At Houston’s FotoFest, Charlotte Haslund-Christensen’s HOPE & FEAR launches an appeal ‘to global solidarity, community and respect.’ FotoFest Executive Director Steven Evans explains how.
Danish video artist and photographer Charlotte Haslund-Christensen’s work has taken her around the world to six continents and countless countries. She has exhibited extensively both in Denmark and abroad, including New York, Paris, Pingyao, Warsaw, Helsinki and Casablanca, bringing her astute interrogation of the history and role of lens-based media to a diverse array of audiences and viewers.
It is no wonder, then, that Haslund-Christensen took to the road once again for her latest major work HOPE & FEAR — a large-scale video project four years in the making that points the camera lens at everyone from teachers and street hawkers to police officers and artists in seven global capitals. Haslund-Christensen’s discovery that, despite our differences, we are all very much the same, can be intuited. But it is the tenderness and awareness of others that audiences discover in themselves that is HOPE & FEAR’s true gift.
Enter Steven Evans: curator, writer, and executive director of the award-winning arts organization FotoFest, which created the first and longest running international Biennial of Photography and New Media Art and which is now hosting HOPE & FEAR until November 9th as part of the Danish Arts in Houston initiative.
Denmark In New York caught up with Steven Evans to discuss how the festival, Haslund-Christensen and Danish Arts in Houston have teamed up to deliver a powerful message to local audiences about resilience in times of fear.
Denmark In New York: Please tell us a little bit about FotoFest and its history as an art institution in Houston.
Steven Evans: Founded in 1983, FotoFest is a non-profit international image-based arts and education organization based in Houston, Texas that creates year-round photographic arts and education programs, internationally known as platforms for the public discovery and presentation of important new talent and developments in the field of photography. FotoFest’s largest single program is the citywide international Biennial of Photography and New-Media Art in Houston — the first such event in the United States (beginning in 1986) and continually recognized as a world leader in its field.
FotoFest’s other art programs include new public exhibitions presented year-round, symposia, panel discussions, publications, free artist talks, lectures, film screenings, classes, workshops and public events such as interdisciplinary visual art/poetry readings and bicycle art tours for students and the general public. FotoFest created and sponsors the year-round, in-school photography and writing learning program Literacy Through Photography, using photography to teach and strengthen cognitive learning and communication skills in students grade 3–12, as well as select adult groups. The 29 year-old program reaches approximately 90 classrooms and 3,000 students annually in the Houston area, many serving children from low-income areas.
What were the criteria you were looking for when selecting contributions for the DANSK KONCEPTUELT FOTOGRAFI exhibition?
Steven Evans: Thanks to the generosity of the Danish Agency for Culture and Palaces, I received a research grant to visit Denmark last year. It was an incredibly productive and useful few days for me, and I met with over twenty individuals during my visit. I met fifteen artists working in photography and moving image, and most are working in practices rooted in conceptual art. The work is very thoughtful. I could not stop thinking of four artists in particular: Nanna Debois Buhl, Christina Capetillo, Charlotte Haslund-Christensen, and Trine Søndergaard, a diverse group whose work unpacks visual culture through research-driven inquiry. Each of them propose a compelling, alternative reading of the photographed subject — from landscape to architecture, and from dress to portraiture — and they draw attention to the limits of objective visuality. The photographic subject serves as a catalyst for conceptual investigation of the ideas and issues behind the images.
How did the DANSK KONCEPTUELT FOTOGRAFI exhibition come to feature Charlotte Haslund-Christensen’s HOPE AND FEAR? What specific elements of the video project did you find intriguing, appealing and relevant?
As I mentioned, Charlotte Haslund-Christensen was one of the artists with which I met on my research trip. I was immediately struck by her HOPE AND FEAR project — simple in appearance — though quite complex, very direct, and extremely powerful — and knew immediately from our studio visit that I wanted to bring this work to Houston. I believe it is a work that seeks to unite us and create understanding — and this fits very well with FotoFest’s mission and values.
In a world riddled with anxieties about the future, HOPE AND FEAR seems to be quite a topical subject. How is it connecting with Houston audiences and what kind of conversations is it eliciting?
Steven Evans: Audiences are connecting with it, and audiences of all ages. Groups that have come in, and individuals, become mesmerized by the work. It draws them in very quickly. The conversations arising from seeing the work often reference what is happening in the world right now, and the hopes and fears we have because of our contemporary political and economic challenges, as well as climate change.
Before we conclude, perhaps it makes sense for us to turn the “camera lens” back on you and ask: What is your biggest fear and biggest hope?
Steven Evans: My HOPE and FEAR? My greatest FEAR is a world without hope, and my greatest HOPE is that we do not allow our fears to enable humanity’s inhumanity to others, as well as contributing to the destruction and decay of our global environment.
Alberte Wahlers is the Strategic Communications and Press Trainee at Denmark in New York