Karen Knorr — Transmigrations : India Song & Villa Savoye



Karen Knorr
Transmigrations : India Song & Villa Savoye

Past: October 13 → November 19, 2011

The gallery presents the last series of Karen Knorr, India Song, which was shot over these last two years in India and for which the artist has been awarded this spring the prestigious Prize of Photography Pilar Citoler. This ensemble ensues from the long range work she has devoted to French residences from 2003 to 2008 which has resulted in the extraordinary corpus Fables produced in collaboration with the Musée Carnavalet, the University of the Creative Arts of Farnham (Surrey) where Karen Knorr teaches photography, and thanks to the substantial commission of the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature. Many of us might have recently admired those works in France, in Paris as well as in the provinces, in Europe and in India.

If professionals give so much attention and support to Karen Knorr’s work, it is certainly because of its absolute singularity, not to say the uniqueness in its field. Leading photographer of her generation, she was one of the very first to standardize the so called “set-up” photography in the early 80’s. After a societal work — let us here recall the impact of her famous black and white series, Belgravia (1979-1980) or Gentlemen (1981-1983) about the “so British Society” — her reflection then distanced itself from our contemporaries while taking a modernist stance, and refocused on architectural scenographies combining analytical, historical and literary approaches as allies of a poetic and fictional freedom with a surprising symbolism.

Indeed, since the series Connoisseurs (1986-1988) and Academies (1994-2001), then with Fables (2003-2008) and India Song (2009-2011), the fictional spaces of Karen Knorr shape themselves inside beautiful residences which are now museums, holy places devoted to high culture and representing History, even beyond their architectural value or the size of their collections. Thus, those spaces are as many potential prisms revealing both private and public stories, reflections of our society the artist has brought to light. The photographer chooses them for their luxurious settings — their fictional potential is a key element from which she designs a contemporary perspective, as well as for the formalism of the museum scenography which she endeavours to deconstruct in a mise en abîme between reality and fiction.

But if these places are idealized by the splendid technique of Karen Knorr, it is by inserting animal models in those interiors that she manages to reveal the fiction and to bring a symbolic strength to her photography. When others settle for the place’s energy, for her it is of course the substrate of History but also the base of the story or of the philosophy essay. Most of the time, animals invading those pictures embody — by virtue of their characteristics — this or that human aspect. Those animals thus overturn the sociopolitical space in favour of a game — a kind of societal analogy replaying the relations between culture and nature by re-organizing the data of the real world in favour of a fantasy, of an intellectual “Madness”.

And what is richer in decorum and stories than the interior of Indian palaces and sanctuaries which the artist — an adopted British — had the honour to get in? What could be more favourable for the world of Karen Knorr than this awaken dream sphere where every architectural detail unfolds grace and myth? With India Song the artist has succeeded in praising the sumptuous visual legacy of a culture abounding in stories and legends she replays by bringing to light the contemporary Indian society and its caste hierarchy. In this series, animal symbolism is all the more important that it directly refers to religion which is a basis of this society and covertly questions the inflexibility of its social code and in particular what concerns woman condition. Zebus, elephants, tigers, peacocks… mutate and become characterizations of this turbulent divine and social story by removing frontiers between reality and illusion. Karen Knorr reinvents here a mythology which we could describe as postmodern — at least as far as today’s India is concerned. The artist managed to get a real insight into the Indian aesthetic — she did not exaggerate any of its aspects but took up the formal and symbolic code to bring it back to life through a very modern approach. She then has been acclaimed during her Indian tour last year.

Despite the series’ grandness which is sufficient unto itself, we did not wish to restrict the view of Karen Knorr’s work to those spaces which tend to strengthen the baroque aesthetic of her pictures through the magnificent excesses of their content. It seemed important to us to underline the artist’s expressive freedom compared with the stories she creates. Karen Knorr offers the world thought and reflection, and — just like any great artist, her mind can bloom in different philosophical spaces.

It is thus in a kind of contrapposto — facing the extraordinary series of India Song, that we propose to the visitor to wander in the elegant architecture of the Villa Savoye of Le Corbusier, final chapter of the series Fables which is still little known by the general public apart from the in-situ presentation of this summer. The spectator will — beyond the perspective given to Karen Knorr’s work, most certainly enjoy following with their eyes the mischievous flights of birds with which Karen Knorr heckles in a totally magician way this hotspot for modernism — from now on fixed in its museum function, and brings it back to life by instilling an atmosphere suffused with freedom and fantasy.

Christine Ollier
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