0

The Beautiful Perfection by Johan Simen

Simen Johan’s Kingdom, The Beautiful Perfection of Unfulfilled Symbolism
Little, David E., Director and Chief Curator, Mead Art Museum, Amherst College

[Until the Kingdom Comes] refers less to the kingdoms of the bible and natural world, and more to the human fantasy that one day, in some way, life will come to a blissful resolution. The answers to who we are and what we’re doing in this world, will come to light and validate our existence. In a reality where understanding is never total, I depict ‘living’ as an emotion-driven experience, engulfed in uncertainty, desire and illusion.” –Simen Johan

2013

simen johan until the kingdom comes
simen johan until the kingdom comes
SIMEN JOHAN
simen johan until the kingdom comes
simen johan until the kingdom comes
simen johan until the kingdom comes
simen johan until the kingdom comes
simen johan until the kingdom comes
simen johan until the kingdom comes
simen johan until the kingdom comes
simen johan until the kingdom comes
SIMEN JOHAN
simen johan until the kingdom comes
SIMEN JOHAN
simen johan until the kingdom comes

 


Simen Johan’s arresting photographs of animals from the artist’s series, Until The Kingdom Comes, remind us that we have come a long way since George Eastman’s famous advertisement from 1888, “You Press the Button, We Do the Rest.” Unlike aspiring turn-of-the century amateur photographs, who meticulously crafted their prints and gave birth to a movement advocating for photography as art, Kodak customers were akin to today’s IPhone enthusiasts. They sought to document their quotidian activities with little care for the technical and aesthetic details that produce an image. Eastman’s primary customers didn’t build darkrooms in basements or join photography clubs. They simply shipped off their film to the Kodak factory in Rochester, NY, and waited for their pictures to return to share with friends and future generations. In short, Kodak gave birth to a passive form of photographic production and consumption. (This type of photography is even more present today given sophisticated image-making technologies that make production virtually invisible.) But a technically engaged form of photography has always existed on a parallel track in photographic history. Johan’s photographs underscore the importance of the creative act in photography, not as an act in itself, but as a means towards a conceptual and narrative goal. No longer the product of an anonymous “we” (as in “we do the rest”), his creative act is a deliberate and painstaking one that requires many subtle decisions and adjustments. This act marries the artist’s technical acumen with conceptual intention and depth. The serine and perfected surfaces of the five photographs on view in the Bethel galleries reveal the artist’s amazing skill and sorcery to produce images. Their process of creation appears deceptively easy, camouflaging the hours dedicated to taking, selecting, splicing, crafting, and generating the images. They are a tour-de-force in Photoshop and its possibilities. But they are so pure, alluring and beautiful, that they signal just the opposite of the expected. Their perfection is too perfect to be “real.”

2011

The so-called truth behind Johan’s photographs is that they are an amalgam of hundreds of photographs. The photographer produces high-resolution images by pressing the button in locations far and wide, from the San Diego Zoo to Africa. Like a film director, he makes the final cut and blends the images into a seamless whole. The final picture becomes a single geographic point, unifying a matrix of world locations. When considering this process, it’s hard not to think of 18th century aesthetic philosopher, Sir Joshua Reynolds, who advocated for art drawn from the best parts of nature. For Reynolds “A mere copier of nature can never produce any thing great, can never raise and enlarge the conceptions, or warm the heart of the spectator.” (Reynolds, of course, could never have imagined a time when an artist, thanks to modern travel, could witness moments and places of nature across the globe in a single lifetime.)

Johan certainly warmed spectator’s hearts when he started the series, Until the Kingdom Comes, in 2005. And he continues to do so today. The five works featured in this exhibition range from that first year through 2011 (Johan continues to add to the series, including a 2015 photograph of a Zebra that is in the collection of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts) The animals inhabiting Simen’s series express a range of sensations from playfulness to austere dignity. Centrally framed and isolated at middle distance in most compositions, they often appear too small for the scene, which only adds to their monumentality and presence. Untitled #137, for example, features a central lamb that occupies the foreground and nearly three-quarters of the composition. Its position is both awkward and correct at the same time. No doubt, Johan proves in his command of image making, that he could create “correct” proportions. His approach is reminiscent of Pre-Raphaelite paintings where perspectival imperfections signal to viewers that symbolism is imbedded in the figures populating a scene. How are we to read Untitled #137 then? As a spiritual work of art? It is hard to say because the visual sign systems that informed interpretive readings of the past (the Bible and Shakespeare, for example) are no longer shared one among contemporary viewers.


 

2009

 


Little dramatic tension exists in other images on view, with the exception of two moose that battle one another inUntitled #133. But even this battle appears rather tame, as each participant is caught in a frozen movement, as though they are stuffed animals in a diorama. (Johan has been know to use taxidermy in some of his works) The only other twosome on view, features two pink flamingoes (Untitled #163) set in an antiseptic environment that belies their intimacy; they playfully entwine like two familiar lovers embracing. In the narrative of the active and passive photographer, we cannot forget that once upon a time cutting and combining photographic images was act of radical political modernity. Dadaist Hannah Hoch, John Heartfield, Raoul Hausmann and a host of Russian avant-garde artists cut, decontextualized, and rearranged mechanically- reproduced images to provoke new meanings. The other important attribute ascribed to photomontage is that it somehow opened up the possibility for viewers to achieve a sense of distancing. This distance separated the act of seeing from the familiar cultural and interpretive apparatus that informed the meaning of images; in short, photomontage offered the promise of new meanings, often in contradiction to those ascribed–to use a phrase of the time–by bourgeois culture. The visible pasting-together of multiple images is a key attribute of photomontage. The technique called out the construction of images on its surfaces. It proclaimed the power of images as illusions. As I have suggested earlier, however, the distancing in Simen’s images is a result of their seamless, not variegated surfaces. Simen’s pictures draw us into the scenes with the popular allure of animals, whose power as subjects are increased with scale and detailed surfaces. But once viewers recognize the impossibility of what they thought might have been a promise, they are left with subjects whose meanings are uncertain. What is present is the perfection of unfulfilled symbols. Until the Kingdom Comes is a place that never arrives.

2006

 


 

2003

 


 

90s

 

 

source: simenjohan

Share this:

Comments

comments