In Finland, where there are few hours of daylight in which to make photographs, it’s no wonder that sunset and dusk are the constant backdrop for Carrie Schneider’s self-portrait project, which recently took her to the Nordic country for ten months. Diffused and fading light ushers in the romance of the landscape tradition – fantastic, quixotic – and sets the stage for an ensuing romance, for these are also portraits of the artist in various states of closeness with herself and others.
Schneider engages the landscape, from ice-cold lakes to damp earth, through immersion. She crafts a regal headdress from juniper bushes, and another from lichen and bark; she gets dirt on her face from repeated falls on a rocky seashore; she wades, clad in a costume, in an inlet under orange skies. In earlier work Schneider was seen embracing clumps of earth on the beach and in the woods, and the stint in Finland seems to have given her confidence to ‘get weird’, as she puts it.
WE (Baltic Version) (2007) is a vision or a sighting of some rare creature. The artist is wrapped in skin-tight, black-and-white graphic fabric that covers her face as she emerges from the water, fingertips just scraping the still surface, in a hauntingly silent way that only people without faces can express. Schneider found inspiration in native bird plumage—a natural camouflage in winter but jarring in spring – and dressed herself in a similar pattern. The artist channels the majesty of her surrounds and momentarily plays its role with costumes. She exudes power; she feeds off it from the land. This is apparent in her forward-facing poses, displaying what she knows to the camera.
It might be going too far to say that the artist is spiritualized by the land, but certainly magical things do occur. In the video Dress of Good Weather (2008), the artist’s white skirt momentarily catches an image of orange clouds projected from the sky, and she is perplexed. Following that, Schneider is seen frame after frame falling upon the ground as if compelled by some force above or below. The gift of the stratosphere is immediately revoked and she is doomed to the earth. The short sequence contains some trappings of a mythological narrative: a mortal punished for stealing beauty.
In another video, Utö (2008), filmed on the eponymous island, more mystical moments occur when the artist stands at the spraying seashore and her body splinters off. Her second self dashes away quickly, later to be rejoined as fingers that softly meet her hand. This action thematically ties together a mood running through Schneider’s work—of simultaneous separation and reconciliation, or the kernel of loss that kindles within love. The Kiss (2008) borrows Magritte’s famous subject of a couple’s kiss separated by shrouded heads; can we ever fully know the interior of our lover’s thoughts?
It’s a well-worn adage that you cannot escape yourself simply by fleeing to a foreign locale, but Schneider gets pretty close to transforming her identity via Finlandic culture. Much of Schneider’s past work considered how familial relationships temper identity; here, landscape and culture provide similar nurturing contexts. In the vein of photographer Francesca Woodman, Schneider blends body and surrounds. She is seen hiding, yet peeking through her costume; camouflaged, but sticking out; at home in a new land, and also lost on a desert island.