- Katrine Claassens
By Nadia Fouche
In this intimate series of works, Claassens paints both abandoned and much loved images culled from the internet. By carefully selecting reference material from digital sources, Claassens distils the absurdist nature of internet humour to bear witness to a tragicomedy otherwise ignored. Material gathered from abandoned Twitter accounts, internet memes, stills from GIFs, and badly executed flash photography become adopted beauties when taken under her wing. With an emphasis on animals, Claassens considers the tranquilizing effect of the web, ultimately asking the question: to what do these neglected images bear witness?
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Not only celebrating the nihilistic or flippant nature of escapist internet content, Claassens’ paintings also trace threads of sorrow and broken narratives. For instance, the reoccurring parrot theme in her work relates to a narrative of endangered wildlife trafficking. Claassens was moved by the tale of exotic bird eggs kept hidden in special costumes worn by smugglers while taking planes. Sometimes the smuggler’s body heat hatches the eggs, but when the hatchlings begin chirping to avoid discovery, the endangered species are flushed down the airplane toilets. Less discouraging influences also include phenomena such as Lonely Web and Weird Facebook. The Lonely Web refers to the a discovery that there are millions of photos, pictures, recordings and documentation media uploaded on the internet never seen by anyone except the person who created it (sometimes, it even appears that they themselves have not viewed it). Weird Facebook refers to the subversive meme-infected corners of the social media network that propagate absurd humour and the occasional flash of beauty.
Claassens recently received her Masters degree in Climate Change and Development. She writes: “I wanted to make work about climate change, something that keeps me up at night, but I found myself at a loss of how to express my thoughts and feelings about it in art. Working in the climate change sector, I have found that (understandably) frenzied mitigation and adaptation efforts have left little space for mourning, remembering and witnessing loss that we are experiencing. I soon realised that I was not alone in this problem, when I met with the Bureau of Linguistical Reality, a group that recognises that our language fails to represent the emotions and experiences we are undergoing as our habitat (Earth) rapidly changes due to climate change and other unprecedented events. The Bureau works to generate new words to address a linguistical void that leaves us unable to articulate current environmental change. There are many images that we have learned to associate climate change – polar bears, melting glaciers, cracked earth. Some of these are valid, and some, I have discovered through my research, are not. Mostly they are didactic; that is, they have a moralising motive and provide a literal (sometimes patronising) story of climate change. I wanted to avoid this bankrupt imagery but was unsure of where to start. In the end, I took the advice of a sage old artist who told to me: “When you’re at a loss, paint what you love and trust it”. With this in mind I sifted through my vast collection of memes and other images and worked with what bubbled up from them, trusting that they would speak to the unprecedented phenomenon of climate change that I so badly want to express. What I began to understand is that the images I had chosen pointed to how I was using the internet – as a place of solace but also of escape.”
However, instead of using these tales, memes and internet culture marks as tools to blame and accuse us of our collective neglect, Claassens uses it to console us. The painted animals and life forms of her work also reflect the perils of human fragility – often mistaken as resilience. The awkward interpretations and poor accomplishments of her subject matter are deliberately mimicked in her usage of the painting surface. Claassens’ painting style embraces flawed imperfections and transforms it into a poetic strength of self-awareness and self-acceptance; a guide showing us the way to another world, that in words of Arundhati Roy, is quietly breathing.