The Norwegian photographer shares the stories behind a very personal series of images that she made every day for 365 days
Every day, from 11th October 2018 to 11th October 2019 – regardless of where she was or what was happening in her life – artist Maria Pasenau took a photograph of herself. Her new exhibition, 365 Days of Pasenau, is comprised of these daily pictures and debuts at the Piccadilly Circus location of Antonia Marsh’s gallery, Soft Opening. The show, which is curated by Dazed’s Editor-In-Chief Isabella Burley, will display the self-portraits in a video loop – un-dated but in chronological order. “They were shot methodically day by day, but we decided to omit the dates from the works themselves,” explains Burley. “Instead, you are met with the mystery of not knowing or placing it in the context of a year-long project. There is no timestamp. To marry this concept, the works are programmed to run chronologically from day one to 365 and back again. So you will never be sure if you are viewing the progression or regression of them as a series. I thought that was fun! Especially as most people will just experience one or two images fleetingly as they walk past. They might not have any idea of the backstory.”
There’s an urgency to Pasenau’s practice of taking pictures. Documenting herself every day is not only a means of reflection and self-examination, it’s a way of preserving memory. “I’m scared of forgetting things – that’s why I take pictures. The good, the bad, everything,” she explained. Taking photographs is a way of immortalising her own life. 365 Days of Pasenau is, essentially, 365 private moments captured for posterity. Sometimes the portraits feel considered, like Pasenau is consciously playing with identity and posing in eccentric looks she’s put together for the benefit of the viewer; some of the pictures feel very raw and exposed; other images seem to capture the artist in a moment of distracted indifference.
“This feels more intimate than just being naked or just, like, a picture of my vagina or something” – Maria Pasenau
Her first book, Whit Kind Regrets Pasenau, captured the artist’s coming-of-age, unflinchingly documenting her everyday life and friendships. The pictures are intimate, many are nude, and they create the impression of looking through someone’s personal photo album at their most private moments. “It was raw, visceral, and vulnerable. It reminded me of a time in my early twenties, so I think I was drawn to the nostalgia but also her talent as an image-maker,” says Burley, recalling her first reaction to Pasenau's work when she met the artist at a dinner party (“wearing the maddest outfit including a purple-brown wool balaclava that I think she made herself”).
365 Days of Pasenau is a continuation of her practice, but it’s a move towards an ever deeper quality of intimacy. “This feels more intimate than just being naked or just, like, a picture of my vagina or something,” explained Pasenau. “Because, with this, you can see a pattern and you can see if I cried that day or if I had a good day, you know? So it’s very personal.”
Soft Opening is a unique gallery space set in a storefront in the transitory space of Picadilly Circus tube station, displaying art to the wildly diverse audience that passes through the station each day. The public nature of the show heightens the sense that Pasenau’s work is exposing something deeply private. “I think there is a very interesting dialogue between the intimacy of the works and the public nature of Soft Opening’s space inside the station,” says Burley. “It’s open 24/7 and millions of visitors come by the station every month. You can’t ignore it. I walk past the gallery almost every day. It’s part of my daily routine, like many other commuters. I love observing how passersby interact with it – some stop and stare, others take pictures, some are really freaked out, and others just keep walking.”
Below, Maria Pasenau reveals the private memories and stories behind a number of key images that feature in the show.
“This is me in my favourite shirt with my rats Sally and Eddie, they are now dead. It’s very sad that rats don’t live that long. I have two new ones now Bingo and Pipp. Sally was a sassy rat, she always bit me and always was hungry. Eddie was the people lover, my boyfriend named Eddie, Eddie. Eddie was a trans rat, he was one of the best rats I have ever met, I miss him.”
“The jacket I have modified, I first got this jacket to have one plain jacket because I had so much clothes that were (colourful) and messy. The first day I got it I thought that it was to plain, I sewed a red face on to it on the back. The face was cut out of a red curtain I had bought to have as a background on photo shoots. I walked around with that jacket a lot. With the red face on the back. But then I got bored. I want to do more. I got some free clothing paint from a friend and painted the ‘slightly fine’ flag that became the frontal piece. I got it on and I could not move my arm... I’m not good at the sewing, as I had it on, it got better.. this picture is taken in Berlin, I was there to visit my boyfriend when he lived there.”
“This day was a terrible day. I had a fight with my boyfriend, I was crying a lot. I cry and cry and my eyes get swollen. Sometimes my life becomes so hopeless and abstract, I’m not even seeing. But at the end of the day, my boyfriend always gets me to smile in a miraculous way, I was smiling again with swollen eyes this time.”
“This picture is taken in Lofoten, a wonderful place. Cold, very cold, and very blue water! I was there on a photo festival to talk. I can remember that I had some hours alone, sitting by the sea, dipping my feet in the ice-cold water. That made me think about the city where I live, it became a big dirty monster. Why do I want to live in that dirty city.”
“Often when me and my boyfriend have a lot to do, the dishes get stacked up. It gets so much that we have to do the dishes for several hours. (Laughs) it’s nice to do the dishes! I like when we get to come back to clean dishes. It’s like buying time, getting back on track.”
“I got my new Buffalo shoes on, shoes that I have always wanted but never got when I was younger. On this picture my pussy is shaved, I don’t do that, I like the hair and think my pussy looks like a child without hair but I had taken a cast for a sculpture of my pussy. The fuck fingers come two times in this ‘day by day’ series, the first time out of anger, but on this one, it’s for pure joy!”
365 Days of Pasenau is showing at Soft Opening from 31 January – 29 March 2020