Far Between : Maria Friberg, Halim Al Karim, Christine Buchsbaum, Chi Peng, Wang Ningde, David Zimmer, Kahn + Selesnick
Mar 19 – May 9, 2015
As part of Denver’s Month of Photography series, Robischon Gallery presents “Far Between,” an exhibition of photography and photo-based work by influential as well as emerging artists who explore a range of imagery of a surreal, fantastical or ethereal nature. International and national artists, Maria Friberg, Halim Al Karim, Chi Peng, Wang Ningde, Ruud van Empel and Kahn + Selesnick, as well as highly regarded Colorado artists, David Zimmer and Christine Buchsbaum, offer entry into distinctive dream-like or cinematic worlds further illuminated by a myriad of inhabitants who evoke a sense of mystery and narrative.
Internationally-recognized for her uniquely contemplative approach toward photography and video, Swedish artist Maria Friberg’s expression holds within it a universal stance. Often isolating figures in intense juxtaposition to one another or against elemental forces such as water or gravity, Friberg’s work addresses a kind of physical and spiritual equilibrium required to navigate a complex world.
On view in “Far Between” are photographs from four thoughtful series entitled “Calmation,” “Alongside Us,” “Way Ahead” and “Duration.” Each identifiable work reveals the artist’s characteristic visual vocabulary, about which art writer and curator, Lorella Scacco, describes as “an interplay Between beauty and ambiguity.”
In Friberg’s series entitled “Alongside Us,” the overall project explores a condition of coexistence and the notion of living parallel lives. The imagery brings with it a sense of quietude in which reclining male figures, posed high up in trees are seemingly entranced as their forms, while defined, almost disappear amongst the branches – symbolizing an inextricable link with Nature. Similarly, from the artist’s most recent series, “Calmation”, a young man lies in a darkened river as if Ophelia, though in this version, his stillness reflects a relinquishment of past identities as he joins with Nature as a way to maintain calm in relationship to an ever-changing world.
In many of her series, Friberg addresses the notion of the “everyman” of her male figures, with intent to focus on her belief of the inherent incongruities of prescribed societal gender roles. Such gender and age issues are presented more overtly in other Friberg series, yet fundamental to each is the artist’s ultimate theme of humankind’s soulful desire for an awareness of and an ability to identify with an all-encompassing force. Often varying her subjects’ isolated environments with an exploration of scale - such as in Friberg’s “Duration” series with its intimate interior - the elements contained within Friberg’s “Way Ahead” series reveal what’s essential about the artist’s overall expression. Its spare, dreamlike qualities and extreme horizontal format allows for a cinematic read and provides a sense of time to a location both familiar and unfamiliar. Whether it is Friberg’s range of observations of a pressured society navigating biases, social media isolation, materialistic pressures or the desire of humankind to see itself as a part of something larger, Maria Friberg’s work manages to effectively grapple with varied psychological terrain. Illuminating further writer Scacco states that Friberg “combines cognitive needs with subjective projections where landscape/nature becomes a middle ground between self and other.”
Maria Friberg is a graduate of the Royal Institute of Art, Stockholm and studied at Myndlista- og Handidaskoli, Reykjavik, Iceland, Nordic Art School, Kokkola, Finland, Bild & Form, Lunnevad, Sweden and has a degree in Art History from Gothenburg University, Gothenburg, Sweden. Friberg has been the recipient of numerous grants including: 2013 Stockholms stads kulturstipendium (Stockholm City Culture Grant), Skärgårdsstiftelsens Axel Sjöbergs stipendium, Stockholm, Signe och Ragnar Edlings fond, The Arts Grants Committee, fve-year working grant 2008 Längmanska kulturfonden Stockholms stads Kulturstipendium (Stockholm City Culture Grant), IASPIS and The Ellen Trotzig Foundation Prize, among others. Exhibited world-wide, Friberg’s photographs and videos are in numerous collections including: Fotomuseum Winterthur, The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington DC, Kiasma, Helsinki, Denver Art Museum, Tampa Art Museum, Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, National Museum of Women in the Arts, 21c Museum, Louisville, Kentucky, European Central Bank, Frankfurt, am Main Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York National Public Art Council, Stockholm, Museo Fortuny, Venice and The Museum of Fine Arts Boston.
