Created in lockdown at a secluded farm outside of Cape Town, South Africa, Krijno’s dreamlike collages offer windows onto fantastical worlds — far away from the current crisis unfolding in our own
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Nico Krijno’s series of whimsical Lockdown Collagesare composed of multiple pre-existing prints, pushed around beneath the beam of a home-scanner. “It is a tight dance that takes about seven minutes to complete,” explains Krijno from a secluded farm outside of Cape Town, South Africa, where he is isolating with his wife and two children. “Whatever comes out is either a dud or a keeper.”
The ‘keepers’ are hypnotic — formed of cascading layers of colour and abstract forms: a row of cutlery punctuated by blue sky and sea; stripes of luminous orange and fleshy pink. A series of dreamlike compositions providing momentary respite from the everyday realities of now. “I wanted to make work that was in direct opposition to the hopeless dread that I was feeling,” he continues.
“Fear and existential anxiety are not ideal emotional states for any creative process”
Krijno, who studied theatre and film-making in Cape Town, before moving to London where he pursued photography, is well-known for his dynamic and playful aesthetic. However, this was not always the case. When he first began experimenting with photography it involved taking straightforward portraits of people and models on Hampstead Heath, or in a makeshift studio in his bedroom.
“One day, after my wife pointed out that I was probably not being honest with the work I was doing, I just decided to stop compromising and started creating the weird pictures that I wanted to see,” explains the photographer, referencing his background in theatre and experimental film-making as central to the aesthetic he has gone onto develop.
Below, Krijno discusses the process behind the work he has created during lockdown — a situation, which is not too dissimilar from how he normally works — and how he has endeavoured to create work that is in “direct opposition to this hopeless dread”.
How has the pandemic affected you? What would you be working on now if you were not at home?
Just before this nightmare unfolded, I received a very exciting commercial advertising commission from a luxury brand, and my wife and two daughters went for a break on our family farm to give me some time to focus. They were only meant to be away for a few days. However, the announcement of a much stricter lockdown came the day after they left, and the brand also postponed my job. My family and I were separated, and we were thrown into a period of complete uncertainty.
In a previous interview with BJP-online, you described the isolation of the farm near Cape Town where you are based, and how it encourages you to look inward. You created Lockdown Collages at that farmhouse during the lockdown in complete isolation. How did that affect your ability to create work? How did it shape the work that you made?
My family and I have been preparing for this moment for the past five years by living in such bucolic isolation — in an almost self-imposed lockdown state. We are together in the house day-in-and-day-out, in the same way, that people are now at home with their children. Complete isolation did not change my way of working: it is not very different from my normal day to day routine, I have just had much more time to focus on the work I am making.
My family and I were separated, and we were thrown into a period of complete uncertainty
Aside from isolation, how has the current atmosphere — of unease and anxiety — impacted your creativity and practice?
Fear and existential anxiety are not ideal emotional states for any creative process — they are suffocating and extremely taxing on one’s nervous system. But, if you can manage your fear and stress about some imagined future, you can use them to fuel your fire. Instead, of fixating on all the negativity and bad news, attempt to focus on the good things in your life – your immediate reality, your inner landscape, your health.
As Frank Herbert writes in Dune: “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”
Can you explain the process involved in creating your Lockdown Collages?
The collages are made from re-photographed, old images, which I have collected over the years. Each image featured is important to my process and research and references previous work that I have created. I made small prints and placed these on my scanner, exposing them to the beam under a black cloth by moving different images around on the flatbed. It is very satisfying as it usually takes me 10 painstaking tripod plates to create a single image.
Your work has a distinct aesthetic, and derives, in part, from your DIY approach and desire to create new and abstract worlds from found materials. The conditions of lock-down may complement this approach. Have they? How are your Lockdown Collages an extension of your previous work, and how do they diverge?
I wanted to make work that was in direct opposition to the hopeless dread, which I was feeling. I also wanted to make cameraless work, without any editing — no cropping, no photoshop: instant photographs. I wanted to free things up and explore alternative perspectives by employing tools in new ways. The work should reveal and explore the layered multiplicity of our daily reality and existence. I filled it with bright, colourful light, and darkness. Things are concealed. There are multiple references to my previous work — but, those are left to the viewer to uncover.
Hannah Abel-Hirsch joined British Journal of Photography in 2017, where she is currently Assistant Editor. Previously, she was an Editorial Assistant at Magnum Photos, and a Studio Assistant for Susan Meiselas and Mary Ellen Mark in New York. Before which, she completed a BA in History of Art at University College London. Her words have also appeared on Magnum Photos, 1000 Words, and in the Royal Academy of Arts magazine.