Digitális hússzobrok (NZM interjú Asger Carlsennel)


When asked about artistic influences you usually name artists, painters and sculptors. Francis Bacon occupies a prominent place on that list. What was it that struck you the most about Francis Bacon’s art?

I have an applied photography background, I have even worked as a forensic photographer, but at one point during my career I decided to abandon the old rules. There simply came a moment when I felt that being just a photographer was not creative enough. I wanted to do something complex but that is not so evident visually, doesn’t explain itself to the viewers and rather challenges them. Bacon’s art, the freedom with which he treats the human body really helped me to go beyond the photographic approach. At the same time I didn’t really know if I wanted to do something similar (how can one become the Bacon of photography?) or which direction I would eventually choose. It was a subconscious decision, a kind of instinctive attunement.

Knowing your work, I think– similarly to Bacon’s art – that the various deformations and transformations of the human body are at the center of your pieces. Where does this obsessive interest in the body come from, and what is the artistic significance of the human body?

The human body is the most primal thing in the world. This is what is most directly in our possession, what defines us the most. A body is “me” and “you” and everything that’s around us. In Hester the body plays a central role, a kind of artistic reduction takes place there, since I wanted to create images which have no co-references and which are not tied to an easily identifiable space or time. I didn’t want fashion or other visual signs to determine the perception and bias the viewer. (Hans Bellmer’s works, for instance, illustrate this well, they have an “old” feel, but you still can’t tell the year or even the decade of their production, they are characterized by a ageless patina.) The most appropriate vehicle for reaching this free from space and time seemed the simple showcasing of bodies.

The German art historian, Monica Wagner pointed out that the body lost its identity, its sacrality, its metaphysical quality and it changed into a “stock with limitless resources,” a neutral source of visual forms. What do you think of this statement about contemporary art?

We can look at the human body as a  formalized landscape, and in this respect it isn’t any different from other neutral forms. Of course, people are more intelligent than other things. But basically I agree.

Doesn’t this raise an ethical problem? For instance, in Hester not only is the world reduced but the bodies become formalized meat sculptures. Can we think of this mode of action as a kind of dehumanization, when abstraction entails destruction?

I’m aware of this possibility, this is why I try to avoid the identifiability of the individual bodies. I rarely work as a typical photographer, I’m not hunting for topics, I’m not trying to “catch the moment.” Instead I concentrate on the analysis and editing of the accumulated images. That’s why I shoot models in a very short time, sometimes only for 20 minutes. The creative process really begins when I digitally paste the shots together. The body images of the Hester series are made up of seven to eight models. But I always make sure to avoid faces, because that would make the presentation too specific. The work needs to fit in the border area between reality and fiction. It should be familiar (and what could be more familiar than the human body?), but it shouldn’t be so familiar that it would give away its meaning too soon.

One of your critics, referring to the dismemberment and reassembly of bodies, called your way of creation “Frankenstein art.” There is some truth to it, the haunting quality of the images comes from the artistic-digital violence committed against the body. What do you think about this context and the aesthetics of horror?

To tell the truth I don’t like this approach because I think it conveys some Hollywood reference in bad taste and which oversimplifies the complexity of the images. The emphasis of the horror effect makes everything once again direct and clean-cut. Many people ask me how well I know or like horror movies. The answer’sdisappointing: I don’t especially like them.

Yes, the clean images and their clinical classicism are far from the visceral sensory world of horror, but the interest in metamorphoses reminds me of certain visual effects in David Cronenberg’s films.

I know and like Cronenberg’s movies. But I personally prefer the sculptural approach, because in the construction of the body images I seek to evoke the visual-plastic effect of marble. This is why I don’t use male models, because too much body hair would disrupt the visual sterility that I find important in my work. Nonetheless it often happens that I need muscle and bone structures that women simply don’t have for a particular image. I must rely on my own body then and I create the desired visual pattern by photographing myself.

There’s a cold formalism in your work, but there’s still room for subjectivity and individuality, since your digital meat sculptures can be interpreted as a sort of self-confession.

Besides needing, in purely functional terms, some motifs of a male body, there really is a a hidden personal quality. My working methods are very intimate and isolated, as a result of which my own self – and body experiences – also determine, albeit indirectly, the works created this way.

Which in a sense moves beyond the category of sexuality and subjectivity, since the female forms intersect with male textures to create an impersonally personal visual event.

To put it more simply: the same thing applies here, its worldly quality. The final image evokes the effect of reality, but it isn’t the same. This is why it moves beyond naively interpreted photography, since it’s constantly on the border of reality and fiction.

What are you working on these days? What’s next after the Hester meat sculptures?

I’m currently working with Roger Ballen on a mutual project, the results of which are already on my homepage (www.asgercarlsen.com). Roger Ballen is one the few photographers whose work I especially like, perhaps because Ballen is also constantly straying from the well-trodden path of photography. During the collaboration I created six images with my characteristic technique, then I sent these to Ballen, he printed them and painted, drew, glued over them in his own style, then he sent the thereby prepared pieces back to me. The result is a multi-layered work, both in an authorly and in a technical sense, given the layering of analogue and digital processes. We are planning an album from the pieces, as well as two exhibitions.

(ROOM, 2013)


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