Simen Johan Conspiracy of Ravens
Simen Johan originally drew attention in the early 90s by merging digital manipulation with traditional darkroom techniques. Since then, he has developed a hybrid form of image-making, integrating candidly-photographed animals and landscapes with modest studio and location setups. The artist travels near and far to photograph his source material, finding inspiration anywhere from the local zoo to the jungles of Costa Rica or the rainforests of the Pacific Northwest. Countless hours are then spent assembling disparate images into a unifying whole as he edits, composes and populates each mise-en-scène. The resulting photographs often lack a sense of place which, for Johan – who was born in Norway, raised in Sweden, moved to New York City at age 19, and whose notion of cultural belonging is always in flux – somehow feels like home.
New works in the exhibition present expressively staged portraits and open-ended narratives: two intertwined Barbary lions, extinct in the wild, wrestle for domination against a painted set; piranhas shimmer seductively in dark water; a grizzly bear and her cubs ransack a pelican nesting ground created from scrap tires. Johan’s portraits, landscapes, and narrative works unite to construct a metaphorically-dense world where, as in our own, roles are adopted, dramas unfold and the distinctions between reality and fantasy dissolve.