Selected by Unseen Platform
Mysterious and mythical, Maja Daniels’ Elf Dalia interweaves folklore with archival material to depict life in a remote, fictional community based on the Swedish town of Älvdalen, where her grandparents live. The project’s title, loosely inspired by the name of an ancient language derived from Old Norse and spoken by the town’s residents, explores the familial connection – or rather the linguistic disconnection – that Daniels felt in relation to her grandparents and the generations before them.
During the six years that Daniels spent exploring her family heritage, she was introduced to the archives of Tenn Lars Persson, an eccentric local scientist and inventor who lived in Älvdalen during the late 19th and early 20th century. Uncanny and enigmatic, Tenn Lars Persson’s images document village traditions and daily life, as well as his interests in physics, astronomy and the occult. These archival photographs have become integral to Elf Dalia, and operate in dialogue with Daniels’ contemporary images, blurring timelines and challenging the dichotomy between fact and fiction. ‘My aim has been to create a performative space where the past can co-exist with contemporary life.’
Daniels’ artistic process embodies this concept. Inspired by Tenn Lars Perssons’ experimental approach, the artist plays with long-exposure to allow light to leak into the film rolls, suggesting a parallel between the fragility of a photographic negative and a language that is on the brink of dying out. The resulting images appear otherworldly and timeless, the subjects partially obscured. Forest landscapes are streaked with light and colour, a tattooed man is half-illuminated by sunlight, and two teenage boys sit nonchalantly on a car amid clouds of smoke.
The most recent additions to the series are Daniels’ self-portraits, wherein stacks of driftwood from her grandfather’s collection are pieced together to create totems. This process takes from Norse mythology, which believed that the gods created humans from pieces of wood. In creating these abstract portraits, Daniels speaks to her own shifting identity.
Combining myth and archive, Elf Dalia begins a conversation between past and present and challenges the perception of photography as "document". ‘Elf Dalia is not an observation of a place at a specific point in time. It is a very personal narration based on imagination, emotion and desire.’
Text by Jenny Willcock, Unseen Platform