Where Experience and Imagination Meet
Spanning quasi-recognizable bodyscapes; light projections of architectural composites; and mysterious amorphous organisms, the artwork of Karin Kerkmann plays at the edge of cognition, conjecture, and connotation.
Through photography, installation, and painting, the artist makes visible the mental boundary be-tween our inner world of feelings and experience, and the outer: the physical, tangible, touchable, and concrete. By disrupting conventions of perception — that is, the processing of information about the world both within and around us — the artist probes an intriguing visual language that is rooted in actuality, yet characterized by viewers’ own assumptions, expectations, and imagination. In doing so, she uncovers alternate realities and expanded possibilities, all the while questioning modes of visual communication.
Abstractions of the human body are a recurring subject in Kerkmann’s work. In the photographic series fleischlich (2000), unidentified body parts occupy the entirety of large-scale prints, mirrored and conjoined as if viewed through a kaleidoscope. All close-up images of folded flesh, freckles, and skin they are tantalizingly familiar yet impossible to place, skirting the edges of meaning, and in the mind’s eye flitting between eroticism, beauty, uncertainty, and more.
In installation piece, INBETWEEN I (2002), the medium of light instils further elusiveness and ambi-guity into that with which we are most intimate — the human body. Suggestive of medical x-rays or transilluminations, oversized images of fleshy body parts backlit by bright light are projected into a dark room. Though all but impossible to read in a literal sense, the work nevertheless embraces concepts tied to physicality and the body including intimacy and warmth, thanks to the projections’ inviting red glow. At the same time, the shapes’ size and ambiguity spark confusion and unease, as their audience strains to decipher exactly what it is they are seeing.
By capturing body parts in isolation, Kerkmann disrupts, exposes, and throws open the interchange between seeing, understanding, and language. Take INBETWEEN II (2002), which comprises moving projections of a human tongue. Stripped of its expected backdrop of teeth, gums, and tonsils the muscular organ resembles a mollusc, animated in seemingly autonomous movement. At odds are the tongue’s intrinsic corporeal connotations that span everything from eroticism through to com-munication.
Although rooted in the physical, the objective, and the actual, Kerkmann’s work explores alterna-tive possibilities of not just bodies, but also spaces. In the municipality of Cöthen, Brandenburg, the artist amassed photographs of the unique and most striking architectural features of a nineteenth-century neoclassical church designed by Karl-Friedrich Schinkel. With a focus on windows and doorways, including the transitory light patterns that they cast throughout the day, it is in keeping with Kerkmann’s practice that she pays particular attention to these in-between places at the border of inside and out. In the resultant site-specific installation, Transition (2017), these various elements are consolidated into slides and projected back into the space. Using only its own components, the interior of the church is reconfigured, temporarily expanding both its peripheries and possibilities, and inviting its visitors to perceive the space anew.
Across Kerkmann’s practice, architecture and the body are rendered insubstantial through the medium of light projection: depicting real flesh, walls, windows, and doors, they nevertheless elude touch. Her paintings do the opposite: Strange Beings (2021) comprises aquarelle works of nebulous entities, whose shape or non-shape is dictated not by fixed material likeness, but by the spontaneity and improvisation of their medium and process. In a muted, restricted palette of predominantly pinks, blues, and browns, translucent layers lend the beings a diaphanous quality. Just as her early photographic series evade pinpoint precision, these painted forms hint at multiple possibilities. All tentacle-like limbs and antennae offshoots of shapes distended, inflated, or stretched, they could pass as organisms under a microscope, or sea creatures, or aliens, or —. Appearing as organic, animate beings, each imbued with an uncanny familiarity that plays on our sense of recogni-tion, they float around the meeting point between imagination and reality.
Kerkmann is concerned with making the invisible, visible: the convergence between knowledge, experience, and fact; and the infinite possibilities conjured by the mind’s eye. The effect is disarming: despite their ostensible intelligibility, her interiors, bodies, and amorphous creatures tease, swerve and sidestep clarification, and in doing so, probe processes of understanding and perception.