Wilhelm Sasnal

06 November – 19 December 2015

The Sun, 2015, oil on canvas, 200 x 200 cm (unframed)
The Sun, 2015, oil on canvas, 200 x 200 cm (unframed)
  • installation view
  • installation view
  • installation view
  • installation view
  • installation view
  • installation view

Johnen Galerie is pleased to present Wilhelm Sasnal’s fifth solo exhibition with the gallery. The exhibition includes a new film, several new paintings and a large drawing.
The black and white film Developing Tank takes as point of departure a visit to an old family home. The film explores memory in a visually intuitive and associative manner. Encountering the now abandoned space, the film’s protagonist finds an undeveloped reel of film on which he imagines to be footage of his father from 25 years ago. The film subsequently conflates memories of being taught to handle and develop film stock with the imagined content of the mysteriously abandoned reel.
Shot largely in the darkened basement that had functioned as darkroom, the film features an unseen narrator, a boy who becomes his younger self’s stand-in and an older man who takes on the role of the father, both in imagined past and ostensible present. In a further act of fusion of fact and fiction, the boy and the man are played by the artist‘s son and father, linking the three men in a slippage of time and identities. Not only the characters are entangled in a web of fictional and real-life relations but the expired stock used for its production may be from the same period (or may even be the very same) as the reel found in the former darkroom.
Another aspect introduced in the imagined flashbacks concerns the power of sunlight. In this context, a small excursus introduces the self-experiments of the Belgian physicist Joseph Plateau who in 1829 looked into the sun for 25 seconds. While the narration attributes Plateau‘s later blindness to this event, the film begins a doubling of images in which a blotchy disc can be taken both as diseased eye or clouded-over sun.
Film and painting are linked in Wilhelm Sasnal‘s practice, although the artist has at times attributed different kinds of thought to each medium, his work on film entailing perhaps a more contemplative („taking in“) and on painting a more declarative („spitting out“) mode. Developing Tank can be seen as something of a focal point to which a number of the exhibited paintings relate. Apart from Untitled (father in a bed), which actually appears in the film where it is help up by Wilhelm Sasnal‘s father and introduces a section that takes place in an artist‘s studio, both The Sun and Atomic Explosion 2 (2008) have a close conceptual and formal relationship. The large-scale ink drawing Untitled further emphasizes the iconographic association of eye, sun and planetary objects and may obliquely refer to the subject of other works, Scottish Rite Masonic Center and The Devil. The former shows a building belonging to the fraternal order of Freemasons, the latter draws on an image of the Montgolfier brother‘s 1783 launch of a hot-air balloon at Versailles with three animal passengers (a mutton, a duck and a rooster) in which the balloon has become a shimmering disc.
While it is possible to trace a rich associative web of manifest historical, cultural, and formal aspects in the iconography of this group of paintings, one might also understand the works as compendium of research, akin to an encyclopedic project that works by boundless association, as if each painting were a many-layered compilation of the artist‘s engagement with these subjects. While Wilhelm Sasnal‘s paintings are generally based on found photos, their representations are closer to re-imaginings of these sources, in effect trying to distill an essence (not of the image but of its relevance) that does not rely on reproduction or verisimilitude but on an emotional truth often found in the process of creating elisions and absences.
Wilhelm Sasnal‘s work engages with the world of images but embeds these in a non-linear continuum of past and present, private connotation and public significance, abstract and representational shapes, in the process dissolving the significance of such classifications.

Wilhelm Sasnal, born 1972 in Tarnów, Poland, studied architecture at Cracow University of Technology, Poland (1992-1994) and painting at the Academy of Fine Arts im Cracow, Poland (1994–1999). Selected solo exhibitions: Haus der Kunst, Munich (2012), Whitechapel Art Gallery, London (2011), CAC Centro de Arte Contemporáneo Malága (2009), Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven (2006), and Kunsthalle Zürich (2003).Wilhelm Sasnal lives and works in Cracow, Poland.