Alveng is clearly uninterested in familiar street drama
- Michael Almereyda
This is MOST Important
11 – 26 September 2021
Opens Saturday 11 September 12 – 16
Sat / Sun 12 – 16
Wed / thurs/ Fri 12 – 17
And by appointment
We have the great pleasure of presenting Dag Alveng ´s New York series "This is MOST Important" from 1993.
The series was exhibited the first time in Oslo in 2002 and we are proud to reintroduce you to these historic pictures from New York when Alveng lived and work in the city.
Some of the pictures are printed for the first time for this exhibition.
The Man of The Crowd
By Michael Almereyda
Essay in the book " Dag Alveng, Layers of Light"
Alveng is clearly uninterested in familiar street drama.
The Man of the Crowd These photographs could be safely regarded as formal experiments, pictorial conjuring tricks, a record of the random miracles of New York sunlight. But to review these images so narrowly would lead away from what is most compelling and strange in them-a certain aloofness and anxiety operating within the ecstatic display of technique. Alveng is clearly uninterested in familiar street drama. He stays away from narrative incident of all kinds, avoids confrontation, direct eye contact, and sweeps the stage clear of the routinely vivid street theater repertory company-gangster-like businessmen, alluring women, the homeless. Instead, Alveng's camera presents a city of shadows and sleep- Walkers, a place populated strictly by strangers. The fractured, doubled imagery mirrors Manhattan's overlay of rich and poor, people hurrying to the next thing amidst those just barely getting by. You can feel, within these juxtapositions, Alveng's detached but tender, even baffled, regard for his fellow creatures. The people in these pictures are nearly all alone, looking lost or adrift, their faces, when visible, locked in soft blank stares. A procession of ghosts engaged in haunting themselves. Taking the pictures as a series, I think less of other photographs than of certain stories by Edgar Allan Poe. Alveng's cluttered yet controlled radiate a Poe-like quality of fine tuned dementia. You double exposures sense that for all their formal dexterity and wit (the high heels prancing from the man's shadowy trousers on page 36; the woman caught in the web of a trash can's meshed lines, page 27) there is something else going on, and the spectacle of eclipsed or colliding realities registers as a muffled declaration Mol of anguish, panic, loneliness. I think particularly of a neglected Poe story called "The Man of the Crowd," in which one of the author's typically raw-nerved narrators, II atl recovering from a long illness, follows an old man through a crowded London street. This old man, the narrator has determined on first seeing him, is the ligl "incarnation of the fiend." A criminal whose despairing face reflects a wild history. Pushing through the crowd, increasingly astonished and exhausted, the narrator tracks the man through fog and rain, in and out of shops, Iut down twisting streets and alleys. The old man has no apparent destination, talks to no one, keeps doubling back on himself, staggering, an air of urgency alternating with a look of vacillation and unease. But he doesn't stop, and never once glances back at his pursuer. Finally, in one nightmarish paragraph, in a telescoping of time not unlike a series of double exposed photos, daylight chases away the night, and as quickly night falls again, and the old man picks up speed as if invigorated by his aimlessness and despair-until the narrator finally and desparately overtakes him, looking him full in the face. But the old man doesn't see him, keeps on walking. The narrator, "wearied unto death," lets him go: "This old man," I said at length, "is the type and the genius of deep crime.
He refuses to be alone. He is the man of the crowd. It will be in vain to follow; for I shall learn no more of him, nor of his deeds. Poe was serving up a description of the demonic, devouring aspect of city life, the tidal energy and implicit violence flowing through any modern, urban crowd. And as in Alveng's photos, you sense a metaphor at work, a metaphor for an artist's relation to the world, a search in which it's possible to match the narrator/photographer with his targeted subject, taking their measure as interdependent doubles, at once detached and engaged, commited and lost, and mutually, inescapably guilty of the city dweller's simplest buried crime: fear, particularly fear of solitude, a deep unbreakable d, loneliness. Dag Alveng, walking the streets of a foreign city, has come up with a group portrait of phantoms dissolving into space like fogbound ships. I can imagine similar pictures flashing before the eyes of Poe's deeply disconnected narrator or even, for that matter, before the eyes of Poe himself when, four years after he composed this story, he was found crumpled in the gutter of like a downtown Baltimore street, delirious, wearing another man's clothes. He died four days later, forty years old. Listed cause: "Congestion of the brain”.