Dan Skjæveland’s 33 Suspensions is a book of thirty three allusive, abstract and desaturated images. Published in 2023, the book’s title is a musing on Ruscha’s Twentysix Gasoline Stations, though Skjæveland’s images do not have the same typological quality as Ruscha’s. The images in the book do share a number of formal and aesthetic traits, however, namely their muted colour palette and ambiguous subject matter and the fact that every image contains some form of suspension: a clock stopped in time, legs frozen mid air, trousers hanging in a cluttered wardrobe, ornate rugs on a washing line.

33 Suspensions was conceived during a workshop and assembled by Skjæveland using images from his archive. The idea of suspensions was initially born from the recurring form of suspended objects in his work and was later expanded to include more self-reflexive ideas about the relationship between photography, time and movement. This is made obvious in the book’s opening photograph. On a marked and punctured off-white wall speckled by patches of light pink and amber light hangs a clock advertising Falvo, an Italian manufacturer of washing products and systems designed to ‘assist and help the cleaner in his splendid job’. The clock is stopped at five past one. To the left of this is a bouquet of clear and black plastic sheeting and in the bottom right what looks like the top of someone’s head. There is a kind of disorientation in the image which is a constant throughout the book. The appearance of a head in the corner unsettles our perception of scale or height. It also presents a number of ideas which we see in various manifestations in Skjæveland’s images, involving the processes of containing, concealing and cleaning.

Many of the images in 33 Suspensions take place in launderettes, one of the few recognisable places or non-places in the book. It is interesting to consider launderettes in relation to the various interpretations of the idea of suspension. They represent a kind of limbo, zones of dead time where we surrender our autonomy to machines. They reflect a desire to preserve and an anxiety about degradation and dirt. They also reveal all the waste and rubbish required to sustain the illusion of structure, order and cleanliness.

This kind of unearthing happens throughout Skjæveland’s images. His photographs reveal the sinewy, pulsating substructure of contemporary capitalism that maintains its slick, effortless exterior. White blinds are yellowed by the sunlight and marked with grubby fingerprints. Clear plastic wrap turns milky and opaque and is splattered with white paint and brown stains and slashed from side to side. Red walls and shuttered windows are reflected in the glass of an office building in a bourgeois neighbourhood of some European city. The office’s plaster ceiling is ruptured, revealing foil ventilation hose and loose and coiled wiring.

In an equally obscure accompanying essay for the book, publisher Brad Feuerhelm attempts to align Skjæveland’s work to ‘American conceptual practice’. It is not quite clear what is meant by this, but in interviews Skjæveland and Feuerhelm indicate that Ruscha was a significant influence on their conceptualisation of the book. 33 Suspensions is a work which was conceived in the editing process rather than being the product of a preconceived set of ideas and I think this is reflected in the images which lack the uniformity and formal rigour of Ruscha’s work. Skjæveland seems less concerned with the iconographic than Ruscha; instead he focuses on the strangeness of that which is usually unseen. His images reveal the peculiarity and unease evoked by the ubiquitous but invisible materials which prop up modernity.

Feuerhelm qualifies the book’s uneasy and awkward feeling by saying: ’33 Suspensions is not an exercise in willful avoidance. There is instead courage to assemble and proliferate ambiguous images, origins masked and muddied’. Describing the images as ‘obtuse’ and ‘melancholy’, he argues that the work doesn’t have a narrative or set of concerns. It is an exploration in the non-narrative: ‘to delineate a strict path of meaning would disable the work and encroach on the profane’. I think that there is an alternate reading of Skjæveland’s work which exceeds this discursive framing. Although Skjæveland has described himself as “not-political”, many of the images in 33 Suspensions express a feeling of decay which will feel familiar to viewers who find themselves outside the West’s economic capitals. Empty shopfronts, abandoned vehicles, damaged infrastructure. Managed decline. There is something about the idea of suspension that feels particularly prescient in relation to the condition we find ourselves in. That moment of observation as something hangs mid-air before it comes crashing down.

- Published by c4 journal 



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