Nils Olav Bøe

The photo series "Constructed site"

In the photo series ”Constructed site” Bøe picks motives from international press photos from various incidents around the world. Press photo used as a starting point to create a 3-dimensional miniature scene with figures and objects in small scale in his studio.

And then illuminates and photographed the scene. The finished result can deviates from the outset, but at the same time he tries to keep the atmosphere and tracks from the event from the press photo.

Bøe want to keep the mood of present times, and to balance between the tranquillity of nature and what has or will happen. An image that is soothing to look at, but not sure if one would have hosted there.

Nils Olav Bøe: - Staged reality and threathening idyll.

The artist Nils Olav Bøe is showing in his series 'Constructed landscape' a staged reality as a play without words. He is placing trees, lamp poles, houses and objects from German model building sets on a plate and take photos of them. Why is this virtual reality threathening, and how does these 'realities' relate to time and space? Is time linear? Can you trust a place? Can a place be devious?

Nils Olav Bøes photos 'Constructed landscape' have been exhibited in the Gustav Vigeland museum and the Gallery Brandstrup in Oslo, in Galerie Blickensdorff in Berlin and Museum der Moderne i Salzburg (2004/2005). He is working in series, and he used photography as the medium for this exhibition. In addition, he was showing a computer-animated movie with soundtrack, as a voyage through a landscape with the photos constituting the script. The photos in 'Constructed landscape' reveal nature and man-made objects, and point to conflict between nature and civilization. The absence of people may indicate that something has happened to them; here are bushes and trees, fences, houses and lamp poles from omnious places; without borders, without time. You know that these places are staged models mimicking every-day objects from the real world, still they instill some uncertainty, some residue between representing reality and moving into the surreal. Our sense of orientation can make the distinction in a split second, but in the photos of Niels Olav Bøe this 'moment of thruth' is stretched, you lose your balance from perceptual 'noise', and you need to recover your balance. The pictures give devious information about time and place; the most important elements to contextualise what we see.

Site and Scene

We are trained to believe in photography; it portrays reality, the picture is from a place with houses and streets and sights. The post cards with the Eiffel tower, Colosseum, Twin towers. Places are authentic and unchangeable. A place is a personal experience, almost as strong as a personality trait. There is an expectation of unalterableness associated with a place. If a place is changed, revisiting after many years can be agonizing. When Nils Olav Bøe portrays idyllic landscapes in small models, he challenges traditional values and expectations; you look at a scenery, a staged set, never viewed from behind the scene. The place is both real and not. A physical place is located by map references, giving the location to the nearest meter. The scale indicate miniaturisation, and contour lines is telling of the the place next to it, that also is a place. The an place can be steep, flat, low etc. A place can be determined by GPS, to locate a place you have just been to or a place you are going to. Vegetation is an attribute to a place and is irrelevant, just as if one likes a place or not. A place is changed by being built; Ground Zero is fundamentally different from Twin Towers, although the 'place' is the same. A place is first and foremost defined through its history, and the experience of it is a personal matter. The scene has a different meaning for the perpretator and the victim, or for the viewer. The photographs of Nils Olav Bøe injects this feeling of being on, or at a scene; something has happened or will happen. Here, or close by.


'If you take away the colours, you remove time even more', says Nils Olav Bøe. And the photographs are expressing this; it is difficult to point to a time before and after, and what the photographs is showing can be near past or near future. One of the series in the exhibition is without colours, and in gray and white more than in black and white. The works can be associated with a 50ies look, as we know it from American movies, photographs and ads from that time. In the staging of Nils Olav Bøes work, time appears to have another sequence than the linear, cronological. It is as if we look through a window into a reality from a moving car. The moment becomes an inner process, and the moment is extended. Time is not standing still, rather it enter a slow motion phase, where the scene challenges the viewer. The pictures are open, and you are not led into a template of interpretation, but are free to meet the scene with your own references.

The way Nils Olav Bøe goes about making artworks is close to scenic arts; a lot of time is spent thinking about the concepts and how the pictures are to appear when complete. He selects the stage toys from model shops, most often objects from railway models in plastic, scaled 1:87. First he makes the scetches, the scenes are drawn, and when the stage has been set the pictures can be taken. The scene is given a background, and light is chosen to be as close to natural, out-door light as possible. Mirrors are used to reflect something of special importance, and mirrors are also used in a lamp posts that would appear too bright if fitted with light bulbs. The models are every-day objects like trees, houses, lamp poles, trucks; standing on what appear to be an endless surface. The effect is clinical, you watch the scene from a distance, as objects under the bright light in a laboratory. The scene becomes concentrated and everything is to be in full view. The focal point is very narrow, blurring 'here' and 'there'. There are few objects in the picture, this is also to ensure that each one is revealed to a maximum. Bøe is turning the objects and the light to achieve the strongest result, and the stage is set through carefully adjusted lighting. He has previously worked with toy models, in the series 'From Dusk till Dawn' 1997. In these, the scene was set on a table where the characters displayed different activities; adults playing golf on a little island, surrounded by emptiness. In another work, housewives were hanging up clothes to dry, also on a small island on a table, where the edge of the table is an abyss.These installations also had headsets that the audience could use, and the nature of the sound was very different from the pastoral scenes on the the table; gunshots and screams. In later works, Nils Olav Bøe has strived to further minimise the scenes by removing the sound effects and empty the scenes of any man-like dolls, as he shows in 'Constructed landscape'.

