The images on this site where made during the following years:

A Conversion Act, 2010- 2012

Part One: One for every wish, 2007- 2008
Part Two: Amor Omnia Vincit, 2008- 2009
Part Three: To be undone, 2009- 2010

Below are a few texts in English about the various series

About "A Conversion Act":
"Hysteria: an aesthetic in its own right" by Karin Johannisson

Plenty of the photographs in Nadja Bournonville's A Conversion Act signal the process of turning away. Precisely because of this they spark a desire to identify that which remains hidden. What is it that has been converted into an external form, a form so dreamlike and beautiful that you confuse it with the truth? The word conversion connotes a recasting. Wikipedia defines conversion syndrome as: a psychological disorder formerly known as hysteria, that manifests itself physically in pathological symptoms that lack somatic etiology (a root in the corporeal). The term 'conversion' implies that the sufferer converts their psychological difficulties into physical ones, also called somatization.Meaning: the psyche becomes body, the internal made visible. The classical, almost wornout images from the famous Iconographie photographique de la Salpetriere, late 19th century, locks hysteria's physical manifestations in a set of predetermined phases and poses. The images thus become both documentation and visual proof: hysteria looks exactly like this. The psychiatric clinic Hopital de la Salpetriere weekly provided two set of stages, the main attraction being the public Friday lectures. Here Doctor Charcot's youngest and most beautiful hysterics were on display, a form of early performance artists complete with loveable names such as Marie, Therese or Genevieve, together embodying that which Charcot wished for. The other stage was made up of the private clinical Tuesday lectures with the camera as witness. Detailed photographic sessions show women in the classical
poses of hysteria: introverted or convulsing in their beds, entwined in wrinkled sheets and white hospital shirts. Here the hysterical attack is staged within its distinct phases, sequences and gestures. According to Charcot these make up four determined phases each with their own specific bodily aesthetic: the convulsion phase, the clown phase, the passionate phase and the hallucinatory phase. It is this imagery that contains the well-known stereotypical positions such as the arch and the crucifix. Making photographic documents of the patients' choreography was perceived as a radical way to mediate the truth. The camera does not lie.
(However some of the original photographs contain scenographic instructions written in pencil on the back: "more light on the hands", "heighten the emotion in the gaze", "produce more wrinkles on the shirt".) During these photographic sequences a predetermined interplay was established between Charcot as the
director, the patient and the camera's constant recording of events. While much credibility was attributed to the proof of the camera, the photographs were criticised for being staged and for depicting imitations of symptoms. Charcot himself noted that the language of hysteria could contain glitches or be disruptedly
unknown signs and an explicitly foul antagonism. An example of this is "thecynical spasm" where the patient shows their teeth to the doctor. "The patient can perform a repertoire of illusory signs, especially if the doctor is the victim." But why would she pretend? Perhaps in protest- "If I am perceived to be crazy, I may as well play crazy"? Another interesting theory concerning the external language of hysteria was that it was rooted in the patient's desire to be exposed (understood) whilst simultaneously denying herself the fulfillment of this very wish. Leaving the external here to act as a mask covering up internal pain, a pain which must remain hidden. Thereforeglitches and illusions must be inserted within the body language in order to construct a cipher with its own openings and closings. A central aspect being the creation of an illusion of hysteria, with concealed traps. However, this concealment did not entail that the act was an imitation or that the trauma did not exist. On thecontrary, the signs could be false but they were still signs. So, who duped whom? What was indeed simulation,
mimicry, conscious or unconscious conversion? This question can be developed within the concept of simulacrum ("unreal or vague semblance"). A term that incorporates simulation. Whilst simulation implies a separation between the self and the body, simulacrum is dynamic and retains corporeality. Simulation attempts to recreate reality, thereby replacing it with symbols of the real and thus suppress- ing reality with its own copy: a manuscript allowing all the detailsand signs of reality. A simulacrum on the other hand strives for something which is not a copy- although containing a visible similarity there still exists a tangible discrepancy between the illusion and the reality. Simulacra are therefor not exact represen-tations of reality but rather images containing identifiable glitches.
Nadja Bournonville's photographs seem to me to have a similar point of reference, hinting back to sequences and containing ideas inherent in the classical
iconography of hysteria. The external/visual embody an interior that must be deciphered, leaving it up to theviewers to break the cipher with the codes and keys available to them. Hysteria, or the act of conversion as shown by
Bournonville, is a reminder that we are continually constructing ourselves (and being constructed by others) layer by layer. Hysteria neither was nor is a "psychological disorder" or a simple "somatization", but rather a language combining the internal and external self. Bournonville claims to be " searching for a notion of what hysteria was and whatever tracesit has left behind". In her images I see plenty of these traces. I am especially drawn to the picture showing a foot being carved by a needle, reminiscent of the "skin writing", dermographism, that the doctors of hysteria could use on especially reluctant patients in order to extract their mystery. This mystery remains as a trace in many of the pictures: an averted back, a covered body laid out on a too short platform, a face hidden behind a blindfold, a scene reminiscent of theobjectionable photographs from Abu Ghraib with a head covered in a cone, body parts in plastic, models with vacant
speech bubbles as if emptied of language. Bournonville's living models can also be seen as a kind of reference to Charcot. Photographed whilst completing various tasks – drawing a house, building a shape, performing movements – they appear
simultaneously locked and free to decide how much to reveal. Even the uterus peeled clean with sprouting fallopian tubes and blurred openings, like a crossover between a beetle and a crab, take willful shape between simulation and proof.



