Photography Gallery Exhibition: "To Which We Return" by Kristoffer Johnson

- (part of a series)

Location: Photography Gallery (second floor), Riley Hall of Art and Design (View on map )

The Photography Gallery at Riley Hall is proud to announce "To Which We Return," an exhibition of photographs by Kristoffer Johnson. The exhibition is open now and will run until March 3, 2023.

Kristoffer Johnson (b.1990) is an artist  from Northwest Arkansas whose artwork explores themes of mortality, aging and decay. He received B.A. in journalism and B.F.A. in studio art from the University of Arkansas. In 2021, he received his M.F.A. from the Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture and Design at Indiana University Bloomington. He converted to Buddhism at an early age and Buddhist concepts of mortality and impermanence play a major role in his work. He primarily uses historic and alternative photographic processes create, alter and decay images. 

His artwork has been featured in notable exhibitions including, The Incheon Marine Asia Photography and Video Festival in Incheon, South Korea and The National: Best Contemporary Photography 2022 at the Fort Wayne Museum of Art. Johnson currently lives in Mishawaka, Indiana, and is the visiting lecturer in photography and photo facilities coordinator at the University of Notre Dame.


This series focuses on the impermanence and fragility of the human body and the physiological problems that are inherent in existence. The human body is a fragile construct that ages and decays. The Buddhist concept of impermanence states, everything is temporary and subject to rise and fall. Mortality is an unavoidable and inevitable fact that humanity must face despite the sense of control which society and self-awareness give us. Reflection on death is a shared concept throughout human history. This work draws from two such traditions, the Buddhist meditation Maranasati “mindfulness of death” and the Western visual tradition of Memento Mori “remember that you will die.”

Maranasati invites one to visualize and contemplate their body in a state of decay. In this series, I use an alternative photographic process known as Mordançage to externalize this visualization. Photography has long been associated with memory and the desire to immortalize past moments and serve as constant reminders of time and mortality. Whereas the goal of most photography is the preservation of self and memory, in this work, the fragmented image serves as a reminder of the ever-present specter of the end of the life we know.  

The mordançage process degrades and disrupts photographic materials through a chemical process of decay and destruction. The cracked surfaces and emulsion veils, weighted down by gravity, visually reference collapse and entropy and reflect the material conditions of the human body. The figure’s skin pulls away, merging with the background, breaking down the barrier between body and space. The forms, textures, and colors of the images simultaneously reference geological formations and flesh, tying the body to the world in which it exists and to which it shall return.


Originally posted on the Department of Art, Art History and Design website.

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