Mini Q & A with the curator of Milan’s Museum of Contemporary Photography about Karen Knorr’s work, Fables

The Green Bedroom Louise XVI 2004-2007, © Karen Knorr/Museo di Fotografia Contemporanea Cinisello Balsamo-Milano

In the following Q & A, Stella Maranesi talks to curator Roberta Valtorta about Karen Knorr‘s 2003-2008 work, Fables, currently on show at the Museo di Fotografia Contemporanea, Milan, Italy. The exhibition includes 11 photographs and the video work, Ariadne, (2008).

The Music Room 2004-2007, © Karen Knorr/Museo di Fotografia Contemporanea Cinisello Balsamo-Milano

In the Green Room, © Karen Knorr/Museo di Fotografia Contemporanea Cinisello Balsamo-Milano

In the light of Knorr’s recent work, Muses and Avatar (2009), it’s interesting to reconsider, Fables, in which the representation of animals, instead of humans, suggests a deeper use of digital manipulation (as animals can’t be directed in the same way as humans). In these works, the stories are constructed through a dialogue between the characters, represented in the paintings in the museum, and the animals which have been digitally added by the artist.

You chose to only include works of Knorr’s that feature animals rather than humans, what led you to do this? Roberta Valtorta: We intentionally focused on the animals, which was in agreement with the artist. Knorr’s series are so extensive and drawn out over time, it allows different choices for different exhibitions. There is, what I consider, an extreme relationship between the animals (wild ones, at that) and places of art, history, richness and power into which they break. This relationship is, in my opinion, particularly significant, as it suggests a reflection on contemporary life, on the frailty of material things. As a memento mori, Knorr’s works recall the serious theme of the relation between nature and culture in contemporary society.

Do you think that the video, Ariadne, is in line with the still pictures or does it challenge the question of nature and culture in a different way? Roberta Valtorta: I think it is well integrated with the nature-culture theme. It takes it one step further, thanks to its direct and raw confrontation between the big spider and the well-consolidated figures of the history of art; between the sudden movements of this, often unpleasant and extraneous, creature and the “beautiful”, absolute, “untouchable” forms of art.

Knorr combines digital and analogue, how important is this aspect of her work? Are the human figures real or the result of a montage? Do you think that in the works that involve animals there is more digital manipulation compared to the ones with only humans? Roberta Valtorta: Karen Knorr really wants to melt together analogue and digital approaches to photography in order to question both methods of representation, in a similar way as she does with nature and culture. It’s a dialectic relation that questions the very concept of image. The recent works, carried out in Spain, are staged showing naked human figures. In the works with animals, there is more digital manipulation, however, some of them are depicted from life while other animals have been embalmed. This difference in treatment, however, is not so important, because everything in Knorr’s works is planned and strongly constructed, be it through real poses or, I would say, the “digital pose”. Conceptually in photography, a physical display and a virtual one are not that far apart. Personally, I’ve always found strong similarities between a staged analogue photo and a digital one. Staging can occur physically, or virtually, there is not a strong conceptual difference between the two.

Interview by Stella Maranesi.


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