Book Review stills By Katrien De Blauwer and Danny Clay. Reviewed by Christopher J Johnson Though repetitive, engaging with a Katrien De Blauwer photo-collage is something more like engaging with a memory than a work of art; and that is a very fine thing — really an ideal outcome.
Reviewed by Christopher J Johnson
Photo-collages by Katrien De Blauwer. Music by Danny Clay.
iikki books, Plouër-sur-Rance, France, 2016. 112 pp., 75 illustrations, 11¾x8¾".
When I engage with stills there is nothing that comes to mind more strongly than the Bauhaus photo-collagists Xanti Schawinsky, Josef Albers, László Moholy-Nagy and Marianne Brandt. Despite the fact that the majority of their work was created from photographs that they took themselves, the Bauhaus approach to this style of work and De Blauwer’s approach are very similar, it is the perspective and use of line and the use of other shapes that puts them in close proximity despite the wide gap of years separating the bodies of work.
I think it also goes without saying that the Bauhaus photo-collagists were masters of the craft and that, like them, so is Katrien De Blauwer — actually, she’s more of a master which might be expected since the Bauhaus artists didn’t really specialize; they dabbled in everything from stage sets and furniture design to painting and manifestos — photography was only a minor category in their enormous nebula of talents.
Katrien De Blauwer, on the other hand, seems to have made photo-collage her sole focus and this intense engagement keeps her ever improving, even expanding what her otherwise limited form can achieve. Though repetitive, engaging with a Katrien De Blauwer photo-collage is something more like engaging with a memory than a work of art; and that is a very fine thing — really an ideal outcome.
stills has a two-fold function, it works as a retrospective look at some of the different series Katrien De Blauwer has done in recent years, but also as a stand-alone work in conjunction with the experimental musician Danny Clay for which the sections of the book have been divided with tracking markers for the music so that both are experienced together as the two artists intended for this publication [the Limited Edition is a book and an LP, while the trade edition comes with a digital download of Clay’s album. Both book and LP share the name stills].
I should say that the images and the music are both very nice works of art that can stand-alone; together they are nice also, but I can’t shake the sense of being in an art gallery. I prefer art not to remind me of anything like an institution, but rather the world that surrounds: the faults that we have, our natural environments and, well, my memories. It is when the experience of art removes us from a sense of its surroundings (whether a studio, a museum, a gallery or an online image cache) that it is truly great, but the idea that engaging with art makes you feel as though you are in an art museum or gallery is, quite frankly, unappealing to me.
All of De Blauwer’s images are sensuous, if she had a secondary subject matter it might be water, but water is tributary to heat and moisture, in short, that which is sensuous. Her use of old photographs and old paper is expertly handled so that one never feels as though they are engaging with something from antiquated sources, but rather something fresh and eternal and new; a scene that has unfolded in the history of human nature and continues to unfold, unchanging, as the world changes and our desires as an en masse culture change — De Blauwer stick with what does not change, a human desire for intimacy and contact and the erotic.
I recommend this publication highly, both the book and the album, but suggest that you engage with them together at least once and then decide for yourself how you will engage with them again, either separately or as a piece. — Christopher J Johnson
CHRISTOPHER J. JOHNSON lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He is a resident writer for the Meow Wolf art collective. His first book of poetry, &luckier, has been released by the University of Colorado. He is Manager of photo-eye’s Book Division.
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