Augusta Atla Immerses Herself in History – and Changes It
By Emma Nordahl – LÆSØ POSTEN, 6 July 2022
*Per Kirkeby (1 September 1938 – 9 May 2018) – a Danish painter, poet, film maker and sculptor.
* Læsø – the largest Danish island in the North Sea bay of Kattegat.
For the past 5 weeks the artist Augusta Atla has been working in the former studio/home of Per Kirkeby.
The silence of Læsø can be somewhat deafening for anyone more used to the teeming pulse of a big city. Augusta Atla, who lives and works in Copenhagen, has found the tranquillity of Læsø both welcome and overwhelming. Sitting in the high-ceilinged studio, she looks back on her stay on Læsø, which is now nearing its end. Her dog Hubert is lying sprawled out at her feet. During her stay, Atla has communed continually with the history and legacy of Kirkeby. The encounter has led to countless speculations and, in many ways, been an intense experience.
Impacted by reminiscence
On the walls of the studio there are pictures in several different sizes, formats and colours. While the majority of the works are hanging on the wall, there is a single print hanging on a string that traverses the entire room. An overhead projector on an old office chair casts the motif of an old photograph on the wall. A ray of sunlight brushes the reflection, blurring the motif. In our search for what is no longer there, we become absorbed in Augusta Atla’s visual universe.
As a visual artist, Atla edits images and motifs by removing part of them and adding something new.
“My work is about stories and the collective consciousness. Everything I create is based on works in which the image is a way of remembering the story – a story that I alter. I’m less interested in the actual image or motif than in the way it reflects that something’s being changed. The image acquires its own voice. It becomes animated and assumes a soul.”
The original material that Atla edits comprises everything from classic motifs and old film reels found on the street and in dustbins to her own personal photographs. Her works are the result of several different processes: for example, photographs developed in the dark room, silk screen printing, painting and drawing. Even the positioning of her work plays a role, and several of her exhibitions feature installations.
“My work is a bit like perfume. You inhale it and are immediately reminded of something you can’t articulate. You enter the room and wonder who left it there. It’s like arriving too late or after the event,” explains Atla.
Women in art
In other words, much of her work involves removing or obliterating one or more elements of the original: a reference to another of Augusta Atla’s pet fields. Alongside her work as a painter, Atla is an active debater on the subject of the centuries-old inequality that has erased female artists from the European art scene.
“Denmark believes that equality already exists, because no one counts how many exhibitions represent male artists, and how many represent female artists. The figures exist. It’s merely a question of counting them.”
It is not Augusta Atla’s personal conviction about gender that kindled her interest in the debate, but historical fact.
“There is gender in art. So when there’s no equality, you lose a lot of works. If the under-represented sex doesn’t get to portray gender, you lose part of art history. So, you could say that there’s part of art history we don’t yet know.”
Atla doubts whether the debate has made any direct impact on her own artistic impression, but points out that today she is inspired by several female artists, who have afforded her a kind of relief.
“The fact that I no longer need the backing of so many great men, but can also relate to a number of brilliant woman is probably consoling. It feels like finding another family tree.”
A friend of Per Kirkeby
The scent of summer rain infiltrates the studio. Outside, everything is green and in full bloom. But Augusta Atla explains that, unlike Per Kirkeby, she has not drawn inspiration from the nature that surrounds Haabet (Haabet – the name of Per Kirkeby’s studio on Læsø).
“In my case, nature can help take me back to basics and give me a degree of clarity. I enjoy nature, but it doesn’t inspire my creativity.”
Augusta Atla has a different take on the whole Læsø Artists in Residence concept, which gave her the opportunity not only to work in Kirkeby’s studio, but also to live in his former home.
“It’s difficult not to get caught up in his story, and to contemplate how he worked and how he commemorated his own life in art. We’re still eating from his egg cup. I feel a bit like Goldilocks,” she laughs.
Immersion in history and stories seems to be a recurrent theme in Atla’s work. Despite pronounced differences between herself and Kirkeby, she feels she has got closer to him.
“My view of Kirkeby will never be the same again and, when I look at his works, Læsø will be all-pervading. So, my time here has been quite pivotal. It’s brought him to life, and I have a totally different affection for him. He’s become a myth. He’s become a friend.