Asger Carlsen’s Photographs Tap into Our Fascination with Physical Manipulation
As a teenager, Asger Carlsen would sneak out of his family’s house to moonlight as crime scene photographer, tracking the grislier happenings of his otherwise idyllic hometown of Frederiksberg, Denmark. What started as a rebellious hobby soon developed into a 10-year career. This summer, at Berlin’s DITTRICH & SCHLECHTRIEM, he continues his experimentation with the camera's powers of documentation and illusion.
During his early years, Carlsen amassed a cache of macabre images, sold the pictures to newspapers, and honed his personal style—one rooted in a fascination with the malleability of the body, environment, and the photographic process itself. After sharpening his Photoshop skills through editorial and advertising gigs, he moved to New York, his home since the mid-2000s. There, Carlsen was inspired to push the capabilities of digital editing tools and satisfy his interest in manipulation of all sorts.
Onto black-and-white images of people engaged in everyday situations (playing ping pong, talking on a cell phone) he sutured extra limbs, new pairs of eyes, and plywood armatures where legs should have been. Hans Bellmer’s corporeal masses and Weegee’s raw, film noir-infused crime scenes come to mind. But things are glossier and generally less harrowing in Carlsen’s lens. (Since the mid-1900s when Bellmer and Weegee were active, we’ve become less sensitive to distortion, blood, and guts.)
Carlsen’s composite photos see sundry images fused with a seamlessness that would make a Vogue photo editor blush. They are surprising, grotesque, and even irresistibly funny. And, in a culture where plastic surgery, genetic engineering, and synthetic biology have become vernacular, they allude to more than the shock and awe of surrealism and physical deformity.
In his new project, "DRAWINGS FROM THE HAND," Carlsen introduces an eternal, even mystical, edge to his amalgamated images. Here, the body and its fleshy adaptability are still referenced, but more subtly, in three series: large-scale gleaming black-and-white photos of textured masses, smaller earth-toned prints that resemble stone and skin, and one iridescent, globular sculpture—an icon of primordial goo from which the rest of the show (and perhaps all of Carlsen’s uncanny characters) might have emerged.
The silvery, digitally printed sculpture is affixed to a shiny orb-like form that resembles a crystal ball and sits at eye level on a glossy pedestal. The reflections of the sculpture in the plinth—and viewers in the surface of the sculpture—layer the form with flashes of human facial features. A similar corporeality crops up in the photographs. The subjects, which at first look like moon geodes or piles of ceramic studio leavings, at closer glance resemble generative, pulsating organisms from some past or future world. Carlsen creates them by manipulating and melding images of body parts, skin, bathroom floors, city streets, and clay that’s been thumbed into oddly shaped blobs.
In these, as in Carlsen’s Marble drawings, shades of faces and human silhouettes emerge. Playing into our human penchant for Pareidolia—that slice of our brain that makes us see faces in clouds, rock formations, and even toast and tortillas—the prints combine everyday surfaces with indications of the human form. We’re unsure, however, if these bodies are being forcefully consumed by Carlsen’s creatures, or if the distinct pieces-parts are evolving naturally into sustainable, superhuman hybrids.
“DRAWINGS FROM THE HAND” is on view at DITTRICH & SCHLECHTRIEM, Berlin, Jun. 25–Aug. 22, 2015.