Interview with Thyra Hilden
(May 2005)

"Graphic art often becomes a little formal, a bit thought-out and convoluted." Other sources of inspiration enter into Thyra Hilden's art, which can currently be seen at Galleri Tom Christoffersen. Thyra (1972) graduated from the Royal Danish Academy of Art in 2002. She works exclusively in photo and video media, and has been stylistically consistent since her days at the Academy. And plus, she has one of the coolest artist websites around:

Interview: Torben Zenth
Photo: Torben Zenth
Translation from Danish: Christophe Brunski

Thyra Hilden - Castles in the Sand

April 16-May 28, 2005

Galleri Tom Christoffersen
Skindergade 5, 1159 Copenhagen DENMARK

Can you tell us about your exhibition?

I am showing two image series and a video, the entire thing involving sand, and the exhibition is called Castles In The Sand. The first series includes some sand castles, which thematically center on   vulnerability and fragility and the child's playful desire to create. The second series, Playground, shows a huge amount of toys laying in a sandbox. There is a lot of damage, and the scene looks as though there has been a tsunami, a catastrophe, or some other type of chaos. Things are laying there abandoned.

The title Castles In The Sand refers to Jimi Hendrix' Castles Made of Sand, because I am very inspired by music and poetry and- generally speaking -genres other than graphic art. There is a bold move in both music and literature to express oneself strongly and directly. Graphic art often becomes a little formal, a bit thought-out and convoluted.

Is this exhibition an immediate extension of your earlier works?  

It clearly is. All the images were taken at night with a flash. I work a lot with a type of silence...   emptiness... where an everyday, easily recognizable thing might become a foreign and somewhat surreal flicker. And this exhibition is definitely an extension of that. The everyday that becomes twisted and has something disturbing brought upon it. The playground items are something totally ordinary which then take on a character as though to suggest that some catastrophe may have occurred. And of course sometimes this is the case- in the little things.

Thyra Hilden: Castles in The Sand, installationview

Tell us about the sand castles...

Much in this exhibition deals with the notion that reality cannot accommodate our dreams. When you make these castles it is so easy to build them up in the sand, but then it gets washed out. Existence can very well be like having sand in your mouth. It's melancholia that is found in the sand castle pictures. Reality it not quite sufficient. All the images were taken at night, they are seen from a particular angle which is... Here, for example, there is almost nothing left of the castle, it has almost completely dissolved. And by taking the picture at night, so that the sand reflects the light, it becomes like a lunar landscape, the greater universe and the lesser universe in one and the same image. Some of the castles are almost nothing more than a heap of sand, others are really advanced and showing off extensive detail.

I think that it is important as a graphic artist to confront the topics that no one else engages in. There is no media-related or commercial value in taking up the topics I work with because it is something unpleasant... perishability, decay, death.   It's important for me to create space for these topics. You would normally pay outrageous sums of money an hour to see a psychologist if you have some need to talk about such topics. It gets done in film, but then it would be incest,   or something else on a hugely dramatic scale.   I want to pare down on the small, ordinary things, which have no headline value and are more complex under the surface. Not something you can write a book about, hard to explain.

Thyra Hilden: Castles in the sand, 2005. 70x102 cm., Framed photos

You consistently work with photo and video. Where do those media have their place?

In Denmark it's really quite hard to make it. Look at some of the biggest names: Mads Gamdrup, Erik Steffensen, Per Bak Jensen, yes, even Joachim Koester, who was a part of Dokumenta, and you can see that it is hard to sell and make a living from photography. This is also the case for me. That is why I am constantly focused on what opportunities there are in other countries. In Switzerland, Germany, and the United States, photography sells without difficulty.

Is Denmark a little behind, in this respect?

Holding a photography exhibition such as mine is probably one of the least commercially viable things you could do. Tom Christoffersen holds many non-commercial exhibitions, and this is one of them. My pictures are very serious. There is nothing of the naive trend that exists elsewhere in Danish art.   In this way they speak most to collectors and museums. You won't find any dentist-office art here...

There is a clear connective thread running through your works. What can you tell us about that?

It's a bit to do with using a flash at night. The flash is thrown out into the darkness, so things appear extremely sharp and not as we would normally see them. It's a little dreamlike... with very hard and unreal light. The everyday ordinary suddenly appears unreal... indeterminate. It is important for me that each image in the series has its own small tale to tell. It's an umbrella project, where   the sand castles here touch upon vulnerability and dreams- and subsequently each image has its own account to give. In Playground, for example, were there is a small plastic boat laying in the sand... the sand could well be the open ocean where the boat went down and at the same time it is a little plastic boat in a sandbox. Great drama and miniature drama strongly convergent in one and the same picture. And at the same time there is a type of echo in the series... there are hundreds of toys, but no children. There is an echo in the picture from everything one can sense happened here. I feel this echo to be powerful...   the absence of sound and playing. And all these things, the cars, boats, cranes, rolling pins... all the things which together imitate adult life... it becomes a type of cultural critique of how we raise children to have the same notions we do.

Thyra Hilden: Playground, 2005. 58x72 cm., Framed photos

There was the tsunami disaster. I cannot help but think about it in connection with Playground. Did you do these before the tsunami in Asia?

I actually made them after.... actually at the exact same time. It's actually a little tsunami, a little catastrophe, the little catastrophe of the everyday. That's what strikes us. We hear about the tsunami and send a little money.

What are your sources of inspiration?

As I said, in music, poetry, and literature, there is a direct honesty and personality that you can tap into in whatever you're doing. You don't absolutely have to continue writing some stage or another of art history or make reference to other artists. It's clear to me that I am in a unique position. My pictures do not resemble anything else I have seen. It's Non-Danish, that's probably because I let myself be inspired by other genres. But I can recognize an artist such as Eija-Liisa Ahtila in that she is working with psychotic themes and Douglas Gordon, who works with subject-object relation and parallel universes. But the drive to communicate my own experiences of reality is probably my greatest inspiration.

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Thyra Hilden: Playground, 2005., Video 8 min., still