The video installation Absent Referent (2018) by Riikka Gröndahl consists of two sets of video footage: a microsurgery class with rats, and people watching the class. The piece explores people’s relationship with other animals in a specific scientific context as well as our manner of looking at images that feature institutional violence and care. Some turn away, some watch without blinking. 

In linguistics, absent referent is the condition of a sign which has an undefined, paradoxical or non-existent referent, such as the word ‘void’. In the context of animal rights, the term has been used to describe the exclusion of the individual life and death of an animal from definitions enabling the exploitation of the animal as a product or a tool. 

Riikka Gröndahl lives and works in Gothenburg, Sweden. Based on a documentary approach, her pieces are inspired by encounters used by Gröndahl to collect knowledge based on real experiences. Gröndahl’s pieces are an outlined, carefully considered and re- examined form of these encounters.