In Until the Kingdom Comes—the ongoing series that he began in 2006—Simen Johan creates a natural world that is, at one and the same time, familiar and uncanny. The images are amusing, sweet, clever, mysterious, foreboding. His oversized photographs depict animals at nearly life size, increasing the sense of verisimilitude and often engendering a sense of awe at the viewer’s “face-to-face” encounter with the animal.
Johan photographs animals in zoos and farms, occasionally employing taxidermy and road kill. Uncanny elements may be captured during shooting—as in his image of a lamb that sits upright like a dog, taken with the aid of a farmer who held the animal in position while the image was shot—or created through the use of Photoshop.
Striving to “confuse the boundaries between opposing forces, such as the familiar and the otherworldly, the natural and the artificial, the amusing and the eerie,” Johan mixes sweet images appropriate to children’s literature (such as the lamb) with dark and mysterious scenes that might illustrate our primordial beginnings or apocalyptic ends. Smiling owls and weeping foxes mimic human emotions. Two moose wage battle amidst a flock of parakeets. And, in a particularly dark and foreboding image, an elderly bison (a symbol of the American West?) lies on the ground amidst a landfill. Like many of Johan's works, the image takes on layered interpretations, speaking simply to our individual ends, or more broadly to the environmental and political decline of our nation. For Johan, this is all part of an existential search for spiritual or philosophical truth. He sees his animals not as personifications of humans, or as animals as such, but rather as part of the universal spirit that encompasses us all.
Simen Johan is a 2012 recipient of the Howard Foundation Grant. A graduate of the School of Visual Art, NY and Lugnetskolan, in Falun, Sweden, he has shown at the Museum of Art and Design, NY; the Brooklyn Museum of Art; and the DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park, Lincoln, MA, among other institutions.