And We Are All Together


Will Bradley


Nina Toft uses her camera to observe social behaviour, and her subject in this series of works is group activity, crowds of commuters, parades, sporting events. For the most part, these are ordinary scenes that are nevertheless set apart from everyday life, events which have the character of a coordinated performance or a ritual dance, even as they flow seamlessly into and out of more chaotic quotidian activities.

As viewers, we are asked to consider the relationships between the collective and the individual, the general and the particular, identity and difference – to reflect on what constitutes a group, what it means to belong or take part.  We can pick out individuals and describe their appearance, their manner. We might try various schemes in the hope of classifying the action, noting that one group seems to be mostly parents with small children, another young adults, yet another all past retirement age. But nothing can be known quite for certain except the activities being performed – a parade, a ski trip, a gymnastic display – and the fact that the one character in all of these works who does not take part is one whose position we temporarily occupy - the film-maker, the artist herself.

The camera is often placed where it interrupts the flow of people passing by, and the films' subjects acknowledge this in various ways, from the bored half-glances of urban teenagers to the puzzled curiosity of hikers on a glacier trek, surprised and amused to find a woman with a camera waiting for them in such a remote and desolate spot. The mostly static, flat shots, wide angles and long takes connect to a documentary tradition that stretches back to the Lumiere brothers' first film, La sortie des usines (1895). La sortie... also presents a group of people passing in front of the camera, but in this case the crowd is created by the industrial organisation of labour. All the workers leave the factory together when the gates open, but the group begins to break down even before they are out of the frame, a shared feeling of exuberance, of escape, paradoxically pushing them apart.

Toft's videos show a different kind of crowd, created for different reasons by different forces. We see groups of people in the city and in the countryside, but it somehow seems that the countryside, however snowy and desolate, is not unlike the city, just as leisure is not unlike work. What looks at first glance like smooth, concerted activity seems hesitant and fragmented on closer examination. The extended, unbroken takes begin to reveal change rather than repetition, temporary congruences rather than static truths. Despite the initial conveyor-belt sense of the rhythms of industrial society, this is not organised labour, but a typology of post-industrial collectivity and its ideological language. Still, something is being produced in these scenes, or reproduced. Is it a sense of community, a social bond? Is it comfort, or conformity? Or is it, perhaps, the social order itself?


Published in the exhibition catalogue for MA Degreeshow 2010, Stenersenmuseet, Oslo