About part one "One for every wish":

I had found a small wooden ship that looked almost exactly like the schooner Lefteria on which my uncle sailed in 1972 between England and Spain. Lefteria got hit by French weather ship in the middle of thenight and my uncle, who was asleep, sank with it. I made the image “For Magnus and Lefteria” in Leipzig in May 2007 as a way of figuring out how accidental choices and decisive moments such as this one can change the way we experience and understand life and how traces of them linger on through generations. I started searching in my own back-ground as well asin literature, daydreams, desires and wishes for the starting point of stories, for thosemoments that in hindsight stand out so clear in memory that one has the possibility to access them at all times. Through photography and writing I explored and confronted those stories close to me- real or imagined. By creating images from feelings, gestures and objects the process became a way of relating to and internalizing the world, somehow like a tool to fill the holes and at least an attempt at making the narrative somewhat complete. After reading P.O Enquist’s ‘The Book About Blanche and Marie’ I decided to dividemy project into three parts inspired by the three ‘question books’ written by the main character Blanche. The question books of Blanche, one yellow, one black and one red are said to start each page with a question and it is through her sometimes erratic
answers that a story gradually unfolds. In the first part, ‘One for every wish’ I have been occupied with the question I as a child applied in every situation, why?
The curiosity and playfulness of this question drove my search forward through
continuous reading, questioning and image making. Like Blanche’s incomplete answers that leave room for interpretation and still manage to convey a story I felt that my images held the story I was looking for. It underlies them all, I guess it is not always necessary to know exactly where the stories originate from, everyone has their own and they are never that different, a shipwreck, lost love, accidents, failed dreams and a lot of hope…



About part two "Amor Omnia Vincit":

Text by Raymond MacDonald, Professor of Music Psychology
and Improvisation at Glasgow Caledonian University, Scotland

The study of personality presents many beautiful ambiguities as it opens up a limitless landscape of interpretative possibilities. For example, are there a finite number of stable enduring monolithic building blocks of personality in the neurolo-gical connections of our brain, identified as traits and constituted by our genetic inheritance, that predict our behaviour regardless of situation? Or are we individ-ually so unique, so phenomenologically idiosyncratic, that to understand persona-lity we have to explore subjective experiences? If so, are all attempts at population generalisation through psychometric gymnastics essentially futile?
Maybe it makes no sense to think of personality residing within the mind at all but rather personality is constructed in the language that we use on a day-to-day basis. Alternatively, is the driving force of personality the universal unconscious urges and motivations of existence that if realised unambiguously lead to the annihilation of the human race? These are just four well evidenced, highly respected and sometimes controversial approaches to personality and they produce infinite options when searching for explanations of behaviour. While ambiguity has a controversial place within modern psychological theory, not least because one important goal of work in this area is to produce solutions, alleviate suffering and ameliorate pain and distress,ambiguity is celebrated within aesthetic epistemologies and here beauty is also constructed along an infinite number of ambiguous dimensions. Bournonville, like a psychologist, presents constructions of personality. Not complete comprehensive structures, but rather she opens multiple seams, narrow and endlessly deep; multiple seams of fundamental personality dilemmas. These dilemmas are interrogated and problematised in such away that we are invited to explore our feelings in response to these elemental
questions. Whether these feelings are conscious or not there is no escape from the Faustian Gretchenfrage provoked by the images. An obscured face looking upwards towards a symbolically and complexly textured background. Curtains opening and possibly beckoning us to trust our uncertain feelings of attraction and begin a journey, a drama, where passion, trust and hope have significant roles to play. While some of her previous work has dealt with constructions of death and the death instinct, Thanatos, the ticking clock inside Captain Hook’s nemesis, the crocodile, the current exhibition tackles the ambiguities of love. Love; not so much a psychological minefield when trying to negotiate its philosophical
intricacies, but rather a saccerine quicksand where even the most unromantic of theorists can dissolve into mawkish syrup. However, the pitfalls of sentimentality are avoided and Bournonville tacklesboth the light and the dark side of love with almost Jungian equanimity. Jung claimed that good and evil “are a logically equivalent pair of opposites” and co-existent halves of any loving relationship.
“They do not derive from each other but are always there together. Evil is a human value, like good.” There are of course many barriers to intimacy: the need to ensure that vulnerabilities are not exposed; personal space preserved and not threatened, these barriers may also be implied in the use of key objects within the images. Roland Barthes maintained an intense fascination with the psychological significance of everyday items throughout his career. It was this passion, trying to unravel the multiple ambiguities relating to the significance of objects, which helped him delineate crucial tenants of semiotic theory. The psychological significance of everyday objects plays an essential role in Bournonville’s work; curtains, stairs, pictureframes, chairs, tables, doors all hint at, or even invite the viewer to take part in, psychological journeys that explore the ambiguities of loving. These ambiguities of loving begin at birth in the cooing and babbling that takes place between a parent and a baby. Indeed there is considerable evidence that these interactions are musical. Every human beinghas a biological guarantee of musicianship. Not a vague utopian ideal but the conclusion drawn by scientists
researching foundations of human behaviour. Before we communicate using language, music plays a fundamental role in the earliest and most important loving relationship of our lives; that with our parents.We can indeed sing before we can talk. Moreover, not only are these interactions musical but they are improvis-atory and ambiguous. Improvisatory in the sense that improvisation is defined as the spontaneous unfolding of communication. Therefore we are not only all musical but we are all sophisticated and consummate improvisers. Life’s ambig-uous journey for us all is one long improvisation. Journeys, improvisatory, existential and literal, are recurrent themes in Bournonville’s work. There is also
a strong narrative element to the images: stories of exploration and uncertainty. Bournonville doesn’t so much tell her stories as allude to themes and central concerns. However, it is clear these observations have existential significance for us all. Everyone carries their own stories and these are inextricably linked to the
cultural milieu in which the authors journey. Kierkegaard’s personal preoccup-ation with himself was, he believed, transfigured by divine governance into universal significance and he viewed himself as a "singular universal". Divine governance or not, the father of existentialism did signal that no matter how personal and intimate our psychological journeys, there are commonalities in the ambiguities of love that resonate universally.



