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Saucers

Over the course of an evening I am watching his face. He smiles, he relaxes, he shows disgust quickly, then laughs. There are so many things to keep track of. The next day I attempt to recall and I did not, as I had wished, see amalgams but instead discreet moments. There appears to be no use for the amalgamated image in recall. Perhaps this is the reason I am making the amalgamated portrait. It is an image that does not exist for me internally.

— Notes taken by Kristan Horton during production.

Ever flailed your head back-and-forth in front of the camera to catch a blurry selfie? Of course you have. We’ve all captured head-shots of seemingly maddened selves. Kristan Horton’s self-portraits are high-end versions of the blurred selfie … peppered with existential inquiry.

For his series One For Yourself, Horton faces the troubled relationship time and photography head on. Horton says a single photo is too hard to trust, so his animalistic portraits are made by combining multiple images.

“The document is never enough,” says Horton who’s discontent borders paranoia. “I need multiple perspectives to lessen an inner feeling of distrust. I think that’s why I get involved with duration.”

How can a single frame suffice? What about everything outside of the frame? What about the moment just before? Or just after? Horton prints out hundreds of images and as he flicks through the stack, configurations and blobs catch his eye.

“I’m trying to find the parts that match up and I combine them producing a neocubist portrait,” says Horton. “It was important to arrive at a result that was definitive. I keep using the word ‘solid’ [to describe the portraits]. These are heavily worked over — there’s evidence of long hours of careful collage, and yet they appear as very spontaneous things.”

Dandy

Old Master Heads

Octavius

Marty and Klaus

Jeff

Photographs are often mistaken as some sort of mirror to truth. Yet, they are static and we’re interminably moving away from every photograph ever taken; photographs don’t come close to describing the physical reality of our world. Horton’s amalgamation of image files tears each photo from its single moment in time. He uses image files as indistinguishable part of a larger artistic statement that collapses, attacks and interrogates time.

If you think of the work as navel-gazing, it’s probably because it is informed in some way by Horton’s fascination with the immediate and the everyday.

In 2010, Horton won the Grange Prize for his composite images of stacked materials in his studio. Then, I applauded the award. Horton has habitually sought to work with what is close.

“Since I’m usually living in the studio, it’s often the material of daily life,” says Horton. “Through these materials my observation and my preoccupations leak.”

The approach came undone, however, when Horton was an artist in residence in the remote west of Ireland.

“The studio was empty and at first this was disconcerting,” explains Horton. “Finally, I thought ‘If there’s nothing to work with then that’s the work.’ That’s when I grabbed the camera and took a shot of myself in this zero condition. In a sense, my reflexes kicked in and I designated myself as the raw material.”

Beak

Chatter

Sligo Heads

Underpainting

Monkey

From the solitary studio, Horton went on to make work on the subway in Berlin, in a backyard in Ireland, a kitchen in Canada. Wherever. Whenever. He makes portraits of others too.

The ease with which Horton fired off a hundred shots contrasts to the hard slog in post-production. The relationship of parts is not unlike cells used in drawn animation says Horton.

“A stack of clear sheets with parts of the character on each sheet,” he describes. “Looking at it from the top you just see the character together. I’m looking through the stack and trying to find where moments in time fit together.”

Fascinated by Kurt Vonnegut’s characters the Tralfamadorians who exist outside of time and by the early science fiction stories of Ray Cummings, Horton is wondering what it is to get beyond, outside of, or on top of time. He knows it’s a fruitless charge but the effort and discovery involved in pushing photography toward an impossible premise is reward enough.

“The combinations of images are without an end. To feel any kind of satisfaction under this condition I have to at least engage, and to engage until exhaustion.” he says. “Not exhausting the subject, but exhausting yourself; an exhaustive attempt to stay in step with the complexity.”

The tortured results bare resemblance to Francis Bacon paintings. A comparison Horton is quite happy with.

“Bacon once said, ‘Technique is always dissolving. The technique of recording has to all the time be remade. It’s like a continuous invention to record a fact.’ I feel the same way,” explains Horton. “I was just trying to satisfy thoughts about a state, and the result ended up looking like something out of Bacon’s oeuvre. It didn’t upset me to arrive at that.”

And the title, One For Yourself? How did he arrive at that. Sat at a Berlin Hotel Bar, Horton explained to a fellow drinker that he was working on a project that dealt with time and the self. The companion responded, ‘One for yourself, then.’

As a title, “it seemed sympathetic to the altered state of these portraits,” asserts Horton.

One For Yourself is about Horton, and of Horton, but the way it vies with the prevalence of single-shot selfies, it might just have technique for us to borrow in the description of our own time … and  our own states.

Installation

Installation

BIOGRAPHY

Kristan Horton was born in Niagara Falls in 1971. He lives and works in Toronto. Horton uses a variety of media — including but not limited to photography — to elaborate on the ways in which movement is represented, and the ways in which things are generated and regenerated. Horton studied at Ontario College of Art and Design and the University of Guelph, where he received his MFA in 2007. Preoccupations since the 1990s include the consumption of texts and mass media, the representation of simultaneous and rotated scenes, and the visualization of power generation. Horton is well known for his photographic series Dr. Strangelove Dr. Strangelove (2003–2006), for which he recreated scenes of a Kubrick film using items from his studio. Recent photography is in a neo-cubist vein; for his 2009 series Orbits, Horton presented photos that layered multiple, rotated views of scenes from his studio. In 2010, Horton won the Art Gallery of Ontario’s Grange Prize for contemporary photography and was included in the National Gallery of Canada’s Canadian Biennial.

Werewolf

 

 

The pile is my system. Sort and pile. Sort and pile. Until the piles have disappeared.

– Kristan Horton

Orbit (doorknob), 2009. Digital colour photograph, Ed. 5. 134.5 x 101.5cm/ 53 x 40in. © Kristan Horton

Well, I guess this announcement saves me the review I was going to post … er, in a way. Kristan Horton has won the Grange Prize.

Earlier this week, I spent a couple of hours looking over the four shortlisted artists and watching the Grange Prize directed videos on youtube. I also had a listen to this slightly unsatisfying panel discussion among the artists.

Alongside Moyra Davey, Horton was my joint favourite. Josh Brand will make some important work with his photogram experiments but his time is yet to come. Leslie Hewitt‘s photography was not personal enough for me – her statements on history were far more expansive than Horton’s more personal musings about time. I think that subtle difference may endeared Horton to the voting public.

Oh, by the way, what should we think of a $50,000 prize for photography voted for entirely by the public?

Back to Horton. I dig his nervous energy, I dig the fact he’s not a “trained” photographer, and quite simply I like the composite-prints he has made of piles of stuff in his studio. I think they are nice objects.

What intrigued me about this prize was that the shortlisted artists were all gentle thinkers and their work was quite solitary. Maybe the humour in Horton’s sugar lump and popcorn models for Dr. Strangelove, Dr. Strangelove also swayed my preference?

All in all, the shortlisted works by the four artists were quite inaccessible required a lot of digestion (which, isn’t really a criticism). The videos and the audio also proved to me that sometimes artists are not the best people to speak about their work. They are so close they see and speak every nuance which can get in the way of immediate appreciation.

Sometimes objects can speak for themselves, which I think Horton’s do.

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