HALIM AL KARIM
Iraqi-born, internationally-celebrated artist Halim Al Karim offers his innovative photography from two distinct bodies of work; the recent “White Ash” series along with his dramatic “Eternal Love” series, which features a large-scale unique collodion print. As in the artist’s previously exhibited series such as, “Lost Memory” and the seminal 2009 works from “The Witness Archive”, Halim Al Karim speaks from an expansive and distinctive point of view. All of the artist’s work has been heavily influenced by his many challenging and soulful experiences in his native country of Iraq; prompting each series to explore a deeper view of reality while holding within it a unique expression of transcendence. In his “White Ash” series, Al Karim invites the viewer to investigate universal questions surrounding identity and the illusion of self, yet in a somewhat altered context than in his earlier work. Each dream-like figure shown expresses a different psychological portrait of humanity which, according to the artist, reflects those individuals amongst us who possess an ability to retreat, yet remain present, while in the face of some of life’s harshest conditions. Like white ash itself – the remainder from an alchemical change from burning - Halim Al Karim’s work alludes to or represents a kind of condition of essential change: what was, is now transformed and stands as a reflection of spirit, with its expansive sense of being. This awareness of a broader sense of Self is what the artist believes is inherent within each person and accessible at any time.
From the time he was a young artist in Iraq, Halim Al Karim determined the camera to be a “truth seeker.” Decades later, this internationally recognized artist has distinguished himself not only with his psychologically-charged work but with his signature and commanding photographic techniques. Al Karim’s creation and usage of his own impressively scaled, twenty-three foot, custom hand-built camera offers a glimpse into not only the compelling nature of the resulting large-scale images, but also of the artist’s determination to illuminate his personal truth. His wet-plate collodion series further reveal Al Karim’s pursuit of capturing what he considers “the light from within, emanated by each individual soul.” With the technical process of collodion prints (which was invented in the mid- 1800s and recognized for its great detail and acknowledged as problematic with its unwieldy requirements even in small scale), the medium has never been utilized from the perspective of Al Karim’s expansive vision. In form and process, Al Karim seized upon the randomness and difficulty of its technique in order to visually communicate, in unique fashion, larger-than-life connections for his portraits imbued with Al Karim’s soulful intent. The entire “Eternal Love” series is not only reminiscent of a bygone era technically, but also intended to merge with the artist’s mission to call upon personal memory as a kind of survival tool involving the notion of the beloved as a symbol of transcendence. As if to say, according to Al Karim, that through recollection, those loving individuals from the past will not only remain forever in a higher state of love, but offer the living a potent sense of love in the present moment. “Eternal Love 16” looms large symbolically as an image recreated by the artist of a songstress whose melodious voice captivated him as a child in Iraq and whose celebrated life stands as a refuge for many who hold her in their heart even today.
Halim Al Karim’s photographic oeuvre is the result of a poignant and compassionate journey of both body and soul from his country of Iraq to his larger sense of a universal identity. His deepening and unceasing quest to bear witness and seek the highest truth, generously allows all who enter to share in his expansive view. Whether it is through memory or dreams, Al Karim’s commanding, other- worldly figural images are created not only through a range of remarkable methods – dependent on primarily more low tech than high –but are profoundly driven by the freedom of artistic pursuit. His philosophical father stated early on to the artist to “never to be at the mercy of an external light source” and to always “carry your own light from within.” Al Karim took these words to heart and invented a way of manifesting his elusive images with his own painted light, which also acts as a protective layer - to obscure the identities of his subjects, “in order to keep them safe.”
The evolution of Al Karim’s visual language over the years has become emblematic of a connection across cultures resulting in broad recognition throughout the Middle East and in Europe for his universal concerns for humanity. Choosing love in the face of war and family over politics, Al Karim’s journey of self-discovery has informed the artist’s distinctive bodies of work because of and throughout a life of much persecution and turmoil. As a distillation of his many experiences, Al Karim’s art has been dedicated to acknowledging the unvarnished realities of the human condition, while conveying what the artist feels surrounds and lies between, an overarching theme of love.
A native of Najaf, Iraq, Halim Al Karim studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Baghdad and the Ritveld Academy in Amsterdam. He represented Iraq at the 54th Venice Biennale in 2011 – Iraq’s first reentrance onto the cultural world stage after a 30-year absence. The artist has exhibited in France, Germany, Holland, Lebanon, Jordan, United Arab Emirates, Switzerland, Istanbul, Italy, Kuwait, Jordan, Argentina, Japan, Taiwan and the United States, and more. Museum collections include the Princessehof National Museum for Ceramics, Leeuwarden, Netherlands; the French Cultural Center in Amman, Jordan, the Arabic Museum of Contemporary Arts, Doha, Qatar, L’Institut du mond Arabe, Paris, France; Sorsuk Museum, Beirut, Lebanon, Arab Museum of Contemporary Art, Doha, Qatar, Barjeel Art Foundation, Sharjah, UAE, Darat Al Funun, Amman, Jordan, Farjam Foundation, Dubai, UAE,The George Bush Presidential Library and Museum, Texas, USA, L'Institut du Monde Arabe (IMA), Paris, France, Royal Association of Fine Arts, Amman, Jordan, Saatchi Gallery, London, England, Sovereign Art Foundation, Hong Kong, Victoria & Albert Museum, London, UK, Weng Art Foundation, Krefeld, Germany and the Embassy of the United States, Baghdad, Iraq.
