“Kristian” – 3rd prize, 2011


Lisbeth Johansen (* 1973)
Photography, C-print
120 x 80 cm
Collection of the artist

The jury awards the 3rd price to the Danish artist Lisbeth Johansen with the following citation:

Those portraits which in the long run appear most interesting are not always those who cry out for attention at first sight. Lisbeth Johansen’s photograph Kristian is neither spectacular nor ingratiating. There is even a risk that you might pass it at first without noticing the picture. Yet, once the sectator has seen the photograph, it is difficult to protect oneself. It sticks to the retina and forces us to think further about the composition and the depicted man. The main quality and strength of the portrait is precisely its quiet intensity.
At first sight, Johansen’s work Kristian seems relatively simple – outside in a landscape a man is holding a cat in his arms. However, on closer inspection you discover how intricately content and form mirror each other in Johansen’s work. That which appears simple turns out to be complex and difficult to interpret. The face of the depicted man is reset, but this emptiness still instils a certain unrest in us.
The artist gives us the impression that this is a person who is in an emotional borderland. The cat represents closeness and warmth, yet at the same time underlines the loneliness and isolation of the man. The landscape is in a time of unrest and upheaval. It is neither really winter nor spring. Last year’s withtered grass and the bare trees are in harmony with the gray sky. Color and shapes from the man and the cat recur in the surrounding environment – the cat’s fur is the colour of last year’s grass, the man’s unruly hair reminds us of the bare branches of the tree etc.
Due to the draw for the symmetric, the basic form of the picture is characterized by calmness at the same time as it worries the spectator. The fastidious and muted range of colours contributes to the melancholic atmosphere. The silence and stillness is absolute.
The depiction of the landscape is in line with older production methods in the visual arts in capacity of its subdivision in a foreground, middle ground and back-ground. The melancholic atmosphere of the photograph even places it in a pictorial tradition which extends back to the the Renaissance. In a statement, which is variously attributed to the antique Greek philosophers Aristotle and Theofrastos, melancholy is connected to being a chosen and creative intellect, a theme which has been addressed by many artists since the 1500s. Like Albrecht Dürer’s Melancolia (1514), Johansen’s Kristian (2010) has an expression that borders between reset and anxiety. However, built into this there is also melancholy as the creative driving force. The Melancolia of our time does not need all the external attributes, which are found in Dürer’s engraving. Rather it searches inwards.
Lisbeth Johansen’s Kristian is not only a portrait of an individual here and now.
The ambiguity of the work is thought-provoking to the spectator. The multilayered and mysterious is always more interesting than the simple solution. The photograph expresses the insecurity of our lives, speaks of human conditions across time and space – a portrait of an ever-recurring transition.

Eva-Lena Karlsson