Anne Rodler: Between the intimate and the public / about Thyra Schmidt’s 
installation »I can’t just be nowhere« on the facades of Oslo
Translated by Joseph P. Huston
[Published in: Thyra Schmidt _ I can’t just be nowhere, extra Verlag 2010.] 

Viewing one of Thyra Schmidt’s photographs is akin to confronting an unobtrusive, 
common everyday object, which everyone recognizes – like a peek into a mirror … 
when you look into one you believe to be confronted by reality. Yet, how real is the 
reality of this reflecting surface? And to what extent does it depend on the perception 
and interpretation of the viewer ... on his momentary state and perspective? 
The viewer assesses his appearance in a fleeting moment and questions himself – 
a snapshot.

Thyra Schmidt proceeds in her photography in an analogous manner in that she 
chooses short random moments. In her snapshots she captures colleagues and 
friends on the road, outdoors, in the city, in the park or on a trip. Furthermore, 
there commonly appear photographic and film sketches from landscape images. 
Typically for the artist it is that she always combines text fragments with these 
scenic – mostly zoomed – picture cutouts. Her intention is not to present a 
characteristic portrait of familiar persons, but rather to capture a specific mood 
of an interpersonal situation or the human condition. She portrays feelings like 
familiarity, communality, uncertainty, tenderness, intimacy, anxiety, loneliness, 
proximity or distance, which the viewer can relate to.

Accordingly, the exhibit project, which brought Thyra Schmidt to Oslo in the 
autumn of 2009, employed as a central theme the portrayal of such states. 
The idea for this project was inspired by previous trips to Norway and the 
reading of works by the Norwegian author Jon Fosse, from whom the exhibit 
title »I can’t just be nowhere« was borrowed. This installation, which covered 
eleven sites in the city center of Oslo, was realized in cooperation with the 
ROM for Kunst og Arkitektur at invitation by the Norwegian Goethe-Institute.

Art in a public space has the advantage of appearing in the midst of life and 
being perceived by a wide audience. In such a situation the viewer does not 
have to decide on whether or not to attend to the art, since he is unavoidably 
confronted by it. The sheer size of Thyra Schmidt’s works ensures that the 
passer-by is invariably confronted with them. The large-format photographs 
surprise the viewer with private scenes and assume ambivalence, as they 
oscillate between the intimate and the public. However, they avoid the 
voyeurism, which private pictures often provoke in the media. Persons 
are often only shown in partial view, which thus protects their identity. 
In previous exhibitions, such as in June 2009 in Düsseldorf, the artist 
presented images of landscapes alongside handwritten passages of text on 
paper, which had been written by various persons. Here, as well, people 
expressed themselves in a very personal manner via their handwriting, their 
distinctive modes of expression, without their identity having been revealed.

»Og eg kan vel ikkje berre vere ingen stad heller«»and I can’t just 
be nowhere« – speaks to the character of the Oslo installation in the public 
space and refers to the essentials in Thyra Schmidt’s art, namely the presence 
of the human figure, the particular moment and the relationship to the location. 
The photos and expressions that were projected on posters on buildings often 
related closely to the architectural context. They were positioned onto various 
exterior surfaces of houses, public buildings, shops or walls and, during their 
presence, became an intricate part of the inner urban districts of Grønland, 
in which the Goethe-Institute is located, Sentrum and Grünerlokka. 
In contrast to earlier, place-related projects, Thyra Schmidt here refrained 
from using available advertising surfaces on streets and squares, but instead, 
selected unused facades. And yet, even though these works deviate totally 
from advertising displays on the basis of content and formal grounds, they 
insinuate the powerful visual effect of large street advertisement. Thus, the 
artist investigates the illusory nature of pictures in the context of the real world. 
How authentic are these portrayed individuals and how is our perception 
steered by the media?

Thyra Schmidt already dealt with moments of illusion in her earlier works. 
For instance, in her extensive work »Montagen« (2003–2008) she combined 
photographs of different individuals into artificial group scenes by digital image 
processing, whereby landscapes taken from the Internet formed the scenery. 
By inserting text material into these scenes she created virtual text-picture 
collages. Unlike these compositions, the pictures of her Oslo project have not 
been digitally mutated. They are quieter in expression and more secluded. 
Despite these changes in the artistic technique, these works still emphasize 
the idea of private inner states, the nature of the individual or of the scenery 
and not to their detailed, realistic picture – John Constable, who already dealt 
with this issue, spoke of the notion or imagination of a landscape in contrast 
to the pretense or illusion of her authenticity. The Oslo exhibition included a 
pure landscape photograph, namely of the Norwegian Bay, which by virtue of 
the coarse grain of the video cutout has a faded appearance which emphases 
the effect of the bright gleaming light.

Thyra Schmidt treats elements of photos and text, picture and script relatively 
independently: The photos do not necessarily illustrate the text fragments, nor 
does the text describe the photos. »I can’t just be nowhere« presents original 
verses and thoughts together with short literary passages, which in their dialogue 
with the photos allow for free association in the observer and underline the 
immediacy of the arbitrary fleeting moment. The viewer is integrated into a 
scene devoid of time and place and it is left to him to propagate the inherent 
poetry of this constellation.