For the exhibition Sven Johne: Reports from the Crack of Dawn, the Frankfurter Kunstverein
brings together several of the artists most important series of works from the past seven years in one survey. This solo exhibition offers an opportunity to comprehensively explore the conceptual exactitude of his artistic methodology.
Sven Johne pursues a conceptual approach to documentary photography. He works with social phenomena, researches the information behind media reports and found footage, visits the places mentioned, and embarks on a documentation thereof. Oftentimes it is the brief dispatches and sideline reports from local newspaperson things such as suicides, ships lost at sea, or killing spreesthat prompt Sven Johne to go in search of further clues. In so doing, photos, texts, videos, and archives are generated that are theoretically linked in his work and raise questions concerning their authenticity. Johnes serially structured works therefore merge fiction with reality: Crucial is not the truth of the report but the story it tells in relation to the world. The elements of his works function either as apparent or real testimonies of personal fates that are in turn expressions or manifestations of the contemporary conditionin its social, economic, and political constellations. Seen as if placed under a magnifying glass, individual lives become exemplary portraits of the social status quo.
By initially approaching the themes taken up in his image-text series and videos as an investigative reporter, Johne also questions the extent to which his work can be regarded not only as a statement on the destabilization of information but as an individual approach to compiling information about the interconnection of world events. The overarching scope of this project is to explore news as a product of occurrences, representations, and spectatorship and to identify the potential conditions of its making.
In his video Tears of the Eyewitness (2009) Sven Johne traces the power of the narrativewhich is tightly bound to the techniques of its production. Surrounded by cameras, two men are shown on a professional film set. One of the men recounts in depth the dramatic events that took place in Leipzig in 1989. For the viewer it remains unclear to the very end of the video whether the other man presentwho never gets to talkoccupies the role of a listener or that of a witness to the events in question. Is it his personal history thats being recounted here? Could he tell it differently? Or does the narration serve a wholly other purpose than just reporting on a particular event?
In the work Badende, Lampedusa (2009), Johne also puts the trust in images and documents to the test: a series of eleven color photographs present outwardly pleasurable scenes of tourists relaxing and sunbathing on various beaches and bays. Only via the word Lampedusa, the name of the Italian vacation island, are these scenes contrasted with the knowledge that this is a place of numerous tragediesafflicting mostly African migrants, who attempt to reach the European continent by way of Lampedusa, and not infrequently end up as corpses floating in the water. By contrasting tourism with migration Sven Johne addresses in this series of photographs global societal and economic interrelationships and inequalities.
The theme of societal failure and its methodical investigation runs through the majority of Sven Johnes work. Even in his newest piece Häfen, (Harbor) (2010), which he produced for the exhibition at the Frankfurter Kunstverein, it plays an essential role. The work consists of five images of views taken offshore of one and the same harbor with a city skyline in the background. Light sources such as windows, facades, and streetlamps are painted over with black so that the portrayed scenes take on a dark, mysterious aura. The images are presented together with a map that only shows cities of outstanding economic significance due to their high rates of production. This map is contrasted with descriptions about how long the artist was able to sleep in most of the named cities. Johne draws a metaphorical link between the sleep as a form of slipping out of societal connections and norms and the darkened facades of a city that cannot come to rest even at night.
Sven Johne (born 1976 in Bergen/island Rügen) lives and works in Berlin. His works are represented in numerous national and international collections. Selected works have been shown at the Center for Photography in Barcelona, the Kunstmuseum Bonn, the ZKM Center for Art and Media, Karlsruhe and the Witte de With, Rotterdam, among other venues. In March 2010 Sven Johne was awarded the Karl Schmidt-Rottluff Fellowship 2010 of the German National Academic Foundation, which provides support to highly talented artists.