AVATARS: THE BOUNDARIES BETWEEN ILLUSION & REALITY KIMIKO YOSHIDA AND KAREN KNORR
FEBRUARY 23 – MARCH 20, 2019
In their unique bodies of work, photographers Karen Knorr and Kimiko Yoshida create a transitioning space between dreams and real life; embracing the notion of the avatar, with the subjects in each image referencing a symbolic dimension outside of the actual picture.
The international photographers Kimiko Yoshida and Karen Knorr explore the boundaries between illusion and reality in their separate bodies of work. The pairing of the two photographers is complimentary as both artists require a careful contextual reading of their photographs. Their work is densely layered and structured while referencing art history and cross-cultural signifiers to explore space, representation, and identity.
Yoshida’s work deals with both the Eastern notion of denial of the ego – and non-acceptance of culturally defined norms. The pictures have a lush use of color in which the portrait’s background color always unifies with her subject. In Yoshida’s self-portraits reiterations – while moving through art history and design, she expresses personal freedom and refuses to be limited by the historical and practical uses of cultural objects.
“All that’s not me, that’s what interests me. To be there where I think I am not, to disappear where I think I am, that is what matters.” – Kimiko Yoshida
In Knorr’s photographs, alluring structures demonstrating the sophistication and beauty attainable through civilization, seem to constrict the autonomy and behavior of the individuals (or animals) that dwell within. Knorr’s photographs address the illusion that untamed animals could exist within the beautiful, historically significant interiors in which they are placed. These animals having apparent social and symbolic importance.
“It’s playful, again, I take artistic license… I want an intense visual effect, and I want people to be curious… I want to use the beauty of the image to seduce people to make them think and be curious about what I am representing…” – Karen Knorr
Born in Tokyo, Kimiko Yoshida fled her home in Japan to escape the constricting social norms placed on female artists trying to work in a non-traditional way. She moved to France to study art and was introduced to the Baroque and Renaissance period – which she used to reference her imaginary portraits. Her earlier series was loosely based on brides from different cultures and on wearing ethnographical objects from those cultures. In this work, she basically merged her identities, imaging herself as a symbolic bride and then refusing to be ‘fixed’ or defined by time or place. As she moved through portraiture in art-history, she continued to ‘borrow’ poses and semblances which replaced her ego – or identity. Her methodology allowed her creative energy to flourish. Her two latest series have involved the use of Rorschach painting over the image’s surface – combining representative and non-representative art. Yoshida has recently re-engaged with traditional Japanese art by using beautifully traditional screening of patterns that are printed over her referential self-portraits.
Karen Knorr was born in Frankfurt, Germany and raised in San Juan Puerto Rico. She completed her education in Paris and London, experiencing a multicultural upbringing that would influence her aesthetic and conceptual interests. Her photography has had an active social critique dimension throughout its development. Her early work contained tongue-in-cheek images involving text overlay that lambasted the rather rigid class structure of English society. As the work further developed, Knorr introduced animals as avatar-like elements in museum settings, exploring issues on the preservation of culture. Her latest bodies of work embrace a magical realism bordering on the surreal. She uses grand, refined interiors, often sacred temples, palaces, or hotels. These are spaces designed for human use, but they are populated with animals that become symbolic of a human presence. The animals have an obvious disassociation with the beauty and elegance of the spaces they occupy – raising open-ended questions about why they are placed in these formal settings. Knorr investigates both social and symbolic ideas about how we live in such tightly constructed, opulent places and whether human and animal nature can flourish within these environments; what sacrifices do we make in the name of civilization and how does our social life pre-determine or reshape society?
Both Yoshida and Knorr have found ways to express their individual ideologies and creative voices through rich, multi-dimensional surfaces. The layering of imagery and association of cultural artifacts used in their work creates synthetic pictures that incorporate a ‘reality’ in the images and subjects selected, working toward producing an ‘illusion’ of a natural harmony of the pictorial space. In doing so, the surfaces and the imagery of the photographs are often complex and surprising. Both artists construct layering in their aesthetic; Yoshida through the physical application of paint and stenciling, and Knorr, by using Photoshop and post-production techniques to rework the images. The concept of dream imagery, with its inherent freedoms, is a useful idea in looking at the metaphors that seem implicit in the work of both photographers.
Karen Knorr and Kimiko Yoshida are female artists – and this has affected the development of their work. They have challenged established visual and cultural norms, creating art that has embodied their aesthetic discourse. In Yoshida’s case the uniqueness of the work is in being self-referential, or in Knorr’s case, it stems from appropriating locations from male-dominated civilizations and reworking them to incorporate a menagerie drawn from nature. Both photographers have developed profound and compelling aesthetics that expand their quests for understanding the expressive power of art. Ultimately, through the illusions that photography allows, Knorr and Kimiko create indulgently beautiful bodies of work that address the higher purposes of conceptual photography.