About part three "To be undone":

Text by Eamon O'Kane, Odense, Denmark, May 2010

Taking its cue from the human eye, the camera is equally imprecise in its reprod-uction of the real. We see imperfectly and this sense of loss is compounded by our fallible memory, which in turn feeds our yearning to retrieve the real. Human-kind’s obsession with nostalgia is fuelled by this sense of loss. Over time our memories disappear and dissolve imperceptibly into themselves, just as our bodies slowly decay and disintegrate. We are haunted by traces and fragments, merged experiences and feelings overlap and intertwine through the passing of time. Human sight is inexorably linked to language, which is also fallible when describing the real. Descriptionseither tend to the poetic, historical or mathe-matical when describing an event in history or performance on stage.There is a discursive aspect to looking, where we process what we are looking at in relation to ourselves. It is in the interplay between linguistic development and experience of the real that a child is enabled to makesense of what s/he is seeing in relation to a developing notion of selfhood. It is perhaps for this reason that in early child-hood the questions ‘what’s that?’ and later ‘why?’ are so important, they are the tools that allow the child access to language and knowledge and a deeper under-standing of the world around them and where they are situated in it. Nadja Bournonville’s works thrive on curiosity both in terms of the way they are made and how the viewer interacts with them. In many of her photographs the figure’s gaze is obstructed by a hand, by mist on glass or by cloth. The obscured vision of the participants echoes the fact that the puzzle of her constructions will never be fully deciphered. This relates to the way the photographs are made, they are performative and inherently referential to the process of their making, and yet they resist easy interpretation. Like reading a blotched and smudged postcard they only give us half the story, which generates more questions than answers.
Bournonville sets the stage with ambiguous juxtapositions and scenarios where the viewers feel compelled to re-inhabit their childhood selves. The journeys that the photographs, and their titles, take us on are psycho-linguistic. They probe the boundaries of the real whilst at the same time presenting something which is inherently unreal, often concerned about the language of things and how the human body interacts with objects and spaces. They sometimeshave landscape as their subject but always touch on the landscape of the mind. The spaces that the artist chooses to photograph reinforce this aspect: they are spaces marked by existence; they are places in which the documented past is present in a layering of scratches and stains, of flaking paint and worn wooden boards. The actual process of composing the elements in the photograph is recorded within the image too, if you could scrutinize the marks on the floor and thefingerprints on the objects. However all that remains are the ghosts of occurrences and traces of what has been left behind. Roland Barthes writes in Camera Lucida ‘ The camera obscura, in short, has generated at one and the same time perspective painting, photo-graphy, and the diorama, which are all three arts of the stage; but if Photography seems to me closer to the Theater, it is by way of a singular intermediary (and perhaps I am the only one who sees it): by way of Death.’ There is a quiet reverence about Nadja Bournonville’s photography, an attention to composition, to every detail, which is not dissimilar to the Victorian photographers composure when setting up a photograph of the recently deceased. Yet the death in Bournonville’s photographs is not a human death; it is the passing of a moment, the first and last glimpse of something that will never be the same again. The stage is set, what has come before and what will come after is anyone’s guess…