'In the realization of our work we apply analogical photography in its most basic form. We study nature with natural physical and chemical processes. The images are determined by the nature of the material rather than our perception of it.
Our work is [...] not created but discovered.'
From the very beginning, we, artist duo Arja Hop and Peter Svenson, have focused our work on nature and the plant world in particular. Observing, identifying and analyzing their surroundings from there provides insight into what goes on under the man-made layers of constructed artificiality in the form of buildings and infrastructure.
In execution, we work primarily with analog photography. In essence, we use experimental analog photographic techniques to study nature and more specifically the adaptation of plants to their environment. We are always pushing the boundaries of analogue photography by experimenting with unconventional, self-taught techniques, such as making transparencies on 4-5 film material from applied plant dye, but also by referring to techniques from the past, constantly reflecting on the medium, its chemical and optical possibilities. Our fascination with natural phenomena runs like an analogy along with the analogue photography with which we explore them.
We always work in parallel on projects, which often last several years as well. They are in fact recording projects, which have a documentary character. They arise simultaneously with the exploration of the environment and the collection of plants. During this form of zooming in on an environment we learn about the environment, it acts as an orientation and with this we capture essential aspects from the environment, usually in a naturalistic form. The intent is to provide context, it is not so much to provide explanation. Although the color residues are also essentially realistic, you look at the plant extract in its material form, they seem abstract at first.
'Colour is one of the purest and most primitive forms of communication we have. It signals danger with the yellow and black of wasps bodies, while pretty pink flowers invite pollination.
Throughout mankind's evolution, we've come to associate particular colours with emotional responses ans triggers. Yet it's also one of the most subjective and disputed visual sensations there is.'
Residue, biochromatical colour scale.
Our Residue projects consists of a photographic research of plants, exploring their physicality, beauty and the response they provoke in human emotions. We examine the relationship between people and plants in specific geographical areas, the appreciation of the nature in the direct environment and how this relationship is in other parts of the world. Its about examining the coloration of natural dyes of flora inherent to various plants at ruderal areas in the form of a
biochromatical colour scale.
If you consider the plant as a chemical factory, then you could say that the internal plant dyes are a biochemical compound, Biochromatic colours. The internal color substances in a plant are: Secondary plant substances, these are the organic compounds that are made by a plant, but are not part of the primary metabolism; thus, they are secondary metabolites.
Secondary plant substances are of great importance: they perform a wide range of roles in the plant, as colorants, fragrances, and other signaling agents. Some are toxins. There is a very large variety of secondary plant substances, so that the study of their composition in a given plant or plant group provides a lot of information regarding interrelationships of the plants studied. This finds application in chemotaxonomy, they can serve for humans as, among other things, drugs or as starting points for medicines and perfumes. They also determine the taste of plants, both vegetables, and kitchen herbs and spices.
Some secondary plant substances / dyes compounds are:
Anthocyanin : a purple-red dye, . Betanin : a red dye extracted from the red beet. Carotene : an orange dye extracted from the carrot and sweet potato. Flavoxanthin: a yellow dye extracted from the buttercup, among others.
Flowers with the same colour usually also contain the same dyes. The colour we see is often a combination or mixture of different dyes. Due to differences in the mixture, the color of flowers can therefore be different, while still containing the same dyes. The colour of the anthocyanins (water-soluble dyes) depends on the other substances that are nearby. So flowers can contain the same anthocyanins but still have a different color due to different copigments. Furthermore, the presence of some metals can affect the color we perceive. In addition, the acidity of the soil and the soil fertility affects the degree of coloration. A plants dye is also affected by that degree of stress that the plant has, for example 'poor' soil.
With this knowledge we look for relationship between soil conditions and color composition, we measure soil before and after overgrowth of Rumex ob. And see if this has an effect on the soil or on the dye, we do this by Spectrophotometry.
"A new orientation is given to the subject of floral colours by the author's discovery that these colours may be placed into two distinct spectral categories, which have been designated by him respectively as the spectrum of florachrome A and of florachrome B."- SIR C V RAMAN - Floral colours and their origins*
We see a collection of colours. Different shades, tones, textures. They form a rhythmic whole, they seem to move together, talk to one another....
The colours represent the vast variety of ‘wild’ plants in Amsterdam. Arja Hop and Peter Svenson use experimental analogue photographic techniques to study nature and more specifically the adaption of plants to their environment. The duo explores the limits of analogue photography by experimenting with unconventional, self-taught techniques, as well as referring to techniques from the past, constantly reflecting on the medium, its chemical possibilities. They translate their observations into analogue photographic prints. The process they have developed to do so forms an integral part of their work.
It starts with collecting small samples of ruderal plants found in the city. Elderberry, hollyhock, dandelion.... Resolving the plant materials into water they subtract pigmented juices, which they preserve on photographic film. Mixed together with photographic gelatine, the binding element, the pigment is poured onto transparent black-and-white 4x5 inch film. It is only then the camera enters into the process. This camera, which the duo built specifically for the project, allows them to photograph the film on a large format colour negative. Finally, the negative is transformed into an analogue chromogenic print, a photographic colour residue. This happens through a laborious process of refinement taking place in the darkroom, until the colour of the print is optically as much alike as possible to the original plant residue. Each residue, each print, corresponds with a specific plant found in a specific part of town. This meticulous process enables the duo to make comparisons between the colours and thus the status of different plants of the same plant family found in different circumstances, based on slight colour nuances of the subtracted pigment.
The work clearly shows the hand of the artists, like the brush of the painter, yet the outcome of the work is to some extent based on coincidence and dictated by nature, by the colours the plants produce. The artists keep to these colours, not trying to make the residues any more or less beautiful, staying as close to ‘the original’ as possible. This gives the work ‘directness’, as though the plants speak to the viewer, through the raw material nature of the work. The work shows the unexpected, the unexpected abundance of colours these seemingly insignificant city plants hide from us, but also the direct consequences of environmental factors on plants.
Corresponding to the colour residues are gelatin silver prints the duo makes, depicting the plants in their ‘natural habitat’, or more accurately the location where they were found. These prints present urban scenes of Amsterdam, reminiscent in their aesthetic to the documentary, focusing our attention on the actual plants that generally go unnoticed. Printed on barite paper, the gritty feeling of the city surroundings is enhanced.
With their ‘photograms’, the final photographic component to Residue Project Amsterdam, the duo creates a type of ‘herbarium’ of the plants collected. Using this cameraless technique, which dates back to the origins of photography but did not enter the realm of art until the 20th century with avant- garde artists like Man Ray and László Moholy-Nagy, they place their ‘subjects of study’ onto 8x10 inch lithographic film before exposing the film to light for several seconds after which they develop the film and make a gelatin print of the photogram. The technique enables the artists to stay close to nature whilst zooming in on the formal details of the plants.
Process, physicality, chemistry, materiality, but also philosophy, aesthetics and the poetic, they are all words that can be used to describe the work of Arja Hop and Peter Svenson. Using analogue techniques they are able to give their work the depth and material feeling it has. With their self- developed techniques, their attention to detail, and artistic vision, they make, one could argue, that which is invisible, photographically visible.
Autor: Nina Svenson (copyright)