On 28 October 2023 Huis Marseille will open Shadowings. A Catalogue of Attitudes for Estranged Daughters, the first museum solo exhibition of the Peruvian-American artist Tarrah Krajnak (1979, Lima, Peru). The exhibition brings together her most important bodies of work spanning twenty years, including the series Master Rituals II: Weston’s Nudes which earned Krajnak the prestigious Louis Roederer Discovery Award in 2021 launching her international breakthrough. This rich variety of series on display at the Huis Marseille exhibition exemplifies Krajnak’s overall conceptual approach to photography: she uses the camera less as a lens through which one documents the world and more as a research tool, a means for experimentation and image making that moves between the studio, fieldwork, archival intervention, and analog darkroom as sites for production. Krajnak’s lens is often turned on other photographs, employing appropriation, as well as the artist herself: strategies that bend time and blur the line between staged self-portraiture and performance, self and other, fact and fiction.
Silences in the archive
Tarrah Krajnak was born in one of the pueblos jovenes on the outskirts of Lima, in 1979 – a year that marked the beginning of Peru’s tumultuous ‘dirty war’. Displaced from her biological family, Krajnak was left in an orphanage with German nuns who facilitated hundreds of adoptions of indigenous children to Europe and the United States. Krajnak was adopted as an infant and raised by white parents with other black and indigenous siblings in the American Midwest. The artist notes that her early life circumstances as an indigenous transracial adoptee connect with much broader systems of socioeconomic inequality, corruption, and instability not just in Peru, but globally, as well as the ongoing legacy of colonial power structures that have erased, exterminated, and appropriated indigenous bodies and cultures. These themes continue to play a major role in her work; Krajnak employs her own transracial body, performing archival interventions that reclaim the language of redaction and erasure as a way to make visible marginalized histories and bodies hidden in the archive.
In the series Sismos79 (2013-ongoing) she creates abstract compositions using fragments of pornographic and political photographs from Peruvian magazines from the year she was born, and in the series 1979 Contact Negatives (2019) she inserts her own body into projections of these archival images. In her essay in the publication RePose, which accompanies the exhibition at Huis Marseille, the American photographer Justine Kurland writes that Krajnak ‘has long investigated ‘“silences in the archive” using self-portraiture to amplify the gap and attenuate its harmful effects’.
Performing the photographic canon
In the series Master Rituals I: Ansel Adams (2018-ongoing) Krajnak inserts her own photographic archive over Adams’ while using her body, hair, and hands to redact his words and alter, estrange and obscure his original photographs. Captured both on video and in a live performance titled Erasing Moonrise, you can witness Krajnak as she drenches her hair in coffee and uses it to erase a photograph of Ansel Adams (1902-1984). Another example is the series that brought Krajnak international fame in 2021: Master Rituals II: Weston’s Nudes (2020). In these self-portraits, Krajnak lays claim to one of the photographic medium’s most cliched genres, the female nude, restaging a series of black-and-white images originally photographed by the twentieth-century American photographer Edward Weston (1886-1958). She enters into this fraught art-historical terrain as both photographer and model. Many of the works on display make direct art historical references to an earlier generation of artists like the conceptual photographer Victor Burgin (1941) in the installation Forestpath, or VALIE EXPORT (1940) and Carolee Schneeman (1939-2019) in RePose. Further, in works such as Ayni, Offerings for my Sister, Ana Mendieta’s (1948-1985) seminal work Body Tracks (1982) becomes central to the meditative gestural mark-making in the series. Shadowings. A Catalogue of Attitudes for Estranged Daughters shows, in a multitude of ways, how Krajnak distils subjects from the existing canon to produce new images and counter historical narratives that bear the physical traces of her own body upon them.
