Artist – Josiane Keller

Josiane Keller trained as a potter at the State Technical School of Ceramics in Landshut, Germany. Josiane holds a Masters in Contemporary Studio Art from Leeds Beckett University and a Postgraduate Diploma from Edinburgh College of Arts, both with a focus on painting. She has since exhibited in various media internationally, and has trained in dance, choreography and stage photography. Josiane reveals some of the ideas and inspiration behind her fascinating lens-based artwork documenting her ceramic characters.

“From 2004 to 2008, after exhibiting in NYC as a painter, I was finally running a ceramic studio in Oregon. During this time I interviewed local ceramic artists Justin Novak, Akio Takamori and came across the artist Christina Bothwell’s piece ‘While you were sleeping’ online.

I found this image intriguing, it shows a clay female figure apparently sleeping and her glass ‘spirit’ rising up from her sleeping body; I saw this sculpture represented in several shows, depicted in different ways in a variety of photographs.

This led me to consider how so much art is represented in 2D, usually online or in literature, as opposed to live in 3D, and that as artists we put so much emphasis on taking the best shot of our sculptures: from the right angle with the right lighting. In my recent body of work I consider the difference between a 3D sculpture and a 2D photograph of a 3D sculpture.

Popelku (2012), Josiane Keller

In 2011 I had planned to stay long term in Japan; however this was cut short by the tsunami and Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident, a disaster that triggered a national sense of enormous loss in Japan. Since working as an apprentice in Japan, in the late 90’s, I have spent long periods of time there and feel at home with its culture.

I was deeply affected by this tragedy and was made aware of the phenomenon experienced by many tsunami victims, who had lost their homes and their belongings, and who had recovered tiny and often strange items of personal significance. These items would not be considered useful in an emergency or ordinarily identified as precious; however, given that these items were all that could be recovered, their value became priceless: for instance small photographs took on great significance. This connected me to thinking not only about the depiction of objects and people, but also the human visual memory of these items, which can be so easily expressed and aided by photographs.

I returned to the US and reinvented my work to a style I have worked in since, one that somehow accommodates these thoughts, questions and needs. I am creating three dimensional figures from ceramic; originally one piece figurines with details painted on in oxides, I now create puppets with joints, hair and clothes created from a variety of other materials. The figurines are set up in various scenes, recreating typical photographs, and I take lens-based images of them: photographs and experimental films.

I have created three albums in this style so far, beginning in 2012 with a project entitled Each reflection of myself echoes a different emotion at me – 20 heroes from the city of roses. I anonymously interviewed twenty homeless and transitional youths from Portland, Oregon, and staff working at the p:ear organisation.

The participants were asked to describe their appearance, personal history, daily routines and any particular story or statement. I then created ceramic figurines of each individual and these were photographed in a setting selected by the individual. The photographs of these figures were exhibited together with the interview narratives of the individuals’ experiences.

Cookie painted meets the White Buffalo,  Each reflection of myself echoes a different emotion at me – 20 heroes from the city of roses (2012), Josiane Keller

The second body of work, Haifischflossen, were recreations of vintage photographs of prostitutes, in particular Brassai’s images of 1930’s Paris. It was an exploration of why photographs of prostitutes are taken and the meaning of ‘prostitute’. It seems each involved party is a substitute for something else, so adding a ceramic figure, being a substitute for the actual person and taking a photograph of her, also a substitute, of the figure itself, would only make sense.

Alice pouting in bed (2015), Josiane Keller

The most recent project using this technique is still in progress. Entitled ホテル Hotel (‘hotel hotel’), this project is based on artists’ photography including Nan Goldin, whose series of snapshots of friends living in 1980’s NYC were personal memorabilia and not originally intended as works of art. A similar series of inspiring images were created by Larry Clark, Peter Hujar, and Andy Warhol, and exist of the inhabitants of the infamous Chelsea Hotel.

Molly and Starfish, ホテル Hotel (2017), Josiane Keller

I am recreating similar characters as clay puppets, that are then photographed; this provokes investigation of the difference between a photograph of a person, and a photograph of a puppet of a person. In my opinion there is little difference as the camera imbues the image with an element of ‘evidence’.

I am examining the similarity between photographs and the human memory, and the use of a photograph as a surrogate for a memory, a missing memory, or a memory that never existed. In this project I am using ceramic figures in similar way to Cambodian filmmaker Rithy Panh in his film “The Missing Picture” (2013) where he restages missing film footage with small-scale ceramic figurines.

ホテル Hotel – Surrogates installation at Yaso & Parabolica-bis gallery, Tokyo (2017)

The project has been exhibited as a photo installation, incorporating a series of tiny snapshots of the figurines, on walls of rooms, as one would in a personal space. As such the work becomes 3D, drawing the audience in.

ホテル Hotel – Surrogates installations were exhibited in Tokyo and Budapest from December 2016-January 2017. For further information on the project click here, and there is a short documentary on the installation. The project was also exhibited as a live slide show at Automata, Los Angeles in March 2017, and ホテル Hotel episodes continue to be updated on my blog.”

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