The Characters

Tonje Bøe Birkeland


Artist Novel, 31.5 x 22.5 cm, 268 p., language : English, publisher : Bergen Kjøtt Publishing.
Materials: ink, paper

Collection: Collection M HKA, Antwerp (Inv. no. B 2029/519).

Literary Synopsis

The Characters is a retrospective book by Tonje Bøe Birkeland, that holds together her projects Characters #I–V. Birkeland’s work explores the authenticity of history through self-portraits that recreate expeditions of female explorers and heroines from the past. Each of The Characters makes its own meta-journey: through Greenland, Mongolia, the mountains of Norway and Switzerland, and to Bhutan. These photographs and journals expound time and place, while investigating personality and physical limits. Birkeland demonstrates that fantasy, literature, and photography can fill a void in history, while revealing some of contemporary society’s challenges: globalized colonization on the one hand and the loss of the great adventure on the other.

Character #I ALINE VICTORIA BIRKELAND (1870-1952), geologist and glaciologist, travels in the high Arctic and on Spitsbergen.

Character #II TUVA TENGEL (1901-1985), desert traveller, author and photographer, travels in the Gobi Desert, Mongolia. She brings her camera and notebook and travels south towards the sun. She enters Unknown Territory.

Character #III LUELLE MAGDALON LUMIÈRE (1873-1973), stereophotographer a – a traveller among islands, societies and continents. Luelle journeyed to New York, the Orkney Islands, and later to the mountains of western Norway.

Character #IV ANNA AURORA ASTRUP (1871-1968) sails along the East Coast of Greenland in 1900. Astrup charts sea depth, mountain peaks and coastline. She makes first ascents of Mount Aurora and Astrups Horn.

The story of each character is presented in four parts: Journal, Plates, Objects and Endnotes. The book is printed in 300 copies, each numbered by hand.

Relation of the novel to the artist’s practice

The novels that are part of The Characters relate strongly to the entire project of the same title. The objective is to encapsulate an entire artistic practice. Starting in 2008, for the past 10 years the artist has, through The Characters, given women a position within landscape while exploring the authenticity of history. On expeditions, female explorers are staged in Unknown Territory. Materials have been gathered from their journeys, yielding stories and installations, with photography in large formats portraying Characters # I–V.

The romantic motives of the male wanderer have been well-documented. In Tonje Bøe Birkeland's project, the characters are female. The heroine moves in pristine territory: in front of her looms grand exploration; beneath her, history is formed.

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