Torbjørn Rødland: The Touch That Made You

Updated: Mar 4, 2020

This exhibition explores a Freudian-like investigation into a relationship between the uncomfortable and the pleasurable. Rødland's work adopts a subtly perverse nature that uses opposites to attract and juxtaposing subjects to create a sexily disjointed reality. One of my personal favourites in the exhibition is Avocado: a hanky protrudes from a guacamole dish like spunk from the tip of a penis. These subtle yet overt sexual innuendos are continuous throughout Rødland's imagery. The pairing of these sexual themes with non-sexual objects - the hardness and coldness of the avocado dish against the softness of the hanky, the wetness of fruit against the dryness of hair - ignites a complex tension between the subtle and the overt; the unusual pairings within the subject matter creating an unescapable sense of perversion and unease, but illuminating a rapturously human fascination with sex.

The press release mentions Torbjørn's 'layers of discomfort and pleasure' within his compositions, a relationship that grabs my personal interest. In the past I have been interested in creating work thats explores how two opposing areas can become strangely interlinked. 

Trichotillomania, is a perfect example of how discomfort and pleasure can synonymously behave and exist. The title itself refers to a form of OCD, characteristic of people compulsively pulling out their hair. An uncomfortable condition that seeks out a skewed sense of certainty which in turn amounts to a misinterpreted sense of pleasure. The image in question depicts cut oranges nesting together with strands of hair. The delicacy in which the hair interacts with the flesh of the orange is almost perverse; the hairs appear to tickle the fruit, coercing a sense of pleasure. On the flip side, the reality of hair caught in food triggers a personal phobia of mine and the image also renders a very sour sort of discomfort. (I am reminded of the infamous 'peach' scene in Luca Guadagnino's 'Call Me By Your Name').

Rødland's work possesses the ability to simultaneously seduce and displease the viewer - Trichotillomania being a prime example of this. In a recorded interview on the Serpentine Sackler website, he talks of how photography is often criticised for being 'sterile' and lacking the 'sense of touch' that can be found in other mediums, such as sculpture and painting. He dismisses this critique with a photographic execution that understands the power within the image to render textures and surfaces, communicating a similar sense of tactility present in competing art forms. The relationship between bodily objects and food in Trichotillomania and Plate and Spoon give Rødland's photographs a heightened sense of tactility through the twisted, juxtaposing sensations that they impose: I imagine eating an orange and getting a hair caught in the mouth, or I imagine eating Soreen and my teeth falling out.

Rødland himself describes a part of his process as inserting 'a swear word in a love poem', putting something nasty in something nice. It's the presented duality of filthy and sexy throughout the show as a whole, and the conflicts that arise between these two themes that give the exhibition (and the images within it) depth and body. His compositions reflect a disjointed reality by uniting physically contrasting subjects in a single scenario. By using materials and subjects that are so opposing to one another Rødland surfaces their individual textures and turns a two dimensional plane into one that conjures something more four dimensional - inviting imaginary interactions with imaginary textures; arguably crossing a three dimensional boundary that sculpture and painting often can't. Rødland touches our imaginations, moving beyond the possibility of physical touch.

The exploration into opposite sensations present in his images with bodily and food objects, expressing a synonymity between discomfort and pleasure, is of particular interest to me. I have previously worked with the interchangeability of fetish and phobia; the idea that what perturbs us may also have a subconscious association with sexuality, a Freudian-esque idea of discomfort as a partner to pleasure. It is an area I would like to re-adopt into my practise and have already begun exploring through the use of lint as a sculptural material. This material absorbs and houses hair and other bits of bodily and earthly dirt, whilst remaining immaculately clean - a unique property that can begin to fuel a sort-of 'seductive discomfort' and begins to tie into the idea of phobia as a partner to fetish.

References: Surpentine Sackler Gallery | Vice Article