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A conversation with Gjert Rognli

Gjert Rognly is an internationally renowned photographer and filmmaker. Born in a Sami village in Nothern Norway, his photographs are often set in this region and use his Sami identity to create artworks inspired by his dreams and cultural heritage. Gjert has been the recipient of a number of scholarships and international awards, and his artworks have been displayed at numerous exhibitions both in Norway and internationally. Gjert has collaborated with many of Norway’s most important cultural institutions.

Most recently Gjert won the NOoSPHERE Arts Residency Award, for which Singulart served on the jury.

We recently sat down with Gjert Rognli to talk about his residency project, inspiration, and how he came to be an artist.

How did you first come to Photography ?

I was always a confident photographer and received my first camera from a friend in the 90’s, until then I had gone to several drawing and painting schools, but did not find my passion in these mediums. Receiving this gift led me in the right direction, early on I saw that I wanted to tell a unique story through photography. I began to stage my works to give them greater depth, transporting the viewer into a dream world that transverses surrealism, philosophy and mythology.

Could you tell us about your first encounter with Sami Shamans ?

I do not really remember my first encounter with shamans, the shamanistic has always been around me, even as a child. It was through my grandmother and grandfather and their oral traditions that I learned to view my surroundings differently. My grandmother would tells me about her dreams were wood nymphs would come to warn her of challenges that would await her in life, events which often came true in reality.

I was always fascinated by shamans, helpers who use nature for its healing powers. Individuals who can take water from a stream, give it to a person and cure them of their aliments. My exposure to these experiences as a child gave me a deep understanding of the power of nature, faith and my natural surroundings.

My grandfather also tutored me on animistic religion, he taught me the traditional ways of healing and viewing the world.

In what ways have these indigenous beliefs been expressed in your artworks?

Nature features heavy in my artworks as a backdrop and driving force, my works often feature animals, as they act as the messengers and conduits between our world and others, the shamanistic world. Animals, rivers and nature all come with a powerful message, you are not alone, something is there, a driving force which is bigger than you. These elements and experiences have been important in forming my interpretation of reality, and conveying this through my photographs and films.

Could you tell us more about your exhibition at the National Museum of the American Indian and your acquisitions by the Sami Art Collections in Karasjok ?

The National Museum of the American Indian hosted a film festival, the art group Daban Da who I collaborated with, showed the film “ja, lihkastat gitta dolozis – and, the movement from the past” as part of this festival. (Browse photographs from this project on the Singulart website). The Sami Art Collections in Karasjok has acquired several of my works, including two films and several photographs. It is always a great honour to have your artworks purchased by a museum or gallery, not only does it bring a sense of recognition but a new level of artistic freedom to work on future unique projects.

You were awarded the NOoSPHERE Residency prize, could you tell us more about this project and the performance you are planning for Last Frontier in NYC ?

I have a performance planned at Last Frontier NYC,  were I will combine film, sound and sculpture into a coherent installation. With my project “What Nature Knows” I wish to combine the themes of contemporary life, dreams, past and present. The shifts are rapid in our time, with polarization and globalization in many directions, we are in an era were worship of youth, consumerism, and the individual prevails.  What we are doing today will affect the way people live in the future.

For this project, I will create an immersive experience with sculptures featuring water, light installations, soundscapes and a film. An experience that will transport the viewer into a landscape of dreams, surrealism and mythology. The different media will flow together to tell a story where time and place disappear.

I take inspiration from the arctic north, and the lessons I learned from my childhood there. Though this residency I want to tell a unique story and outlook on the world.

What do you expect from the Residency ?

I hope to be inspired and inspire others. In the sea of endless possibilities and sources of inspiration that a residency in New York offers. For me New York represents a city where dreams come true, I want to be exposed to something new and participate in discussions and debates with other artists. This award provides a fantastic starting point for accessing all of this, I would like to thank the Mothership Residency prize and Singulart for this opportunity.

Discover more artists from the MOTHERSHIP Residency in New-York City