A Thin Wall of Vellum: Photographs by Mike Vos

On view in Gallery Photoland located on the first floor of Evans Hall from January 15th – March 22, 2024.

Artist Statement:

Inspired by the natural landscape of Iceland, A Thin Wall of Vellum draws from the strange and beautiful wildlife that surrounds the island. Present here is also the influence of the cultural and artistic history of Iceland; specifically the writings of Steinn Steinarr and painter Jóhannes Kjarval. During artist residencies and travels across Iceland I had the opportunity to visit Steinarr’s home in the West Fjord’s as well as view many of Kjarval’s original works, including Fjallamjól which had a profound impact on me. Steinarr spoke of his work as something not to be understood but simply experienced, and as I developed A Thin Wall of Vellum during my time in Iceland I realized that the same could be said about nature.

A Thin Wall of Vellum explores the idea of a parallel world that runs alongside of our own. One that blends with ours aesthetically, but may clash philosophically. While standing in specific places in Iceland I thought that I might peer between these two worlds and see through the thin wall of vellum-like material that separates them. These images and audio pieces are my attempts at instructing my camera and field recorder to capture not only what I witnessed visually and audibly, but what was experienced by my other senses in this moment both externally and internally.

All of the images here are made with a 4×5 film camera using traditional photographic and darkroom techniques. None of the blending is done digitally or in any kind of post-process; everything happens directly onto the film within the confines of the camera.

The sound elements in this exhibition are created from field recordings taken at the photographed sites across Iceland. The recordings are altered using sound
design techniques and added instrumentation from traditional Icelandic instruments such as accordion, mouth organs and various stringed instruments.

All of my work is created to advocate for the preservation of nature and it’s respectful enjoyment. For many, nature is purely an abstraction and something they find difficult to connect with. Traditional photographic processes fall short of capturing the emotional experience of viewing wild landscapes in person. As films are adapted from books and are changed to fit a new format, my work attempts to adapt 2-dimensional images and field recordings to emulate the full experience of witnessing the power and surreal qualities of these places.

As tourism in Iceland is still in its infancy, it’s a place where there are many unique and fragile ecosystems, so it feels imperative that I create work that advocates for the respectful enjoyment of nature. As someone who grew up in Oregon and who has a deep reverence for wildlife, it’s something that I immediately connected with many Icelanders about both as an individual and as an artist. I’m thankful to see that reverence for wildlife reflected in so many Icelandic artists whose work I viewed throughout the country. My hope is that my work will embolden individuals to help preserve our shared planet by instilling in them a sense of personal connection to and reverence for nature.

I believe that it’s in the internal connections that we as humans have with the natural world that allow us to empathize and relate to our environment, to step outside ourselves and see how we are also part of these landscapes. Another world is out there, merely separated from us by a thin wall of vellum.
This series was created during residencies with the Akureyri Art Museum in 2023 and Bær Art Center in 2022.

Artist Bio:

Mike Vos (b. 1986) is a photographer, visual artist and musician from Portland, OR.

Drawing inspiration from various literary movements and themes, Vos uses traditional and experimental 4×5 film techniques, field recordings and instrumentation to craft complex narratives that advocate for the preservation of wild spaces. Constantly pushing the capabilities of film photography and sound, Vos creates immersive experiences to draw viewers into surreal representations of physical places.

Through both traditional and experimental techniques Vos attempts to capture the complex emotions that come when viewing places firsthand that are ancient, beautiful, and strange. Much like variant adaptations of the same subject matter, Vos interprets landscapes into ethereal and otherworldly dreamscapes to capture the awe and wonder that exists in nature.

Vos has been awarded artist residencies at esteemed institutions such as MASS MoCA, The Akureyri Art Museum in Akureyri, Iceland, Bær Arts Center in Hofsós, Iceland, Cobertizo in Mexico, Vermont Studio Center, Jentel Arts in Wyoming, and in his home state of Oregon: Caldera Arts and The Sitka Center for Art & Ecology. His work has received support from grants through the Regional Arts & Culture Council, The Ford Family Foundation, The Puffin Foundation and the Oregon Arts Commission. He currently has 4 photographic prints that are part of the City of Portland’s permanent collection.

Curated by Rose Shepherd and Lily Walovich.

Advisors: Devon Demonte, Gail Dillon-Hill and Carrie Chema

Poster Design by: Lincoln Jones-Hartman and Carrie Chema