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Since the late 1970s, Karen Knorr has combined image and text in her work— collecting texts and fragments, rewritten, edited, broken down and ‘pirated’ from literary or news sources. Each question in the book, drawn from Brecht’s text, is presented alongside a series of colour enhanced and manipulated images of ‘work theatres’ on the La Samaritaine building site. The ‘questions’ in the text conjure up civilisations and figures in history before challenging the reader with practical queries of their creation concerning labour, class and power—the realities behind human endeavour and achievement. These are matched by Knorr’s photographs of the iconic Parisian building, distorted and feminised with the extreme colours of retail fashion, whilst simultaneously revealing the cost and extent of labour behind the monument to consumerism.
‘These photographs record and document a labour in progress, yet the construction workers have exited and the building is built as if by magic. The actual physical labour is here embedded in a process of reification which creates an effect so well described by Guy Debord in Society of the Spectacle, 1967: "The spectacle is not a collection of images; rather, it is a social relationship between people that is mediated by images." The images here transformed by solarised colour evoke the retail shops and designer goods valued over and beyond material labour. Brecht’s poem reminds us how history enhances the reputations of kings and leaders to the detriment of ordinary people and workers.’
The iconic La Samaritaine Department store was founded in 1870 by Ernest Cognacq and his wife Marie Louise Jaÿ who hired the architect Frantz Jourdain, a pioneer in iron frame architecture and Art Nouveau to expand their original site. The store was closed in 2005 and has since been in the midst of redevelopment by its new owners LVMH and is being transformed into smaller retail units and luxury flats. Knorr was supported by a commission awarded to selected photographers by La Samaritaine, chosen by curator Christian Caujolle, and was given ‘carte blanche’ to make work on location during the transformation of the building.
Karen Knorr (USA / UK) was born in Germany in 1954 and grew up in San Juan Puerto Rico in the 1960’s. She is Professor of Photography at the University for the Creative Arts since 2010. She lives and works in London, U.K. Her photography explores cultural heritage and its ideological underpinings. Questions concerning post colonialism and its relationship to aesthetics have permeated her photographic work since the 1980’s. Knorr won the V International Photography Pilar Citoler Prize in 2011. She has been nominated for the Deutsche Börse in 2011 and 2012 and Prix Pictet in 2012 and 2018. Her work is included in collections worldwide including SFMOMA, Tate Museum and Pompidou Museum.
Questions (After Brecht)｜Karen Knorr｜ISBN 978-1-910401-48-4｜215 x 300 mm｜88 pages｜24 full colour images, 15 foldout pages｜Hardback｜Published by GOST Books｜Nov 2020