“The enemy of photography is the convention, the fixed rules of ‘how to do’. The salvation of photography comes from the experiment.”
1947, László Moholy-Nagy
South-African artist Nico Krijno’s (b. 1981) works are a vibrating riot of colour, objects and patterns tearing through photography’s overpopulated landscape. With a unique and highly stylised vision that finds its form in prints, objects, books and other ephemera, Krijno is a trailblazer exploring the limits of photographic space.
Though concerned with bringing the age-old tradition of the still life into an image-saturated culture, there is nothing still in his still lives. Like unwieldy sculptures built from the fragments left over from the digital explosion that has burst photography open at the seams, they are restless, humming with an impatient energy that suggests they will topple the second after the shutter has clicked. In true contemporary form, they refuse to be bound to any one dimension, any one reality. They are schizophrenic, existing in multiple identities, both online and in print; sometimes they leap out of the frame into sculptures and installations. And yet, we are hardly sure whether they even existed in the first place. And if they did, then why? How? They are unlikely amalgamations of the debris of the everyday, patterns, splatters of paint and at times confused human bodies. They could hardly be further from the traditional still life, with its staid commitment to the real, its desire to last forever and its well-worn symbols.
But what if reality has split into two, ‘forever’ no longer exists and there is a new language in town? Then, Krijno is a still life artist in the classical sense through and through. Brazenly reshaping the genre in a world that has migrated to a new digital reality, he is a staunch formalist that continues the tradition: registering the spirit of the time, interrogating composition and refining new techniques. Working against a South African backdrop, Krijno is part of a small international wave of artists concerned with developing a new photographic language.
Combatting the pristine nature of the commercial still life – and its stable value system – so prevalent in our visual culture, his humourous approach to the genre embraces the myriad of transformations that the medium has endured in its recent history. Krijno is working within a chaotic artistic framework where the very identity of a photograph is in question, where the material quality of the photograph has mutated from film to unfathomable digital data, where the speed of production and distribution has increased a million-fold in the past decade, where the artist’s tools are for the most part intangible. In short, where photography as we once knew it has collapsed. But in its wake a space for experimentation has been born. And it is the experiment that is the ‘salvation’ of photography. It is within this borderless turmoil that Krijno is constructing his distinct photographic universe.
In unstable times, the process and practice of the artist is reinvigorated. With a background in theatre and experimental video, the notion of performance is at the core of Krijno’s work. Logging his research and experiments online and in zines, photography becomes a play divided into acts. The photographic frame ceases to act as a transparent window on reality, instead becoming a means to rearrange it. More inventor than observer, he hunts through his surroundings, amassing rubbish and everyday objects to fabricate a private performance that will unfold in front of his lens. With the addition of paint and any textures he can get his hands on, Krijno ‘gets weird’, intuitively building up temporary sculptures and situations electric with possibility. Their transitory existence is then captured by the camera; magically odd and improbable encounters arrested in motion.
Krijno’s performances juxtapose the natural and the manmade in colourfully awkward and abstract collisions. Influenced by the decontextualised way we have come to filter information, he zooms in on details of the everyday, shaking them loose of their former meaning, cropping and remixing the familiar to new effect. Classical icons are smattered with plasticine, banal junk is doused in decoratively bright colours and bodies are rubbed in paint. With a cultivated disorder, the final images play with each other to create unexpected associations, challenging the way we perceive our surroundings and reflecting the fragmentation of the digital sphere.
The journey to get to these end points is one of experimentation that continually reinvents the artistic process, particularly in the context of photography’s new technologies. As the nuances of the traditional photographic print are gradually replaced by the novel incarnations of digital imagery, Krijno employs new modes of exploring materiality through playing in the many dimensions of our new media landscape. Conjuring a new sense of physicality, both in the action of making the picture, and in the aesthetic quality of its contents, is key. Often this happens through the compression of sculptural form into a disorienting ‘flatness’ achieved through the use of a harsh flash that eradicates the natural shadows of an object, forcing us to centre on the surface of the image. As if driven by a curiosity in the Internet’s lack of corporeality, Krijno’s works give body to the intangible viewing experience of the screen, slipping in-between flatness and sculptural form, 2D and 3D, virtual and reality.
Krijno’s dissection of the photographic surface, explored in his self-published book Synonym Study, shortlisted for the Paris Photo–Aperture Foundation PhotoBook Award 2014, is taken even further in New Gestures. Embracing the tools of the trade, he uses Photoshop without abandon to work into each image. Cloning, erasing, rubbing at reality, new and distorted perspectives emerge as the artist reclaims the mechanics of his craft. Physical attributes chafe against digital ones, background and foreground merge in a tangled embrace; nature becomes a melting desktop background and bodies are caught in flow of scrolling information.
Asserting his role as maker, the processes of creation always remain present. Looking resolutely forward as well as back, Krijno’s practice is a frenetic research into how to stretch photography’s identity as far and wide as possible.