The Ravestijn Gallery presented the first solo show in the Netherlands of Swiss artist duo Jojakim Cortis and Adrian Sonderegger, known as Cortis & Sonderegger. The exhibition showed photographs from their renowned series Icons, in which the pair trawled countless books filled with the world’s most iconic photographs before recreating many of them through meticulous dioramas.
Robert Capa’s The Falling Soldier and Henri Cartier Bresson’s Derriere la Gare Saint-Lazare are two photographs preserved in the canon of photography. And the attack on Pearl Harbor, John T. Daniels’ image of the Wright Brothers’ first powered flight and news footage from 9/11 are all etched into humankind’s collective memory. Cortis & Sonderegger lean on both the photographic medium and the wider world to reproduce what seems impossible to duplicate. Carefully considering the conditions in which each original image was made, the artists then mimic each photograph in their studio to an inconceivable level of realism, quite literally remaking an icon. It is easy to be in awe at their dedication to imitation, yet for the final photographs of their creations, the camera is always pulled back, framing their image within a new image and revealing their studio, tools, apparatus and debris in a blatant and humorous turn. Truth and illusion, past and present are coalesced; the theatrical creation as the past surrounded by the new frame of the present.
Cortis & Sonderegger’s work is intended to be understood as a fabrication. By making the spectacular ordinary, their photographs facilitate a questioning of how memories are constructed, what is included and what is left out. Historical narratives always involve elimination, selection and inclusion. When this is compounded by the camera, a technology that can bend and interfere with memories on a personal and collective level, embedding social, cultural and political aims, we are reminded of the incredibly unstable nature of memory. Cortis & Sonderegger’s photographs allow us to re-examine our relationship with icons we thought we knew and simultaneously put the photographic medium itself up for examination. And in a purposeful way, their images are complicit in the same system of construction they are interrogating themselves. It is also important that these renowned scenes are remade physically, and not conceived in the digital world. The physicality gives us something to hold onto, it makes it even more real before that reality is shattered. Visible authenticity is everywhere, fraught with tension at the illusion it simultaneously creates.
Icons is a series that grants us a renewed and sharpened perception of the past; history is rarely as it seems. It also trains us how the past and present can be moulded from reality into rhetoric. Just like Cortis & Sonderegger have stepped back to frame their beautiful creations, we too should be more conscious of how the world is constructed through photographs.
Cortis & Sonderegger’s work is held in the collections of: the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (USA), Museum Folkwang, Essen (DE), The Battery, San Francisco (US), Museum of Fine Arts Houston (US), Fotostiftung Winterthur (CH) Chicago Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago (US) and other location in the US and Europe.
Jojakim Cortis (b. 1978) & Adrian Sonderegger (b. 1980) have lived and worked in Zurich, Switzerland since 2001. They began collaborating during their studies at Zurich University of the Arts in 2005.