REVIEW: Until the Kingdom Comes by Simen Johan
By Elana Kates
Norwegian photographer Simen Johan explores paradox through his images, which present the natural world as a fantastical and extreme place. His plush photographs are enchanting—curious depictions of flora and fauna emerge in an unforgiving cycle of life and death. Johan’s book, “Until the Kingdom Comes,” is exceptionally fun. Each scene is nearly unbelievable in its bizarre eccentricity. Two owls, perched on a picnic bench, appear to engage in mirthful conversation. A huge orangutan reclines on discarded sackcloth in the rainforest. Bits of trash dot the surrounding tree roots and a chicken peers from the edge of the frame. Something in this work is alien and confusing because Johan weds documentary imagery and digital manipulation. The effect is uncanny, blurring the delineations between reality and fiction in his digitally stitched-together imagery.
Johan “strive[s] to create tension and confuse the boundaries between opposing forces” in his work, producing images that are simultaneously familiar and absurd, stunning and brutal. He often depicts environments tainted by the materialized consequences of human intervention. In one image, giraffes wander through a harsh, barren landscape, their heads obscured by smog. The composition is certainly poignant, but its realism falls short. It’s convincing, but something is amiss, illogical. Where are these giraffes and how did they get there? These questions are intentional. We are meant to deconstruct, to spot the seams of digital intervention, to detect the dual elements of artificiality and authenticity.
Fragmentation and contradiction emerge upon closer inspection of the different elements in Johan’s work. “Until The Kingdom Comes” is available unbound. The viewer is forced to organize pictures split across two pages on a flat surface to make sense of the imagery—another subtle layer of disjunction. The artist comments: “I often feel like I am attempting to reconcile the irreconcilable as I explore the paradoxical nature of existence.” Johan does so, and with multifaceted nuance and energy.
Book courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery
The exhibition at Yossi Milo has been extended until August 19th, for more information see: http://www.yossimilo.com/exhibitions/2016_05-simen_johan/
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Article © Elana Kates