Johanna Jaeger, sidewalk fossil (brooklyn), 2017, two C-prints, each 12 3/8 x 9 5/8".

Johanna Jaeger, sidewalk fossil (brooklyn), 2017, two C-prints, each 12 3/8 x 9 5/8".

Johanna Jaeger

Schwarz Contemporary

Johanna Jaeger, sidewalk fossil (brooklyn), 2017, two C-prints, each 12 3/8 x 9 5/8".

Johanna Jaeger’s pictorial practice unfolds along a variety of trajectories that are always in close touch with a core characteristic of photography: its relation to time. The new works she presented in her recent exhibition “checkerboard sky” translate this program into pictures that fuse complexity with Minimalist precision. Jaeger has devised an open and experimental yet distinctive visual idiom; her motifs are often liquid—drops of colored ink in water—and ephemeral phenomena, such as the process of a form’s gradual dissolution. Jaeger draws attention to modes of transition that may be read as reflections of genuinely photographic processes, paraphrasing concepts such as exposure or trace. Far from being drily analytical, such reflection, in her work, is a wellspring of poetic charm.

The two-part sidewalk fossil (brooklyn), 2017, matches close-up shots of a gray concrete surface streaked with fine horizontal lines and two lime-tree leaves that, at first glance, might have been carried here by the autumn breeze. The two pictures would seem to be duplicates: The section of concrete is recognizably the same, and the outlines of the leaves are identical. Closer inspection reveals that one leaf rests on the ground as though it had just fallen from a tree, whereas the other is a sort of negative presence—the pale imprint of a leaf that landed on the freshly poured sidewalk before the material had set. In the first photograph, it is the upper leaf that is “genuine,” whereas the one below is a trace—a fossil, as it were; in the second picture, the roles are reversed. Taken together, the two photos sustain their contradiction in an irresolvable suspense. Likewise, in the interplay between negative form and positive analog print, the photographs are paradoxically both documents and simulations. The delightfully random motif, moreover, is a delicate windblown memento mori.

In the five-part developing horizon, 2017, the artist has created a visual rendition of time with a decidedly tauter rhythm. In addition to making use of instrumental aspects of photography, the work touches on a theme that recurs with some frequency in Jaeger’s art: the horizon, which is both a central compositional element and a metaphor for an outer bound of visibility. In a series of five identically framed shots, a camera is seen from above, the shoulder strap loosely arranged in a loop. Step by step, the pictures capture the genesis of a Polaroid. In the first photograph, it is just being ejected. Part of it is still inside the device, the artist’s hand having pressed the button moments ago, and a red signal lamp is on. In the second through fifth photographs, the Polaroid rests on the white surface, and the picture gradually develops, showing a light-and-dark field bisected by a horizon line. Photography, that is to say, registers a photographic process, and in this doubling back of the medium on itself lies a curious visual indirection: What the Polaroid shows more clearly with each step is a view outside the field of the work itself and yet inseparably bound up by technical causation with the object of depiction: properly speaking, the camera. In this sense, the series stages its own kind of technologically aided vision—as the literal expansion of a horizon.

The seven-part sequence melting time, 2018, traces a process of disintegration by combining a white developing tray with an object resembling a clockface made of ice, with twelve narrow recesses arranged in a circle filled with blue ink. Left in the tray to melt, the dial, as an image of structured time, dissolves until it is unrecognizable, while formless blue streaks expand and slowly settle on the bottom of the tray, increasingly bringing out the line pattern of the ribbed surface. After shooting each picture, Jaeger waited until the object had changed significantly—the first and next-to-last photographs were taken about eight hours apart; another night passed before the final picture, so that the series covers roughly twenty-four hours. A visual experiment designed to produce something in the developing tray that is not a picture but rather a process of liquefaction and dissolution, the work is at once also a metaphorical act. And it is precisely out of this deliquescence that melting time fashions a visual narrative structured by chronological parameters.

Jens Asthoff

Translated from German by Gerrit Jackson.