We are portraitists. The purpose of a portrait is to make someone alive. They should feel present in the room with you. When portraying someone we foster an alternate view of that person, creating an image that can expresses something enduring for all time.
Sarah Cooper & Nina Gorfer
Cooper & Gorfer are unusual portraitists. They portray the spirit and soul of a people rather than those of individuals. These spirits and souls emerge from legends, history, costumes and everyday behaviours of people the artists study thoroughly during long journeys to distant lands. The individuals in Cooper & Gorfer’s portraits transcend their own personal stories, turning into symbols of an entire nation, as seen with the beautiful Shola in the now almost iconic images from the Kyrgyzstan-project, My Quiet Gold, or the anonymous burka-clad women from the Qatar series. In the on going project I Know Not These My Hands from Argentina, and in The Weather Diaries from Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands, we once again meet a collection of characters that tell a story of their country together.
Cooper & Gorfer are photographers in origin but strive away from realistic representation. Using an advanced collage technique, they construct their photo-based works like paintings. They distort proportions and shift time and space, stage rigorously, and use stylized poses and gestures to break up the world into parts and rearrange them into an enigmatic and exaggerated ensemble. Like art history’s Mannerists, Pre-Raphaelites, or Surrealists, Cooper & Gorfer strain observable reality through a complex psychological filter of dreams, moods, fears and wounds, both their own and those they have encountered. They move intuitively, sometimes illogically, always hitting the right tone.
In the series I Know Not These My Hands, Argentina’s self-image is marked by centuries of unhealed wounds; the brutal colonization that wiped out the native population in the 1800's, and the merciless military coup in the 1970's that traumatized generations of parents and children. Today, Argentina is a nation in perpetual search of identity. Sometimes Cooper & Gorfer’s references are apparent, as in Sewing Girls to Trees, where the children in the images disappear into the environment, or wander away from their mothers, as in Lucy Above Mother. These are metaphors for the stolen children of the murdered Argentineans, those who were kidnapped and grew up on the "other side" of the political frontier. In other works, the references are more general. In Mending Vanessa, the many threads seen in the woman’s costume are there to mend what is torn.
In The Weather Diaries, nature—harsh and grandiose, reigns supreme. It dominates people's lives and chisels out small communities that must stick together to survive. The unifying theme running through the cultures of Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands is the urge to retain their specific national identity, for better or worse. In Ena with Eyes Shut, the Greenlandic national costume is sewn entirely of glass beads and is tremendously heavy. The costume's weight is paradoxical; it stands for both, the pride and the restrictions that surround tradition and the fear of its loss.
Cooper & Gorfer consists of Sarah Cooper (1974, USA) and Nina Gorfer (1979, Austria), who both live and work in Gothenburg. The artists have worked together since 2006 and have similar backgrounds in architecture, art, design and photography. Cooper & Gorfer have had several solo exhibitions, among others, at Hasselblad Center, Dunkers Kulturhus in Helsingborg, Kulturhuset in Stockholm and Gestalten Space in Berlin. They were awarded the Swedish Art Book Award for both SEEK Volume 01 Iceland and My Quiet Gold. Their new book, The Weather Diaries (published by Gestalten, Berlin) comes out in March 2014, coinciding with the opening of a large exhibition at the Museum Angewandte Kunst in Frankfurt showing images from the project. The exhibition will be a part of the International Nordic Fashion Biennale and will tour to the National Museum of Photography in Copenhagen in the autumn of 2014.