Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Bjorn To The Task

Bjorn To The Task

By Tom Wachunas

     “Frankly, this culture of unbridled narcissism and oversharing has become like a metastasizing cancer that is eroding all traditional notions of personal discretion and public decency.” – Anthony L. Hall

   “I strongly urge you to study portrait painting, do as many portraits as you can and don't flag. We must win the public over later on by means of the portrait; in my opinion it is the thing of the future.” –Vincent van Gogh, from a letter written to painter Émile Bernard

   “…I hope that this project inspires people to look inside of themselves and ask, "What inspirations have I been ignoring and how can I begin to set them free?"  We are all worthy of it.  We are all artists.”   -Bjorn Bolinder

    EXHIBIT: The One-A-Day Project: Re-imaging the Selfie with Bjorn Bolinder, at Translations Art Gallery THROUGH JULY 26, 331 Cleveland Avenue NW, downtown Canton / viewing hours Wed.-Sat., Noon to 5 p.m.

    I admit to having an ambivalent attitude toward the social media onslaught of “selfies.” On the one hand, they constitute a viral phenomenon that earned dubious legitimacy when “selfie” was declared “word of the year” in 2013 by the Oxford English Dictionary. Essentially, selfies are a trend that further illustrates our societal lust to overcome anonymity. Call it an apotheosis of cultural self-absorption. And ironically enough, I think that after a point, this pictorial plethora has succeeded in rendering a homogenized, rather silly sameness to the countless individuals who indulge their desires to be quickly “known” and otherwise friended, flattered or envied. Fifteen minutes of fame, anyone?
    On the other hand, if we consider the selfie trend in the larger context of self-portraiture as a human practice, there’s nothing new about it at all – just the mechanism and, to a considerable extent, the “aesthetics.” I still recall all those goofy images generated during the last century of faces and bare butts squished on to the glass plates of Xerox machines. (You could call them yesteryear’s analogs to today’s digital dross.) But I’m speaking here of self-portraiture as a viable artistic pursuit. And from that perspective, a substantial number of artists have historically engaged the practice and left a distinguished legacy of compelling works – Dürer, Rembrandt, van Gogh and Frida Kahlo, to name only some.
    This is where things get a bit dicey. Are selfies an art form simply by virtue of their being photographs?  It’s an arguable point, and I tend to regard them as a kind of pop art subset – a highly accessible if not “lowbrow” democratization of the photographic medium. Even as many online exhibitors might employ photo shop editing, their motivation seems more about vanity and superficial “special effects” than genuine creativity.
    The photographs by New York City-based artist Bjorn Bolinder are at once a commentary on the whole notion of selfies and a transcending of their usually generic, mundane or cutesy content. I’ll not be recapping here what initially prompted this collection (for that, please click on the above links to Translations Gallery and Bolinder’s web sight for the expanded statement and examples of his work) except to say, with great admiration, that Bolinder is clearly passionate about and committed to the sheer discipline of daily prioritizing his creative process.
    So yes, on the surface, the subject matter is Bjorn times Bjorn times Bjorn, day after day, spanning more than 100 consecutive days…But collectively, these images are a scintillating diary of sorts -  an intriguing visual autobiography of ideas, inspirations, possibilities to be realized and challenges to be met both technically and aesthetically. More than monotonous or ordinary repetitions of his face, these superbly crafted images embody the soul of a storyteller, alive with a sense of theatricality, played out in various settings and atmospheres. They’re alternately whimsical and haunting, playful and contemplative, dramatic and fantastical.
    The photographs aren’t framed or mounted in the conventional manner but rather suspended in air, hung with clothes pins on lines that stretch wall-to-wall across the gallery. Viewing them is literally a moving experience, requiring us to walk through the rows, all the while reading the hand-written notes interspersed among the photos explaining the progression of particular concepts or goals. Indeed, motion itself is a recurring thematic aspect in many of the images, and not so surprising when considering Bolinder’s background as a dancer.
   This collection, then, is a record of making each day a realized, tangible product – an intentional step in an ongoing dance, so to speak. As such, the exhibit presents the wondrously designed choreography of a rich imagination.

    PHOTOS, ©Bjorn Bolinder 2014, from top: Air Slumber, Cell Jump, Fangtastic, Jump/Catch, Typical Saturday Night

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