Debut of the RePose series
One gallery in Huis Marseille is dedicated to the complete series RePose (2005, 2023), in which Krajnak photographs herself in a studio setting performing women’s poses sourced from popular magazines, pornography, and art historical texts spanning the last century. Exhibited in Huis Marseille without any reference to their original context, Krajnak’s RePose now collectively forms a conceptual typography of women’s poses set against a dark and sober studio background in an almost choreographed sequence. For the first time, Huis Marseille is also exhibiting the photographs taken twenty years earlier, an important precursor to the ongoing series RePose. It is a unique opportunity to observe the artist in two phases of her life and to contemplate the physical and artistic development in her work. Simultaneously with the exhibition, FW Books is publishing a book about the series.
Refined analogue prints
Krajnak is deeply invested in the craft and material processes of photography, and continues to print all of her own photographs. The artist’s hand and the intensive physical labour of her body is evident in the exquisite quality of her printing which includes: pigment prints from colour film, silver gelatin prints, cyanotypes, and anthotypes (images made using plant-based light-sensitive materials). Conceptually, the artist is interested in the re-materialization of photography, the darkroom as a women’s performance space, and in the analogue alchemical conditions that connect her body to the early occult histories of photography.
Conceptual artist using photography, poetry, and performance
Although Krajnak gained international acclaim in 2021, her career began much earlier; she has been making art for more than twenty years employing photography, video, performance, and writing. The exhibition at Huis Marseille brings together all these aspects of her expansive multi-disciplinary conceptual practice. For example, Krajnak’s writing appears prominently in Master Rituals I: Ansel Adams in which she carefully redacts Adams words to create her own poetic musings on photography, and again in the series of eco-poetry diptychs in the series Automatic Rocks / Excavation. These contain photographs of the notebook in which she pens poems using somatic rituals that she learned at The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics where she studied with poets like Anne Waldman (1945), Natalie Diaz (1978), and CAConrad (1966). Other works, including the RePose series, and 1979: Contact Negatives, are the result of performances in which Krajnak poses live and develops her photos on the spot. ‘I am interested in the potential of the darkroom as a site of performance or spectro-poetics,’ she explains, ‘a way of conjuring the ghosts that haunt a life.’
The exhibition title, Shadowings, borrows from that of an early 20th century collection of Japanese ghost stories that Krajnak began reading during a recent residency in Japan, and only shortly after the sudden loss of her brother. It suggests both the absence of light, as well as the act of following someone else closely, or tailing them, often without their knowing. Krajnak’s work makes extensive use of the body and its shadows, but also the medium’s own: the artist works in the darkroom with film, using cyanotype and anthotype as well as silver gelatin processes, often in stark black and white. The subtitle, A Catalogue of Attitudes for Estranged Daughters, comes from a recent essay by the British-Syrian poet Yasmine Seale (1989) on the series about Krajnak’s birth year. In it Seale suggests that Krajnak’s use of her own body does not so much yield self-portraits as ‘projections from some inner darkroom… vulnerable, defiant, overwritten, singular, now obscuring and now obscured—a catalogue of attitudes for estranged daughters.”
Tarrah Krajnak gained her Bachelor of Fine Arts at Ohio Wesleyan University (Delaware, Ohio) and her Master of Fine Arts at the University of Notre Dame (Indiana). She received international acclaim after winning the Jury Prize of the prestigious Louis Roederer Discovery Award during the Les Rencontres d’Arles photography festival in 2021. That same year her first monograph was nominated for the Aperture first book award and named to MoMA’s inaugural top ten photo books of the year. Her work has since been acquired by renowned collections, including the Museum of Modern Art (New York), the Centre Pompidou and the Pinault Collection (Paris), and the V&A Museum (London).
The exhibition in Huis Marseille brings together Krajnak’s most important series to date. Shadowings. A Catalogue of Attitudes for Estranged Daughters was created in collaboration with Galerie Thomas Zander (Cologne, Germany). The exhibition is accompanied by the book RePose (FW Books), which is designed by Hans Gremmen with an essay by Justine Kurland and available in the museum shop.