Jenny-Marie Johnsen


Airborne visions



It was both characteristic and perfectly logical that my first contact with Jenny-Marie Johnsen`s work should take place on the internet, this amazing system which transports information through space, unlimited and unimpeded, thereby conveniently – and maybe a little sadly – making our little planet even smaller. The pictures were computer manipulated, or computer coloured, aerial photos of a river unhurriedly meandering through a South-American landscape. From the photos, you could sense the endlessly slow process forming the river, how the gentlest incline in the landscape had brought the stream to change its course. You could almost feel how the river had been eating its way through the earth, in one place accumulating material and building an embankment, while in another, cutting its way straight through. The river had been born, grown wild and turbulent, aged and twisted according to its character. faced with this process of millennia, time really does seem negligible.

A similar approach could be found in Jenny-Marie´s manipulated satellite photos shown on Earthnet, a web-exhibition of art from the North Cap, the Arctic area of the Nordic countries. The exhibition left a strong impression that there is something very peculiar and exciting going on up north. I have this homespun theory about the impact of the northern dimension on people, their mentality and their art, which runs as follows: Wherever you are, the further north you go, the stranger people get, and the more their art- whether music or fine art – seems to gain in spaciousness. I was to have my theory confirmed when I wnet to Tromsø, Jenny-Marie´s home town.

I visited the “Paris of the North”, as Tromsø is often called, during the winter, at a time when the sun only just managed to drag itself over the horizon, and for a mere few hours illuminated the majestetic mountain ridges and glaciers, catching its own reflection in the pitch black fjord. However, I soon saw enough to sense what makes Jenny-Marie live there and what she is after. But I had to give up all attempts at analysing and presenting her and her art through ordinary journalistic routines. The more pictures she showed  me, the more foolish seemed all my carefully prepared questions.

All I could do was to go for walks and look around – as far as the northern twilight days allowed. The cool, high air was as purifying as a winter bath, and the fjord mist refracted the faint sunlight into transparent blue, red and turquoise hues – Jenny-Marie´s palette.

The ancient mountain sides, black rocks and white snow, created a distinctive, graphic effect against a sky which the capricious Gulf stream in seconds would transform from quietly melancholic to the stormy stage – set of a Roger Corman horror film. Here, in the environment in which they had been born, Jenny-Marie`s pictures gradually unfolded, began to divulge their sources, and spring to life. The photos, the objects and the installations seemed to constitute a chain in the artistic search for aesthetic essence. But these were no “accomplished” artworks, rather they documented events in an ongoing artistic process. They were moments in time, frozen crystals in the glacier, which broke and filtered the light in continous change, both still and in motion. In this way they defy time as we know it, this time to which we depraved metropolitans seem to be forever enslaved. Alas!

The sense of liberation from time and space is further intensified by the fact that Jenny-Marie frequently studies the same motif in many different versions. It is as if she were able to wind and rewind time as a film, to stop it, colour and manipulate it, to give the moment a different character and then let the film move on. She searches, brings out the characteristics of the motif, gives it personality, as a sculptor does with his more tangible material. At the same time she seems aware of the pointless of the quest for the perfect picture. Sad? Perhaps… Beauty is sad. The truly beautiful can only be viewed from a distance.

My friend the jazz pianist sometimes sinks into deep ruminations over whether there is such a thing as an ultimate chord. At times he believes to have found it, yet continues his pursuit. Jenny-Marie seems to be working along similar veins, seeking the ultimate light, the core of a visual experience beyond rational explanations.


The writer is a free lance journalist for a.o. Hufvudstadsbladet,

Rundradion and Filmjournalen in Finland.