The mirror-reflection selfie – captured with a smartphone – has certainly become a trend among Gen Z.
While scrolling through Instagram, it’s not uncommon to see head-to-toe photos taken in a bedroom or even in a public restroom. Most often, the subjects take the opportunity to show off their outfits and crown the look with a duck’s head, a sulky look, a sign of peace or a sticking out tongue.
In “99 Variations” – a moving collection of images exhibited at the Artworks Center for Contemporary Art, in partnership with the Center for Fine Art Photography in Fort Collins – Youngho Kang takes the concept of the mirror selfie into whole new territory. Hair and makeup, the South Korean designer brilliantly transforms into a myriad of characters that viewers can’t help but stare at.
“’99 Variations’ is a body of work that the center presented in 2015,” said Hamidah Glasgow, Executive Director and Curator of the Center For Fine Art Photography. “I was thrilled to exhibit it again alongside ‘The Horizon and All In It’ as they have similar themes. The theme of both exhibits is how we know each other, how we lose and how we end up. However, I think we have it all on the inside. It’s about discovering, diving into the layers of societal programming, expectations and the ways people try to adapt to a society that takes us away from the truth.
Kang’s black and white images oscillate between disturbing and tranquil. In some, he seems to be channeling a macabre movie character orchestrated by director Tim Burton. To others, he appears to be a grandmother or a geisha-like shaman.
Dark fairy tales. Staggering nightmares. Tribal thoughts. Portals to another time and another place – her work pushes the boundaries of self-concept.
The camera is just as much an element of the picture as Kang’s wardrobe, or lack thereof. In each, we see the lens machine placed somewhere in the frame, sometimes in its claws.
Kang acts as both artist and muse, capturing the many versions of himself that creep beneath the surface. Mythical archetypes that defy genre boundaries – these images are sure to stay with viewers long after they leave the gallery.
In his artist statement, Kang describes “99 Variations” as “an oxymoron self-portrait created by dismantled selves”.
Photographer Kristianne Koch Riddle – an artist who worked in ‘The Horizon and All In It’ – has transformed the very concept of how photography should be viewed with her sculptural pieces that blend scenes from nature with shapes and textured shapes.
“I started by folding my photographic prints and fell in love with the process of origami,” Riddle said. “However, a lot of the process was in my head. I planned it. I “designed” it the way I wanted. I was obsessed with the details of each image and wanted them to be seen in a certain way. But it didn’t sink. Once I let go of control and started playing, everything changed. I was getting messy. I was tearing up prints. I was gluing things together. I was printing a lot of images to play around with and just trusting what was to come. It was incredibly liberating.
Riddle – who lives in San Clemente, Calif. – takes frequent trips with his family on their sailboat. The sea, the sky, and the presence of distant shores were often subjects she felt like pointing and clicking.
“Then one night I woke up and realized I needed to merge my two current hands-on efforts,” Riddle said. “I was working with my photographs and also repairing a huge sail for my 46ft boat. I loved both processes. They were very physical, which is an important part of who I am. It felt like a safe place and where I was finally held in an authentic way. So, I started to sew the photographic prints into shape and fix them as I had done with the sail. The origami process also remained relevant, so I decided to ask a community of women to help me fold the origami pieces, then strung them together like a net or a quilt.
All five of Riddle’s pieces in the current collection manage to exude a sense of adventure. Whether they look like a canoe-shaped boat or an intricate kite, they evoke journeys of the past and those yet to be made.
“I made a mind map to figure out how I felt and what I needed at the time,” Riddle said. “Words like open, freedom, flow, rise, drift, chaos, buried and confusion came up. Then I wrote what visually expressed those words. Some of these things were in the pictures I had done along the shore in California at the same time. This happens often in my work. I just need to listen. I was walking at night, standing in the water, and making these images that I couldn’t see until I processed them. I had to believe there was something there. These images of waves crashing on transient rocks, on my favorite beach, were already part of the process I had started with the sculptures, so I knew they were going to be the foundational imagery for this series.
Also in the collective exhibition, viewers can admire the video work of Alicia Rodriguez Alvisa and her mother, Lidzie Alvisa. The two’s collaborative series “Going Back to the Womb” was inspired by the women reunited during their quarantine after years of living apart.
“The most rewarding aspect of being part of this particular group show is the beautiful diversity of artists and work that all come together to express the same idea,” Riddle said. “It gives me chills to think how grateful I am to come full circle at this place in my life. I left an amazing college experience as an artist many years ago to go out into the world and experience life: travel, marriage, motherhood, career. But I have tried to return to this place where I was a student, especially in a colorful community with thought-provoking passionate artists. I’ve really wanted for so long. This show gives me hope that I can be part of that kind of community again.
Visitors to the Artworks Center for Contemporary Art can also admire monochrome work by Seattle-based photographer Rafael Soldi.
“The ongoing pandemic has disrupted the way we understand the world around us and with that disruption has come new ways of being,” Glasgow said. “We are adapting and making new choices about how things go. What works for us and what doesn’t.
In the work of Sarah Van Dyck and Brooklyn-based transqueer photographer Lorenzo Triburgo, like “Venus,” Triburgo poses on a beach and adopts a posture similar to that of the goddess depicted in Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus.”
Much like the famous Renaissance painting, executed in the mid-1480s, this image seems to radiate a sense of renewal and rejuvenation.
“The artists in these exhibitions used their artistic practice to stretch and dig through their layers to find their true under the layers of conditioning,” said Glasgow. “There is evidence of struggle, confusion, questioning, resistance, pride and ultimately there is a message of hope. Do the work, find yourself. We have learned that the many rules that govern our lives no longer have meaning and that the future is ours.These artists know this and have made it clear that the proof of their introspection is hope.