Danish Photographer Joachim Koester’s Unsettling Eye
Whether portraying abandoned houses, exotic plants, or hypnotic dancers, there’s an eerie quality to the films and photographs of the Danish photographer Joachim Koester. His pieces are familiar but disorienting—as if we can’t be sure whether the images are from the past or the present, from dreams or waking life.
And that’s exactly the murky and mysterious in-between space that the artist intends to inhabit. “The spirit does not distinguish between the real and the unreal,” Koester has said. “The images that are essential to our psyche can be pure products of our imaginations.” Indeed, his photography series “Time of the Hashshashin” is set in a landscape that looks straight out of a dream—otherworldly, lunar-like, creepy, largely uninhabited.
The subjects of his “Some Boarded Up Houses” series are more recognizable, but thanks to their vintage black-and-white look, and their solitary positions—there’s an absence of cars, or people, or any other kind of contextual indicators—these abandoned Chicago homes seem stranded in time. Were the photos taken yesterday, or 30 years ago? Who grew up within these four walls? Nameless and stark, these wistful images conjure a particular brand of nostalgia for someone else’s past—or, more accurately, for our collective past, for years of childhood that will never return. It’s a theme Koester has returned to again and again, notably in his “Occupied Plots, Abandoned Futures” series, of which he said, “Voids are a fundamental part of any city. Though rarely recognized as such, empty spaces make up a psychic territory within the urban reality.”
A new show at Galleri Nicolai Wallner, “Every muscular contraction contains the history and meaning of its origin,” prominently features Koester’s filmic production, including The Place of Dead Roads (2013). Though his films might appear, at first, to engage with entirely different themes and topics than his photography series, they’re an extension of his still images, capturing some of the mysterious gray area between fact and fantasy. “Tarantism,” for instance, portrays figures moving convulsively, spasmically, participating in an old “dancing-cure” that was thought to cure people bitten by the tarantula. The effect is odd and unsettling: you can’t believe your eyes, or believe that what you’re seeing is a real event. That’s exactly, of course, the eerie and disorienting atmosphere that Koester intended to create.
“Every muscular contraction contains the history and meaning of its origin” is on view at Galleri Nicolai Wallner, Copenhagen, Mar. 6–Apr. 18, 2015.