This past Friday, I visited The Contemporary Art Museum in Raleigh, where I had the opportunity to see the Currents exhibit, a collection of photography by nine artists, whose “synchronicity comes not through a host of visual clues and similarities but through creative manipulation, alterations of space and time and identity.” Some of these works were unnoticeably subtle in their manipulations, while others were more abrasive, most notably, Massive Failure (the first image above) by Carolyn Janssen.
When I turned the corner to walk down the steps into the lower floor of CAM, I couldn’t see Janssen’s archival inkjet print at first. I saw on my right a panorama of a Civil War battlefield (Confederate Line, Matthew Baum). As I looked straight ahead, I saw a voyeur’s telephotograph, peering into a New York City apartment window, watching a unknowing napper’s backside (Neighbors #11, Arne Svenson). And then, having been prefaced with a serene landscape and quiet portrait, I was hit by Janssen’s work that, seemingly out of nowhere, just overtook me with its loud, harsh, and colorful awesomeness. Literally, it evoked awe.
Massive Failure is epic in size and in what it portrays. At 64″ x 126″, I couldn’t take in the whole artwork by standing in any individual place. I had to see it first from far away, and then I spent many moments up close, exploring the details. Janssen cuts her own photography into small pieces and then uses them as a digital paintbrush. In the video game, glitch art styled sections, it looks like a technological overload. The images are placed boldly without any attempt to congeal the textures and styles. It might at first seem like an amateur kid’s Photoshop experiment, but it soon becomes clear that the balance of color and the density of the textures is masterful. Still, the image is jarring, especially juxtaposed to the landscape I’d seen just before. She rips apart photography, and creates an ethereal landscape out of the torn pieces.
And then we have the humans. Again, there is a drastic juxtaposition between Janssen’s plastering of the human figure relative to Baum’s cozy voyeurism, watching over a vulnerable, sleeping person. Janssen’s people are soulless, just pieces of a pattern. She seems to only use women, usually in robed cultish attire. They’re circling mountains, and they fly downward from on high, a kind of unholy reverse-rapture. In other works, they lay dead, face down like a massive suicide in Jonestown, or they raise their hands to the sky in worship. Her collages can be endlessly studied. At the gallery, people would stand for five minutes at most works and then spend twenty minutes with Massive Failure, trying to figure what the hell they’re looking at, while simultaneously being amazed.
Unfortunately, the image here gives no justice to the details of the work, so if you are able to do so, go see exhibit in person. Because of these limitations, I have included a number of other images of her work, including some better detailed close-ups on those, which give you a good view into the details of Massive Failure.
Currents runs from June 28 – October 7, 2013 at CAM Raleigh.
Quote via CAM Raleigh.
>> See more of Carolyn Janssen’s work at carolynjanssen.com.