Since 2006 I have been planning to examine European conceptions of beauty. My efforts have been inspired by the works of the English art historian John Ruskin (1819-1900). Not only does his thinking represent the ideas of Romanticism, but it also speaks to me of a black and white and discriminatory world view. In many ways, Ruskin’s works have not stood the test the time, but I was moved by his passionate attitude towards natural beauty. Even though my stand on Ruskin is somewhat critical, I cannot help seeing myself and my ideals in his writing. At the same time, I was quite taken aback by how strongly the ideals of Romanticism are present in me, even though I recognise them as narrow-minded, strict, and far removed from the reality which I inhabit. Or is the contemporary world so very different after all?
I’m in the process of making a series of four short films which all look at the ideals of beauty. In each of them, I present beauty in different forms: stone, plant, animal, and human. I have chosen my subjects from my childhood recollections.
How much of the beauty I thought was natural was in fact shaped and processed by people? While researching these films, I have realised that nothing is quite as it seems. Natural forms are, in fact, man-made, and man-made is, in fact, shaped by nature.
What has shaped the European conception of beauty? Why is it that so many of the things we consider beautiful are white? Is the colour white conceptually linked with purity and innocence, or the colour of the skin? When I was young, why did I reach for a piece of chalk and draw mountain scenes I had never seen?