Scandinavian Artist Simen Johan: From Nature to Fantasy

Kirsten Nicholas

The alluring images of Scandinavian artist and photographer Simen Johan exist somewhere between nature and artifice. His ongoing series Until the Kingdom Comes, which he started in 2005, manipulates reality to forge fantasy. By splicing together elements photographed from various geographical locations, Johan explores how powerful digital constructions deceive the eye and play with the human psyche.

Simen Johan From the series Until the Kingdom Comes Untitled #133, 2005 Digital C-print

Capitalizing on universal dualities, Simen Johan explores the paradoxical nature of existence through constructed photographs. By incorporating wild beasts into intriguing vistas, the artist illustrates the inherent beauty in the natural world. In order to achieve thorough realism, Johan’s animal images are taken from zoos, nature preserves, museums, or studios. Their habitats are intricate composites of varying places that culminate in plausible scenes. The realistic nature of his photographs confuses viewers who want to believe they are witnessing miraculous images from far away animal kingdoms.

Simen Johan From the series Until the Kingdom Comes Untitled #140, 2007 Digital C-print

Imaginary worlds appear in Until the Kingdom Comes and exemplify the power of visual story telling. Talking animals seemingly turn into fighting beasts while for Johan’s kingdom hangs in the balance. His ability to construct scenes that seem plausible incites associations allowing viewers to construct personal narratives around his work. The provocative, open-ended nature of these photographs encourages viewers to bring their own connotations, because in reality Johan is exploring the hidden universal psyche of humanity.

While all of Johan’s images are visually stunning, they posit a somber vibe of uncertainty. Disinterested bears luxuriate in piles of food scraps; curious monkeys stare pointedly towards the viewer; and an albino deer struts through a stark winter forest. As if lifted from prescient fantastical stories, these images exemplify the disillusion contemporary society has with reality.

Simen Johan From the series Until the Kingdom Comes Untitled #159, 2010 Digital C-print

Even though the images are lush and visually compelling, they present a natural world devoid of human presence. While the notion of majestic feral kingdoms is intoxicating, the stark absence of humanity creates eerie undertones, which highlights Johan’s desire to emphasise the uncertainty of the future—animals roam free from human constraints, though in reality, the human society threatens the existence of Mother Nature.

Simen Johan From the series Until the Kingdom Comes Untitled #168, 2011 Digital C-print

Johan’s fantasy world begins to break down into a sinister place in which only animals can survive. Works such as Tarpit, 2012, and Rhino, 2011, further illustrate this concept of environmental degradation. As the world disintegrates through the series, eery landscapes, though beautiful, might illustrate the world’s future, creating an image that is both beautiful and horrific.

Simen Johan From the series Until the Kingdom Comes Untitled #171, 2012 Digital C-print

Johan’s visualization of dualities—attractive and eerie, real and fantastical, known and unknown—underscores the primal impulses of humanity. No attribute prevails as Johan emphasises that humans are actually ruled by desire and fear instead of reason.

Simen Johan From the series Until the Kingdom Comes Untitled #174, 2013 Digital C-print

The visual beauty of his photographs draws viewers in, but the uncanny world, that seems at once possible and impossible, causes them to rethink what they see. His images infiltrate the psyche inciting contemplation and ruminations on the illusion of reality. Existing on the precipice between nature and artifice, Johan aims to illustrate the majesty, humor, and irony of life.

Simen Johan From the series Until the Kingdom Comes Untitled #175, 2013 Digital C-print

Johan’s self-published book Until the Kingdom Comes can also be purchased directly via his website. He is represented by Yossi Milo Gallery in New York City.

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