Trace by Swedish artist Maria Friberg has been on my mind all week; in fact, it has had me reeling. Literally, it has flashed behind my eyes and poked at my gut several times over the past few days. It is a sophisticated image in a satiny and seductive finish, so it is easy to see how at even just an aesthetic level it continues to resonate with me; but, its something more than that. It’s that more that gnaws at my intellect and stirs in my belly. It’s a formidable feeling when I know I’ve encountered something authentic, and immediately and instinctively I am able to connect at the precise moment of contact with an artwork. It’s a heady and uncommon experience, and I relish them all the more when they catch me (as Friberg has done here) totally by surprise.
Commissioned by the Hasselblad Foundation in memory of Erna Hasselblad and now part of their collection, Friberg photographed the impressions made by high-heeled shoes in the lava sand of Iceland, inspired by the iconic photographs of footprints on the moon. Whether she is either out of frame or no longer existing, this marked and female presence felt by the soggy black pumps is gone and her absence is achingly felt. This is a moving tribute to Erna Hasselblad, revealed by a poignant parallel between the circumstances that no woman has yet walked on the moon, and the texts that one-sidedly credit her husband Victor with the success of the Hasselblad brand while neglecting Erna’s contributions.
A stark yet bold, subtle yet overwhelming, seductive yet abrasive image, Friberg conjures the reality of many of the difficult but significant questions that I (as well as most humans) wrestle with as I ponder my place in the world far beyond my small and personal niche: what am I supposed to be doing? Do my pursuits really matter? Do I matter? What am I truly contributing? Am I leaving a legacy? This single image captures the uncertainty, the finality, the variables, the frivolity, and the isolation that these types of inquiries inevitably and synchronously contain. Trace is an imposing image that simultaneously reflects the struggle between the solitude of the individual in its pursuit for understanding of self within and in spite of the ever-present challenges of contemporary society. Friberg’s ability to capture this complex dichotomy is humbling and beautiful. I believe it will continue to haunt me for many days to come.