I remember seeing Karen Asher around Winnipeg over the years and always wondered who she was. I often noticed her working at various cool jobs: cashier at the University bookstore, clerk at the only music shop that mattered. Her bright lipstick and hair piled up on her head in an effortlessly messy-chic Mary Margaret O’Hara situation made for a compelling yet mysterious public persona. The veil was lifted somewhat as I learned of her photographic practice and came to know her as an artist. She firmly established her place as a fixture of the local art scene with her first solo show in 2010 and now follows it up with a strong second offering that has been joyously embraced by the community.
Building on an established style, The Full Catastrophe – currently on display at aceartinc. – continues Asher’s exploration of what might be deemed “intimate portraiture.” Her subjects are seen physically interacting in often mundane domestic spaces. Their identities are occasionally obscured by flowing tresses or errant body parts. Are these situations staged or natural? It is difficult for a viewer to ascertain exactly, so one is left wondering whether that detail even matters.
The artist toys with the tension of this interplay, further pushing audiences by presenting what appears to be a glimpse into the personal experiences of strangers and their strange lives. There is a frank openness here and yet certain details are held back. For the keen-eyed Winnipegger, many of the photographic subjects will look familiar – whether it is the barista who serves you your tea every morning or a face that is continually popping up on your Instagram feed. In the end, The Full Catastrophe playfully pulls back the curtain, but not on the truth of identity so much as the dichotomy of perception: the personal and the public, the abject and the attractive, the known and the unknown.
– Jenny Western