Ambiguous scenes

Nils Olav Bøe is not concerned with making works of art that relate strongly to historical events, or carry a political statement. It is obvious that his use of toys is very different from e.g. the Polish artist Zbigniew Libera, who in the early 90-ies made consentration camp models of Legos and painted Lego dolls in prison stripes, to show them as KZ-prisoners. Still, there are some photos in 'Constructed landscapes' held in red and brown colours that in expression and tones resemble the American photographer David Levinthals doll models of Nazi parades and train transports. It is conceivable that a title of Nils Olav Bøes photo of the German model house could be: 'Heinrich Himmlers childhood home'. Or the blue and brown photo of a worn caravan with some clothes left on a wire to dry: ' As sales representative for Vacuum Oil in Austria, Adolf Eichman often noticed gypsies by the road.'

The serial nature of his works give resemblances of movie stills, and mimic reality as it appears when looking out the side window from a car at speed. Nils Olav Bøes references are obviously to movies, and directors as Lynch, Tarkovsky og Tarantino are famous for creating ambiguous scenes in their movies. The tense drama that Nils Olav Bøe are building into his works can look a bit like such ambiguous scenes, desolate and almost threathening. The photographs are empty of people, the objects are naked, and the setting of the lights contributes towards a sense of destruction and ruin that might come from technology, but more frightening; from nature.

Henning L. Mortensen

The world we meet in Nils Olav Bøe`s photographic work is also artificial, insofar as its subject is small models that he first arranges before capturing on film. Bøe`s miniature scenes give the external impression of being ”clippings” taken from longer narratives, perhaps dramatic highpoints in a longer train of events. This is however not the case. No complete manuscript exists, and the sound effects that accompany the pictures are not related to what they show. Bøe quite consciously plays on our longing to find understandable contexts even in fictive processes. When mounted on the wall, his pictures almost assume the form of showcase spaces, with the difference that their content cannot be related to a context we are expected to recognise. Rather, each space functions as a closed system.

Anders Olofsson Curator, Stockholm

"From dusk till Dawn I-IV" 2002/03

In the Shadows of a Doll’s House An oil refinery, a cherry tree, a house, and a trailer home: objects in a pleasant landscape at dusk, the sinking sun a warning of imminent nightfall. Uneasiness and melancholy lurk in the shadows. Human life is conspicuous in its absence, creating a visual stillness that testifies to man’s intrusion in nature, a manmade landscape that we call culture.

Nils Olav Bøe presents us with images that we recognize with a wry smile. Is it a film still, a painting, another photograph? We muse, trying to identify the source of the image and the story we sense that it conceals. We find no answer, because there is no original. The photographs simulate reality, the kind of images described by Jean Baudrillard as simulacra. Reality is not a fixed given but is in constant movement, a flux that renders the real not a referent but many possible references. A kind of postmodern anti-crime story with an unresolved plot, the images invite us to solve the mystery ourselves – if a mystery does in fact exist. It is in the familiar that we meet the unpleasant, wrote Sigmund Freud. The unheimliche lies in wait in the everyday, the domicile, creating distance to that which we know. This is the kind of alienation that occurs in encounters with Nils Olav Bøe’s staged tableaux. There is an ambivalence in the seemingly idyllic, an underlying mood of unrest in the comical touch of the miniature world – an intangible disquiet. As spectators, we are at a remove, with a bird’s eye view. Moving in on the photograph, we perceive more detail yet achieve no deeper insight into the hyperreal illusion – few sources reveal information. Henrik Ibsen removed the fourth wall on the theater stage and let the audience peer directly into the conflicts of the middle class. In a similar manner, Bøe allows us to literally look into the doll’s house in miniature. We are witness to the struggle of the little man, one with neither beginning nor end. We are in the midst of a drama that is void of dramatics. The title of the series indicates the course of our journey - from dusk to dawn. This is when the mysterious takes place, in a twilight that is melancholic and desolate.

Elisabeth Byre
Galleri Branstrup