In praise of the impossible intimacy
Notes on Torbjørn Rødland – The Touch that Made You

by Angelica Moschin

Any distance between us is suppressed but suppressed in order that we may not come closer to one another.

Maurice Blanchot, Thomas l’Obscur

Torbjørn Rødland is drawn to the hic et nunc of photography, the tactility of a wordless encounter, whether that of the photographer or the model – responding one another – or that of surfaces and substances merging together in uncanny and unprecedented ways. Resorting to the typical American postmodern iconography from advertising and popular media – one that is often seen as inherently deprived of meaning – Rødland’s fundamental gesture is that of healing, both the viewer and himself, mending a break and cautiously moving on the brink of something which is always about to open up and swallow him.

Since his first experiments on editorials and political cartoons, he has made use of a predominantly postmodern imaginary in the attempt to convert it into something more incisive and artistically valuable.

Over the last two decades, Rødland has created a consistent body of images in which critical rigor is finely coupled with a sharp intuition. By appropriating certain fetishes, fears and taboos, his works have the power to simply question the viewer over what is lurking beneath the surface. In his own words, “they are not meant to be decoded, but to keep you in the process of looking. It’s layered and complex. It mirrors and triggers you without an end and for no good reason.”

A gaze – especially when held for long – is a way of approaching what is standing before us: a fictitious mirroring representation that entails the radically disturbing recognition that it is only through the relation to the Other, that the “positive” meaning of any term – and thus its “identity” – can be constructed. In this sense, Rødland is drawn to the idea of opposites coming together and the possibility of displaying within his works asymmetrical couples and apparently incongruous ideas. Instead of resorting to reassuringly familiar couples from commercial photography, he rather explores the oxymoronic nature of paradoxes.

Derrida has shown how an identity construction is always based on excluding something and establishing a violent hierarchy between two resultant poles – man/woman; black/white; old/young etc. Thus, identification could be seen as a process of continual articulation, where the Other, the Opposite, is always the much-needed, the constitutive outside, what is asked to take part in and consolidate the construction of ourselves. It can be, as Freud pointed out, a fantasy of incorporation, of fusional consummation with the other. And this latent idea again relates back to the conceptual core of Rødland’s solo show at Prada Foundation. “We are all to some degree a result of how we are seen, held and touched”, in other words we are a result of how we are shaped and reshaped by the phagocytizing Other and vice versa.

On the verge of material immanence and delirium, Rødland performs a continual oscillation between a utopian dimension – one that couples with otherness to achieve a perfect “twoness” – and the lurking danger of dispersion towards the far-off yet deeply-felt Other. At the threshold of a proper intimacy, a latent awareness emerges. “The Touch That Made You” deflates, shades off like a mirage and its melancholic impossibility shows itself for what it might be – the touch that expels you.