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Scenes from an Island

by Florence Montmare

The overarching themes of Scenes from an Island are the human conditions of displacement and transience, played out against Ingmar Bergman’s mise-en-scène, the stark cinematic landscape on the remote island of Fårö, Sweden. There, natural elements are stripped down and laid bare, allowing a contemplation of the rocks and water to function as a mirror, and in reflection, you are able to see an essence of yourself.

What started as a personal search for an authentic home through the connection to nature as a source of life, became a practice of alignment and being present. In a society where neutrality, secularism and individualism rule, a relationship to nature is almost religious as a way of finding solace.

It was a strange uncompromising attraction. I returned again and again to the Island. At first it was only the elemental conditions of landscape that I photographed. With time, I populated the images, inventing scenarios, rituals, and performances for the camera. Bodies in motion contrasted to the desolate topography and its dramaturgy; mountains that have eroded, the earth, the water and the air. A contemplation on transience; body, movement and the surrounding elements.

In light of the extraordinary circumstances in which we find ourselves today, this body of work resonates even more with me now than five years ago, when I initially conceived it. Making this work came from a desire to pause and contemplate, away from distraction and convenience. Art and nature have the capacity to heal, transcend and transform. I hope these images can open up a breathing space for personal interpretations and discoveries.

 
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ONE | exteriors

 
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I sought myself, found the Island. The Island forces me to revisit memories, dreams, fears, shortcomings. In the silence, time expands and I hear my heartbeat. There is a slight chill in the air and the ocean is waiting, a mirror

 
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Midway in life, I find myself standing on the shore, a wild and rocky pile of land, facing the Baltic Sea. Barren, wind-swept tangled vegetation that grows close to the roots. Still looking for mine

 
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The gulf between what you are with others and what you are alone.
— From Ingmar Bergman's Persona
 

transience laid bare


TWO | interiors

Small rooms in the landscape: a glade with rays of sunlight spilling through, a chamber among the jumbled rocks, an ancient crevasse, all potential resting places. A bucolic skyline broken up only by a spire of an old church, windmills and juniper trees. Seeing the complete line of the horizon is said to be essential for inner balance.

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I was looking for home

and at the very core of it, solitude

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The faint whisper of a fairy child: Was I hungry? Did I need to rest? He points at a rock formation with his tiny fingers. Moments later the mosses receive my body overtaken by sleep

 
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plunge into the abyss

dressed in greyscales

a rhapsody

 

THREE | persona

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actors have been cast. Julia and her lover, the poet.

then there is another character, ever present, watching... 

that character is the Island

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The grey spills out and over the skyline in broad charcoal strokes. I turn my nightgown inside out, sway weightless in between becomings. The moment after upright, spine reinforced by gravel

 
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The hopeless dream of being
— Persona
 

the unlikely dream of becoming

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ear deafening silence

there is something more nothing else 

and now comes the rain

 

FOUR | rite

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an image untitled. Lingering pause. 

forecast keeps promising while the sun is in hiding

 
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the utopian dream to coexist in harmony with nature

a relationship that is both contradictory and exclusive

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FIVE | black postcards

Time hides in the eye of the camera. Hours spent for a fraction of a second. One image commands the next in a sort of broken, fragmented narrative

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Figures pass through wearing their usual faces, a masquerade. They appear and disappear, following the same footsteps, next to their graying shadows. As the tide goes in and out, stillness hovers and then everything is silent

 

SIX | incantation

 

the shrill cry of a tiny bird, can you hear it? 

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a silent prayer for the leftovers of a harpy

whispers dreams, scenarios, private monologues

 
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SEVEN | refuge

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No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.
— Meditation XVII by John Donne
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if refuge is a sanctuary, then what is home?

if all that defines us is removed, who are we? 

 
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to disappear and regain

be an island

in a foreign country

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I sought myself, an energy which seeks its source, an inwardly spinning motion, a force to center, and in its eye; consciousness. Who is watching and who is seeing? 

 
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the place I have left has ceased to exist like a dream gone astray, but I believe in the magic of shadows

Refuge chapter: costume design Marie Bergman / choreographer Joakim Stephenson / producer Sara Sjöö

Refuge chapter: costume design Marie Bergman / choreographer Joakim Stephenson / producer Sara Sjöö

About the Artist

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Florence Montmare was born in Vienna, and raised in Stockholm by Swedish and Greek parents who spoke German. At the age of 22, she ventured to New York City to pursue a career as an artist.

She studied photography in New York at the School of Visual Arts and the International Center of Photography. After a few years assisting on fine art projects in Paris and New York with Sam Samore, she established her studio practice in New York and Stockholm. Montmare’s practice is cross-disciplinary and for over 20 years she has created photographs, films, installations, and performances.

The early work was self-portraits and fragmented ambiguous narratives inspired by avant garde cinema mystery novels, where she depicted herself and other women in various contexts. In Lullabies (2003), shown at Recontres de la Photographie, Arles (France 2004), and the series Space untitled (2005), she explored the boundary between spectator and subject, identity, and her body's presence and absence as a metaphor for impermanence.

In collaboration with Charlotte Åberg, Montmare explored the themes of role play, gender, and female identity in the video performance series Phantasme (2003) shown at  FRAC Lorraine (France 2003), Casino Luxembourg, Saarlandmuseum (Germany 2007), Centre d’art Contemporain du Luxembourg (2007), and the Musée d’Art Moderne et d’Art Contemporain (Belgium 2007) among other places. The performative aspect of their work continues in Sanitary Ritual 24 recently shown at Färgfabriken (Sweden 2020).

Intimacy and disconnection are recurring themes. In Illuminations, she documented her impending breakup in a private journal, cataloguing her remaining nights with her partner through all-night exposures. The work was shown as a solo exhibition at Ivy Brown Gallery (New York 2014) and at the Roger Smith Hotel (New York 2015) and in a variation titled Return to sender (Helsinki 2018).  

In the diaristic Grove (New York 2011), she traveled to her father’s birthplace of Crete to spend entire nights among a group of olive trees she inherited, contemplating impermanence, notions of home, and her own personal family history.  

Montmare has directed theatrical experiences such as Dream machine (New York 2012) and It happens in the meeting (Sweden 2017). For the latter, she collaborated with Marie Bergman, Joakim Stephenson, and Sara Sjöö to create a performance with refugees, local residents and premiere dancers from the Stockholm Royal Opera on the island of Fårö, which is currently being turned into a film.

Recent solo exhibitions include excerpts from Scenes from an Island at the Bergmancenter (Sweden 2019) and in Summer Yard of National Museum of Finland as part of Helsinki Photo Festival (Finland 2020).

She was an artist in residence at Chashama studio program (New York 2010-2012), and at Ingmar Bergman Estate (Sweden 2015 - 2017). She is based in New York and Stockholm and represented by Ivy Brown Gallery, New York.