It is a truism that the subjects of photographs range from instantly recognizable to impossible to decipher. The capacity of the medium to relate to the world is expansive. But a photograph that is mysteriously familiar, both discernible and indiscernible at once, is rare. That uncanny contradiction exists at the fine line between abstraction and specificity, never tipping too far in either direction. Nico Krijno, whose series Leave Your Body Behind is on view at Elizabeth Houston Gallery from April 10th to May 25, 2019, is adept at walking that line.
Working out of his studio in South Africa, Krijno assembles the discarded materials he collects from the surrounding environs into elaborate scenes for the camera. His finds are altogether ordinary: scraps of granite or wood, veneer, plastic stacks, and cardboard cutouts. Krijno maintains that ordinariness even as he reworks and transforms the materiality of the objects, first by hand, later by pixel, into extraordinary compositions that confound the eye. At first blush, we might presume we know what we see in his photographs. But the details that emerge from closer consideration refuse to conform to those preconceived expectations, undermining the veracity of our initial perceptions.
Krijno is meticulous. He paints and sculpts the found objects and, surprisingly, places—in one picture, a stone staircase—with precision. The end game is pressing the shutter, an act that concludes Krijno’s artistic performance by flattening his works into photographic planes. Through digital manipulation, he warps scale and space, splicing and reassembling images with idiosyncratic surgical precision. As photographs, his three-dimensional sculptures move effortlessly in and out of the two-dimensional surfaces he fabricates, throwing off proportion and the directionality of shadows. Like the Cubist paintings of George Braque, works such as Composition with Painted Wood seemingly occur from multiple perspectives simultaneously, befuddling the supposed truths about unified photographic viewpoint.
Still other images, Veneer Wood Wood among them, are paradoxical tromp l’oeils—sculptural objects partly flattened into two dimensions so that they might then trick the eye as the three-dimensional objects they in fact are. Krijno by turns recalls Barbara Kasten’s geometric constructions (and colorful palette) or Laszlo Moholy-Nagy’s muted photograms, using mundane or everyday objects to complicate what we see, what we think we see, and what we think we know about photographs.
Is Composition with Painted Cutouts a photograph, sculpture, or collage? The hybridity of Krijno’s bricolage is both aesthetically arresting and befuddling. Taking a nonlinear approach (as one might expect), his series overlap in an extended inquiry. They are bookended only by distinct volumes, with Leave Your Body Behind slated to publish in the artist upcoming book On How to Leave Your Body Behind.
The simple fact is that there is no containing Krijno’s images. They are recognizable and unrecognizable, mundane and mysterious. Their medium is ambiguous, their scale and perspectives multiple. Their only certainty, I think, is the visual complexity they encompass.
Robyn Day is a Chicago-based photographer and freelance writer for Photograph. She previously wrote art criticism for WBUR, Boston's NPR news station, and Art New England. She works in external affairs at the Art Institute of Chicago.
Nico Krijno was born in Somerset West, South Africa in 1981. He holds a BA in Film and Television from CItyVarsity Cape Town. Nico Krijno’s work has been included in over 20 exhibitions at an international scale. His work has been featured in a variety of notable publications including Aperture Magazine, British Journal of Photography, it’snicethat, ANother, among many others. He was a Foam Paul Huf Award nominee in 2013 and 2015. His limited-edition book ‘Synonym Study’ was shortlisted for the Paris Photo Aperture Foundation Awards First Photobook Prize in 2014. The artist lives and works on a farm in Wellington, South Africa.