Nicolai Howalt

1970, Denmark
Nominee - Prix Elysée 2022-2024

Nicolai Howalt (b. 1970) is a Danish artist, whose photographic work spans across documentary, conceptual and installatory art. His work is distinguished by a unique materiality, initiated by chemical processes, where the temporal sense of both photography and existence is laid bare. Nicolai Howalt’s series challenges the boundaries of the photographic medium, by reinventing traditional techniques. In his work, this encounter between chemistry, science and artistic investigation become an exploration of fragility and existence as a state of constant change.

Nicolai Howalt graduated from Denmark’s renowned photographic art school, Fatamorgana, in 1992. He is represented by Martin Asbæk Gallery, Copenhagen and Galerie Maria Lund, Paris. His work has been widely exhibited both nationally and internationally; including ARoS Art Museum in Aarhus, FOAM in Amsterdam, C/O Berlin, Copenhagen Contemporary and Nikolaj Kunsthal in Copenhagen. Nicolai Howalt’s works are richly represented in national and international collections such as Photo Elysée, Lausanne, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles and The National Museum of Photography, Copenhagen. He has received several honorary awards from institutions such as the Hasselblad Foundation and the Danish Arts Foundation.

Nicolai Howalt has published 13 books and booklets of which several has become internationally sought-after collectors’ items. His latest publication Old Tjikko from 2019, which presented 97 unique images made from the same photographic negative of the oldest tree in the world, won the 2020 Maribor Photo Book Award as well as the Danish Book Design of the Year 2020.

Projet

Mushroom Studies

During 2022 Nicolai Howalt began working on a major photographic project investigating the enigmatic lives of fungi and heir vital importance to virtually all life on earth.

In addition to being remarkable and beautiful in their morphological diversity, mushrooms and mycelium networks are essential to life on earth as sunlight or oxygen. Not only are they indispensable to all earth’s trees and forests, and thus to the entire ecosystem of the planet, but they are also key to the treatment of aliments like obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Species of fungi have been discovered to digest and neutralize poisonous manmade creations like PCB and petrochemicals. Other species can break down non-biodegradable plastic and turn it into fertile soil or edible mushrooms. Thus, already known fungi could help solve some of our most pressing environmental issues and several hundred new species are discovered annually.

In collaboration with the Danish Botanical Museum, NovoZymes and Associate Professor of Mycology Henning Knudsen, Nicolai Howalt will create a series of works that contemplate on the vital and enigmatic world of mushrooms. A visual exploration that vibrates between scientific study and srtistic experimentation: images of living mushrooms and of samples from botanical collections will explore the biological and visual diversity of fungi and touch on the history of mycological science. Experiments with supermacro cameras, intended for medical and scientific use, will reveal the invisible microscopit life of environmentally and medically important fungi as biological-abstract images that are both poetically enticing and counterparts the concrete and historical visuality of the aforementioned images. Finally, Nicolai Howalt will grow and nurture select species of fungi directly on unexposed pieces of analogue photographic paper for days, weeks and months before developing them in the darkroom. Once revealed, the traces of the fungal networks and the deterioration of the papers will result in photogram-images created by the fungi themselves. Thus, they become an integral part of the work and of the artistic exploration in a very direct, tangible and co-creative way.

Considering the century-long bibliographical history of fungal botany and the project’s scientific contact points, the book format will be an optimal medium for the project, which can work historically and experimentally. Nicolai Howalt plan to invite both a mycologist, a philosopher and a Danish poet to contribute with essays on the subject to further enhance the multidisciplinary aspect of the work. By creating a book that cross boundaries between science and art and that touch upon questions relating to existential ecology, time and the phenomenology of images, as well as the significance of fungi to our lives and planet, the book will be a “new collection” of mushrooms based on different parameters than the strictly scientific or botanical. Nicolai Howalt wishes with the work to spur imagination, awareness and reflection in a broader audience on the mysterious, yet acutely vital lives of fungi; on our codependence with nature and on the opportunities it gives us to correct our wrongs if we look for them.