Emerging, Colorado artist Christine Buchsbaum explores a deeply felt world of her own making. Utilizing photography to document her staged surreal, eccentric and expressive performances for the camera, Buchsbaum connects the viewer to a shared dream-like narrative. The camera lens frames her compelling emotional terrain with constructed facades that serve as environments for her subjects – even at times, the artist herself. A vulnerable, sleeping figure seems likely be surprised to find their iron-frame bed adrift in pulsing waves, while in another image, a woman wades out to sea; set forth from a paint-peeling doorway into a watery, metaphoric unknown. Though suggestive of a story line, Buchsbaum’s image which is absent of a figure is equally resonant with an old-world bed, stripped down to the mattress, while its bedcoverings are bound and suspended above. It is ripe for the viewers’ interpretation as to whether its story is one of promise or not. This balance of opposites is an active pursuit in Buchsbaum’s work as the real and the fake are intrinsically united and what is unsettling is also at its core, sensual. The artist’s difficult set-ups in her work such as environments taking place at the bottoms of swimming pools or in excavated hillsides require time and commitment apart from the complexities of the numerous stories the artist longs to tell. In the end, each evocative photographic image makes clear that an underlying narrative exists – though purposely, Buchsbaum offers a kind of universal truth that the story rests with each viewer and her own may never need to be precisely told. Striving for the universal through the personal, the artist states, "my work is a performance-based documentation of personal experience, a reshaping of events that shaped me, strange mysteries of a strange world; narratives of an underlying consciousness.”
Christine Buchsbaum has a BFA from Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design. She was selected as a Visiting Artist and Artist in Residence at La Napoule Art Foundation, Mandelieu-la-Napoule, France, an award winner at Artotique Biennial in London and a juror’s pick in numerous other exhibitions. She has exhibited at Denver’s RedLine Gallery and Colorado’s Arvada Center, among others, and Buchsbaum’s work has been featured in the Huffington Post, Denver Post, Art in America, Art, Ltd., American Contemporary Art Magazine, Zing Magazine and more.
The dynamic work of Chinese photographer, Chi Peng, is emblematic and expressive of his ancient culture’s inherent contradictions, amplified by the expansive freedoms, technology and prosperity of a contemporary world. In his many photographic series, the artist has utilized his own image as the sole figure presented. Whether as a stand-alone figure or shown in multiple, the intent of the artist is to explore many pathways toward the meaning of self and the relationship to an ever evolving culture within an ever-changing world. Known for such fantastical images of armies of winged, nude figures, soaring over golden fields and contemplative, black suited men facing one another on opposing shorelines, Chi Peng’s celebrated meticulously created digital photographs, bring the viewer into the unexpected. In keeping, are the images from Chi Peng’s dramatic “Monkey King” series in which an overtly cinematic approach is embraced in order to meet, head on, the contemporary and mythological within Chinese culture. Based on the wily creature of legend and told from the Monkey King’s perspective, with whom the artist identifies, Chi relied on the recreation of authentic costumes and Peking Opera face-paint to convey a strong sense of tradition in an arena in which his digitized amalgamations startlingly illustrate the seventy-two different guises of the Tale’s magical beast.
Originally written in the 1600’s, Chi re-interprets the story that told the tale of the pilgrimage of a monk who traveled to India to bring sutras back from Buddhist masters to Tang Dynasty China. The tale of the ancient magical creature was kept alive through the centuries and later made into a popular animated character in the 1980s, further extending the reach of the legendary figure. Yet, in Chi Peng’s work, it is not a literal retelling of the myth, but rather, it is a vehicle for narrative – one that conflates the adventures of the Monkey King and the artist’s own experience within a modern context. Chi Peng’s transcendent, layered imagery is electrified with activity which revels in the now and acknowledges what came before. This duality, the artists conveys, communicates his belief that by being vigilant and taking stock in what is essential within the human condition, we are able to see anew that which enriches and ignites the potential for change within an individual, each country and the world.
