Exhibitions

Simon Lehner – I’m a liar, but a good one

“I’m a liar, but a good one”, Simon Lehner states. The title of his solo show at KOENIG2 involves questions of memory, truth, trauma, authorship and artistic production that are expressed in a reduced setting of four works. There is no classical photography to be seen; instead, the wall objects and animations seem to be related to painting.

Exhibition I'm a liar, but a good one
Artist(s) Simon Lehner
Venue KOENIG2, Christine König Galerie, Wien
Text Andrea Kopranovic, translated by Sarah Cormack
All images Courtesy by the artist and KOENIG2 by_robbygreif

The source material of his works, anchored in the autobiographical – mostly bound photographs from the artist’s childhood and youth – constitute the foundation of a inverted pictorial genesis. In this manner Simon Lehner forges a working process that arises out of the dialog between memories and consciousness.

From the transformation of personal photo archives into newly interpreted digital spaces, he generates singular leitmotifs that manifest themselves as alter ego, petrol station, cave, table or television. These constellations of images, always somewhat varying and mined from the archive, coalesce in diverse combinations into two- or three-dimensional surfaces, ultimately to be painted by a robot. At every stage of the production process, small lacunae emerge. On the one hand, these convey to the works a quality that is very close to a painterly style. On the other hand algorithmic processes function as prostheses of the artist’s way of thinking; one can even ascribe to them a strong similarity to human mechanisms of remembering. Here arises that which the eponymous lying suggests: the act of painting, that is no ‘genuine’ painting, is juxtaposed with the software as a neurological pendant of remembering.

At the same time, the elaborately produced works do not come across as cold, flat or mechanical. A humanely warm feeling evaporates, capturing our imagination. This is due to the earthy color spectrum of the archival material underlying the works, including wooden furniture and flesh tones. The chronological dimension within them, ranging from the parental recording of an event of family life, up to its artistic processing, is thus not negated. All of the points in time lie equally on top and next to each other, the levels merge together, and corresponding to our recollection, with actual contemplation they become timeless.

The factor of time gains importance in the generation of ideas as well, since Simon Lehner allocates great significance to it in his practice. At first he puts his thoughts and emotions into writing, to then expose the pre-formed analog ideas to the digital translation mechanisms. His working approach, from thoughts to words to pictures or objects, is similar to the child’s game “Chinese whispers”, that as a strategy of education or communication has become an allegory of the distortion of information due to multiple repetitions. The process can be compared in just the same way to that of memory, the essence of which remains even when details are lost. The background noises that arise due to the loss of individual units of information are taken up by Simon Lehner and are displayed as such: ‘Remnants’ are responsible for this, small amounts of residual data that the program could not utilize in the transformation of the photographic archive material into three-dimensionality. Behind the distortions that sometimes arise as a result, are worlds of superimpositions and associative moments that place special emphasis on the psychological aspects of memory.

These are displayed particularly impressively in the figure of a boy who repeatedly appears as a personification of a memory-‘ego’ of the artist and as a symbolic variant of traumatic recollections. In both of the animations titled “Archive material selfportrait” (2005-2020) he appears; only hinted at, with a set of teeth, eyebrows and eyelashes in front of a green screen, or in the clear self-portrait, looking inquisitively out of the screen. In “Sons and Critics” (2005-2021) we see him from behind, naked, running across the screen. Disproportionately large in comparison to a group of figures below at the left, he floats away over a dream landscape populated by glitches, a petrol station overgrown with climbing plants, fragments of sculptures and machines, a curtain, and a fragment of a cave. These figures can be read as a sort of “echo chamber” – as many other objects that belong to Simon Lehner’s world of images. This is a recurring motif of a traumatic experience that is even present when it is not immediately perceived.

In this exhibition, it is “Demon Dayz and Feel good Inc” (2005-2021) that perhaps generates the clearest reference to the childhood room of the artist and his selection of motifs. The then nine-year-old sat, as many of us, in his room. Motivated by the television program, music, and his own fantasy he tried to descend into parallel worlds. The work cites a piece of music, a single from the year 2005 by the Gorillaz. Additional pop culture elements, such as the reference to the television series “Two and a Half Men” flickering on a cathode ray tube, as well as the pile of CDs next to it, mingle with surreal dream gestures, some of which manifest as a swarm of bees. The entire work radiates a vibration, since the noise and flickering of the television extends visually and sensually over the entire screen. At the latest here, we are affected and understand: Simon Lehner elevates his works to projection surfaces of the subconscious, within which identity, recollection, trauma as well as daily life are allowed to co-exist without judgment.

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Tique | publication on contemporary art #3: Six Questions