Christian Houge's large-scale photographs of scientific equipment set in the arctic landscape are a quiet meditation on humanity's place in the universe. Mammoth satellites upturned, trained on the sky, and endless orderly rows of antennae bear witness to humanity's tireless search for knowledge and relentless desire to understand and control his surroundings. A kind of passive objection fills the emptiness of Houge's landscapes, however—giant icebergs looming in the distance and vast rolling snow drifts stretching to the horizon quietly remind us how little we truly understand of the universe and how little we have explored even the farthest reaches of our own world.
Petrol Pump in Moonlight is a commentary on the sheer enormity of nature and its ability to render the manmade paltry in comparison. Here is a single gas pump, prolonged exposure to the harsh climate leaving it slightly worse for wear, set in the middle of a vast field of ice and illuminated by the faint glow of a solitary streetlamp. The gas pump and streetlamp seem like stand-ins for the people who left them there, reminiscent of a pair of arctic wanderers huddling together for warmth. The two forms are quickly overwhelmed by the bleak beauty of the landscape, its frozen blue aura enveloping the scene.
In Sunken Ship, two spindly metal mastheads poke out through a huge snow drift, the only signs left of a ship now lying hidden beneath the snow. I imagine the scene as a kind of modern memento mori, a reminder of our own mortality and the transience of life. Still, a quiet, frozen beauty pervades the scene, expressing a sense of calmness and meditation rather than warning.
Perhaps most striking is Spheres in Moonlight. The openness of the sky and surrounding landscape, the vastness of the empty space that surrounds the two (likely huge) spherical structures in the foreground renders the scene almost unreal—like a miniature. The buildings look like ping pong balls and the mammoth icebergs in the distance like a line of unused furniture covered over with a crisp white sheet. Truly breathtaking.
(*Images: Christian Houge, Antenna Forest, 2000, digital c-print, 26.79 x 78.8 inches. Christian Houge, Petrol Pump In Moonlight, 2001, digital c-print, 26 x 78.8 inches. Christian Houge, Sunken Ship, 2001, digital c-print, 26 x 78.8 inches. Christian Houge, Spheres in Moonlight, 2000, digital C print, 26.75 x 79 inches & 39.5 x 118 inches.)