Chi Peng graduated from the Central Academy of Fine Art in Beijing, with Photography as his main subject, in 2005. During his early years of study, Chi Peng distinguished himself as an influential artist within his country attributed in part to his progressive photographic techniques and large scale applications. Technical prowess combined with startling subject matter, furthered by the attention of the important Chinese art critic and curator Feng Boyi, prompted many group and solo exhibitions within China over the years, as well as in The Netherlands, Germany, France, Japan, Korea and the U.S.A in New York, Texas and Colorado. Robischon Gallery first exhibited the work of Chi Peng in 2006.
With his striking photographs, Chinese artist Wang Ningde locates the viewer in strange worlds both benign and subversive. An early participant in the fast-rising phenomena of contemporary art in China, Wang’s imagery addresses a kind of theatre of the absurd, as its subjects clash with the changing times. In many of the artist’s series the figures feel like misdirected actors; those who take the stage in heavily applied or inappropriate amounts of makeup, only to be positioned within either odd or humbly built stage sets. Each work appears as fantasy, but with puzzlement and peculiarity in equal measure, the views quickly shift back and forth from one of suspect to pure folly, never to be clearly deciphered. Wang, through his imaginative lens, continues to capture the mood and the tension between the past and a rapidly-evolving contemporary China, as he had expressed early on through his notable black and white series, entitled “Some Days.” As an artist who works not only in photography but also more recently in video and installation artwork, Wang Ningde poetically challenges the viewer as well as himself to decipher the unanswerable. With great intent, the artist’s visual language directs all to peel back the layers of memory and social façade in order to better investigate and expose the more complicated and disconcerting issues of a culture’s past and humanity's collective psyche. This mission, inherent within the artist’s work, communicates in considerable variety the importance of seeing behind the mask in order to more clearly view the world as it is today.
Wang Ningde was born in 1972 in Liaoning province and graduated from the photography department of the Lu Xun Academy of Art in 1995. After graduating, he moved to southern China where he worked for a decade as a photojournalist during the period of China's explosive economic and cultural transformation. Robischon Gallery first showed the artist’s work in the U.S. in 2006.
David Zimmer’s enigmatic conflations of video and vitrine feature natural imagery of birds, insects, trees or water joined with elements both technically progressive and repurposed from a bygone era. Within their contained environments, the artist’s fusion of nature-based forms with LED technology ignites a thoughtful consideration of the world around and humankind’s relationship to it. In Zimmer’s most exhibited series, Finch Studies, the varied sounds of birds first invite investigation through delicate branches to discover tiny feathered creatures existing in a disarming wood or, as in other series, in remote and compelling industrial locales. Each work is painstakingly created and edited from hundreds of hours of artist-filmed video footage with sound, as well as primarily utilizing the artist’s photography as background. In addition, extensive research is involved toward securing the appropriate and increasingly rare vintage glass vessels and salvaged hardware. Uniquely conceived and composed, Zimmer’s elaborate visual language is generous toward the viewer as it contemplatively balances on a kind of dream threshold, ripe for interpretation. Evocative and haunting, the artist’s intimate moving images of wind-lashed branches or animated finches and their melodious chirp of bird song seem at once like Nature sublime to behold; yet simultaneously may present a cautionary tale where Nature, if not respected, may exist only as flickering memory.
Colorado artist David Zimmer has a B.A. from the University of Missouri. His work has been included in numerous national private and public collections as well as several museum exhibitions including Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver, Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, Boulder, CO and The Bemis Center, Omaha, NE. A large-scale video work was part of Denver’s 2013 Nick Cave performance of “Music for Animals,” as a joint event between MCA Denver and the Denver Art Museum. Zimmer’s solo exhibition at MCA Denver entitled “Another Victory over the Sun” was the centerpiece of an expansive show which featured only artworks that were self-illuminating within the David Adjaye-designed museum building.
RUUD VAN EMPEL
Internationally-shown Dutch artist, Ruud van Empel, constructs his elaborate works through staged photography, digital enhancement and collage. Van Empel’s highly-influential, progressive contemporary techniques and dynamic compositions reflect the artist’s broad artistic journey into graphic design, theater and television, while serving well his uniquely charged photographic expressions of innocence imbued with a natural sense of wonder. Recognized for such series as “World” and “Moon and Venus” van Empel is noted for his visions of perfectly posed children in contrast to their often wild or Edenesque surrounds. Each image of Paradise, made luminous by the artist’s rich digital color palette and technique, often present the children either alone, in pairs, or large groups, while caught in the viewer’s gaze or stilled by the magical moments of new beginnings, amidst idyllic flowers and trees. From one series to the next, a different mystery is framed and complex narratives may arise, though in van Empel’s vision, beauty is a constant. Similarly, in the artist’s “Dawn” series, van Empel entices us with glimpses of seemingly enchanted characters; dewy skinned children set amidst digitally collaged landscapes that create a striking balance between the real and the unreal, the possible and the impossible. As in many of his series, the artist’s works function as uncanny richly-hued, digitalized “fairytales,” created through the mastery and manipulation of digital technology and his use of layered fragments taken from an archive of thousands of the artist’s own photographic images. Upon viewing the pristinely rendered images, van Empel’s masterful approach leaves no obvious trace of his progressive, influential and highly complex Photoshop technique. Instead, the viewer is immediately drawn into van Empel’s subtly conflicting and always charged worlds, which simultaneously appear impossibly illusory and undeniably hyper-real.
