006) and participated in The Whitney Museum Independent Study Program (2008-09). She was Artist in Residence at LMCC’s Work Space Program, New York (2007-08), and The Caribbean Museum Center, US Virgin Islands (2008).
Looking for Donkeys is supported by the Danish Arts Council, Canada Council for the Arts, Alberta Foundation for the Arts, and the City of Lethbridge.