Friday, February 3, 2017

Crit: Katrin Koenning, Indefinitely

I suggested I'd be back to Katrin Koenning in a little bit, and here we are. The previous remarks about Explanations will get mentioned as well. Hat-tip, as the kids say, to Conscientious Photographer, for pointing me at Koenning.

Ms. Koenning has done a bunch of stuff, I'm going to talk about Indefinitely. I suggest that you look through the pictures before reading the explanatory text, and then read the text (and, optionally, poke around a little on the Internets for more text) and then re-examine the pictures.

The first thing that pops out is that she's really very good at sequencing and layout. There's a very beautiful flow to the thing, and even some rather un-beautiful pictures are made beautiful. Indeed, there is hardly a frame in this collection that wouldn't be viciously panned in any of the numerous internet forums that style themselves providers of critique. There's a lot of vernacular photography (or fake vernacular) filled with awkward poses, hidden faces, overexposure. Much of the rest is underexposed nearly to the point of incomprehensible murkiness.

Arranged on the page as wave upon wave of light and dark, it's lovely.

Repeated notes of air travel, of wildlife and natural things, of family. The ocean keeps turning up. And, let's be honest, if I've picked up on half of the motifs I'm probably doing well. This thing is dense.

It's dense with motifs which become symbols, but of what? It is exceedingly clear that she is trying to denote something, what is less clear is what she is attempting to denote. It's a bit like the Voynich Manuscript, there's a great deal of "text", of syntax, but the semantics are largely opaque.

To an extent, I think that might be a good thing. We get to push whatever we like onto the work.

Taken from another angle, though, the artist helpfully provides us with some explanations. The text tells us what she thinks it means, and that explanation, to my chagrin, falls somewhere between the Aha, yes! and the Well, I guess it fits. My first reaction was that it fell firmly in the latter, but upon spending more time with the pictures I find the explanation growing on me. Indeed, my first reaction was probably more along the lines of what a bunch of BS, but there was enough in there, barely, to support Koenning's interpretation.

The more time I spend looking at the pictures, the more her explanation seems to fit. This is surely in part because the series is enigmatic; it is not that the explanation fits particularly well, but rather that nothing else fits at all.

I love the look of the thing, unambiguously. I want to love the whole of it, top to bottom, but cannot quite. Koenning is clearly a masterful designer, and clearly has some interesting and powerful things to say. In this piece, she seems to me to be trying to cram in a few too many off-center motifs, and is not entirely successful at creating meaning.

Nor, though, is she unsuccessful. This is a very rewarding piece to spend time with. Ultimately, it is a little enigmatic for my taste.

Although it is packed with murky nearly incomprehensible pictures, and god knows I love those with a great love.

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