Ruud van Empel has exhibited in major museums and galleries around the world with exhibitions including the Groninger Museum, Netherlands; Torch Gallery, Amsterdam; TZR Galerie, Dusseldorf; The Chelsea Art Museum, NYC; Museum of Photographic Arts, CA; Art Cologne, Germany; Museum de Valkhof, Netherlands; The George Eastman House, NY; Galeria Berini, Barcelona; Quatrieme Biennale Internationale, Belgium; Frisia Museum, Netherlands. CB Collection, Tokyo, Japan and the Museum Kunst Palast, Düsseldorf, Germany.
KAHN + SELESNICK
Acclaimed, influential New York/British collaborative duo Nicholas Kahn and Richard Selesnick involve photography, painting, drawing, prints and sculptures in service of their startlingly original visual narratives. Together since the 1980s, Kahn + Selesnick have purposefully invented inexplicable, yet visually invigorating historiographies – adventures in which there is no division between fact and fiction. As in all of their past series including “Apollo Prophecies,” “Eisbergfreistadt” and “City of Salt”, the artists build onto select cultural facts with sheer fantasy with the intent of reflecting an even larger scope of reality.
On view in “Far Between” is the second installment of Kahn + Selesnick’s most recent and on-going series, “Truppe Fledermaus and the Carnival at the End of the World,” which furthers the artists’ narrative as it takes its inspiration from Italian philosopher Giulo Camillo’s 1550 Memory Theater. The enigmatic series tells the visual tale of a chimerical cabaret troupe comprised of bats, Greenmen, death dancers and many other characters traversing the outskirts of imaginary and recognizable towns where their mystifying performances play repeatedly for no one. As a constant is the series, the bat – der fledermaus – represents both humanity and nature, in danger of extinction and subject to all manner of unquiet dreams and sleepless nights. The artists imagine in their tale envision that the deadly white-nose fungus, like many other forms of fungus and mold, as being hallucinogenic and therefore sometimes, an agent of vision. Thus, the bat is also a shaman of sorts; a portent. A horn, when emerging from the bat, represents the fungus, but also the dichotomy between animal nature and wisdom meanings which both occur in art history with regard to the symbol of the horn-form. Environmental apocalypse is referenced as well in the “Truppe Fledermaus” tale by the top-hatted figure walking across the marsh with a heron bearing a banner stating in Japanese the title of the photograph 100 Views of a Drowning World. Unlike the historical peaceful ukiyo-e dream views of the floating worlds, the artists’ herons herald warning to humankind from the Fukushima nuclear disaster. As a metaphor for contemporary society’s on-going disengagement from the logic of the interconnectedness of the larger natural world, the central role of the Greenmen in the tale brings both truth and hope to the cast of characters as they relate to their environment. The Greenmen, while supportive to the players are, inextricably linked to Nature and act as a stand-in symbol of humankind’s fundamentally unconscious relationship to it. Through Kahn + Selesnick’s signature cinematic approach, the artists consistently present the engaged viewer with seemingly inexhaustible imagery and its potential for interpretation; a kind of mesmerizing experience to reflect a modern world.
Graduates of Washington University at St. Louis, Kahn + Selesnick have been awarded artist residencies at Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, Massachusetts; the Djerrasi Artist Program, Woodside, California; and Toni Morrison’s Atelier Program at Princeton University, New Jersey. Their work has been shown in more than eighty solo exhibitions throughout the US and Belgium and in group exhibitions in China, France, Germany, Monaco, and Norway. Museum exhibitions include: Brooklyn Museum of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Photography and Field Museum, Overbeck-Gesellschaft, Lübeck, Germany and Cape Cod Museum of Art. Their work is in the permanent collections of the LA County Museum of Art, Boston Public Library, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Fogg Museum of Art, National Portrait Gallery, and Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Their latest commissioned series “Mars Revisited,” features an uncanny resemblance between certain terrestrial terrains and Martian topographies joined by the artists for staged, fictionalized alien encounters was most recently on view at the Boise Art Museum.