Ruth Barker

Small Lights in Great Darkness: A New Cinema of Many Sided Sense.




It is very unusual for humans to be killed by bears. But it is ultimately more unusual for the bear-hunter to kill humans.


The room is dark. The projector makes a small noise. A dark image is glimpsed in the darkness, but briefly, and we cannot make out its edges.

The room is dark. The dark image sprays soft and sudden sparks, illuminating shadows in the darkness.

The room is dark. A triptych of views now re-imagine the spray of light, and the dark figures in the projected image are welding an unknown object in the darkness. Are they building? Or disassembling? Are they putting something together? Or taking something apart?

The sparks fall on the image of the ground, rolling and dusting our retinas with their photogene. There is a story here, but I can’t yet piece it together. Too much is still in darkness, illuminated only by this glowing, beautiful, fallible cascade. There is a threat within the poetry. The figures disappear as gradually as they arrived: making and dismantling some many-sided sense.

Let me tell you a story. Audhild Dahlstrøm is not asking our permission: she’s not that kind of artist. The story unfolds, but as in the traditions of both shadow-play and love letters we are never given everything we may be promised.

Some years ago Dahlstrøm told me that she wanted to make a film that was eight hours long – the length (she told me) of a working day. No-one would ever watch the whole movie, but everyone who saw it would know that they had missed more than they had seen. She seemed to crave the sense of loss that she could bestow and I imagined her audience waiting in the darkness of the blacked out gallery, craving resolution and being gifted instead a special kind of absence.

This tension between knowing and not knowing, between seeing and not seeing, lies at the heart of Dahlstrøm’s work. She reveals and hides her plays in the same way that we may find our memories to be both transcripts of the past and fabrications of a landscape never traveled. In The Bear Hunter Dahlstrøm’s protagonists are masked and their voices distorted. The images are stretched and pixilated as the mechanisms of their digital framing are revealed. The figures’ relationship to one another – and their author – remains undisclosed. We are under no doubt that their testimonies are unreliable and yet we still try to piece together their stories. In doing so we apportion guilt, culpability, and motive to a speculative scenario, and allow Dahlstrøm herself to construct her myths of blood and longing.

The wearing of masks becomes a strategy that allows us to see and yet not see these figures. Their plastic animal features remain impassive as they talk. We stare into the perforations, but never succeed in making eye contact. The blankness of the stare becomes inscrutable and even perverse – who are these people? They become their animal selves as they make their inconclusive testimonies, subsumed effortlessly into a set of inhuman symbols: Pig, Fox, Duck. A hierarchy? Or a manifestation of their subconscious makeup? Dahlstrøm herself is as inscrutable as her constructed world.

The vignettes of The Bear Hunter are something more than narratives. They fragment, dissolve, and strive to contain their own dissolution within their fragmentation. Dahlstrøm seems to present us with an archeology of dreams (perhaps of nightmares) as the emotional darkness of her work edges through the architecture of its representation. We sense a larger story here as a community, an island, a social order is rendered quietly horrific, phobic, and obscene. And yet the glimpses are just that – shadows at the edges of our mind’s eye. Turning the lamp to look at them more clearly we find that they disappear, flooded out of concealment to vanish in the glare.

The room is dark again. We know that we have missed more than we will ever see, and that the structured untruths before us are something of a stage. A man sits on a bed. A mask conceals his face as he seeks to elude his enemies and re-build a broken dream. He seems to speak to us, but his lips do not move:

It is very unusual for humans to be killed by bears. But it is ultimately more unusual for the bear-hunter to kill humans.