el Anarquista y el Automovil

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© Courtesy of the artist & Galerie Deschler
el Anarquista y el Automovil

Auguststrasse 61
10117 Berlin
September 9th, 2011 - December 12th, 2011
Opening: September 9th, 2011 7:00 AM - 9:00 PM

+49 030 2833288
Tues to Sat 12 to 6


In order to understand the large-format photographs of American artist Jay Mark
Johnson (*1955) it is crucial to grasp their underlying paradox: while the images
are created purely photographically, without digital manipulation or staging of a
scene, and therefore depict actual events, they still create a perfectly illusory
pictorial world. Johnson employs a modified camera which over a set period of
time keeps recording the same narrow vertical strip in front of the camera lens
and combines the successive photographs into an uninterrupted image that
flows evenly from left to right. The vertical axis thus retains its spatial dimension,
but the horizontal axis is dedicated to a depiction of the passage of time:
"x = time." Immobile elements appear as a homogenous background of horizontal
lines, only elements (figures, vehicles, etc.) that move through the recording
plane assume a life of their own as recognizable if stretched or squashed
shapes (depending on their speed).
Johnson's hybrid combination of spatial and temporal dimensions links back to
art historical precursors, above all the chronophotographic studies of movement
of the late 19th century (Eadweard Muybridge, √Čtienne Jules Marey, Albert
Londe et al.), as well as Italian Futurism (alluded to in the title with its mention of
anarchism and automobiles). But Johnson both visually and methodologically
goes beyond a purely technical experimentation by consciously exploiting the
permutations and shifts effected by his recording process to examine, on a level
of content, the nature and limits of our modes of perception. While his earlier
works depicted dancers as amorphous shapes whose complex movement patterns
were recorded in a kind of "action painting," his newer photographs play
with the illusions brought about by a visual approximation of his time-images to
conventional spatial images, while purposefully retaining a remnant of their
comical distortions. For even a precise understanding of the creation process
will not keep us from perceiving the temporal axis as spatial, for in the image it
is spatial.
A remarkable effect of the recording process that combines the image from successive
individual photographs is the fact that the figures in the image always
move in the same direction. This is the result of the camera writing the image in
one direction: a figure would only appear to move in the opposite direction if it
moved backwards through the recording plane. The camera thus effectively imposes
an order and homogeneity onto the depicted reality that was never there
in the first place. Johnson's subtitle for the exhibition, "Between Don Quijote and
Pied Piper," is therefore not coincidental. The famous literary figure of Don Quijote
lives in a world of appearances shaped by the idealized rules of a bygone
era. Both the comical as well as the tragic moments of this figure are due to the
clash of his conceptions with the harsh reality of his time, and to his contemporaries
his stubborn insistence on his ideals seems like a form of insanity. The
same goes for the anarchist who does not want to accept the reality of urban
motor vehicle traffic: he, too, is fighting proverbial windmills. At the same time,
however, we cannot do without the visions of people who break through established
patterns of thought and perception, in order to lead us to new shores, no
matter how absurd their visions might at first seem. For we ignore them at our
own peril and might have to suffer the fate that befell the citizens of Hamelin in
the story of the Pied Piper: that the price we ultimately have to pay for our blindness
is higher than we can afford.
J.M. Johnson was educated at the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies
and has worked as an assistant to Peter Eisenman, as well as for Rem Koolhaas
and Aldo Rossi. Works of his are in the permanent collections of the
MoMA in New York, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., the Art Institute
of Chicago, as well as the Collection Frederick R. Weisman and the Langen
Foundation, Hombroich. Johnson's varied and prolific career spans theatre
and performance art, photography, live musical performance, and journalism.
He co-founded three different alternative television collectives first in Manhattan,
and then in Mexico and El Salvador during the eighties at the height of political
repression and unrest in those countries. After his return from Latin America he
started working in the movie industry and is now a film director with broad experience
in visual effects production, having supervised, directed or otherwise
contributed to the computer generated imagery for nearly a dozen major studio
films and television series, such as Outbreak, Matrix, Titanic, Tank Girl, Moulin
Rouge, White Oleander, and music videos for the Red Hot Chili Peppers and
others. Jay Mark Johnson lives and works in Los Angeles, USA.