Sofie Knijff Weaves Ambiguous “Tales” at Mariane Ibrahim Gallery

The artist's haunting portraiture and a video installation train the eye to see people and places a little differently.

Posted on October 03, 2017, 2:16 pm
4 mins


Artist Sofie Knijff is not singular in her use of photography to both evoke and reconsider classical portraiture. Her subjects pose in ways befitting of the ancien regime, in minimal costumes that also evoke such grandiosity. Others are more chaste, still others a touch grotesque. Knijff executes each portrait with total control of light and attention to detail, and somehow they manage to look spontaneous. That sense of naturalism is essential to their emotional impact. They would be merely absurdist if they felt contrived.

And yet, when we look closely, we think that Knijff has probably had her hand in every element of the composition. At the back of her exhibition at Mariane Ibrahim Gallery, Tales, there is a strange photo of a pit or cave. It seems subterranean, but natural light seems to come from above and a piece of tree lies on the muddy floor. And suspended on the wall are fruits (apples? mangoes? I couldn’t discern.) pierced on a rope. She couldn’t have just happened upon this, could she? But tale is she telling if sit is her invention?

While Knijff plays with such ambiguity in the front areas, in the gallery’s blackbox she has a video installation, Images Énervée, created in collaboration with Dutch composer and director Arnoud Noordegraaf. Like the rest of the work in the show, it appears simple, but adds a new depth to the works. Noordegraaf zooms in close on thin, horizontal sections of Knijff’s photos, creating a dynamic diptych of complementary forms and textures.

The camera strays slowly, then whips to another part of the image, mimicking the natural saccades of the eye  in the act of observing the static works. It quietly illuminates details in Knijff’s rich portraits, and even might train the eye of one who is not accustomed to looking with focus and intention. At the very least, it invites one to return to the static portraits for a second look.

“Netherlands, 2016,” by Sofie Knijff. Image courtesy of the artist and Mariane Ibrahim Gallery.

Noordegraaf is also to be commended for his controlled use of sound. The audio samples he has chosen are pleasing, but not distracting. The same is true of the subtle, breezy sound that accompanies the cameras saccadic movement. The two artists have shown great thought and restraint in every element of the show.

What’s the occasion with that elephant? What is that girl thinking, wrapped in a regal blue wrap of faux fur that trails along the floor to an end table and power strip lying at the edge of the frame? What is up with those fruits in the pit?

Knijff plants marvellous seeds from which a hundred tales may grow. The viewer becomes the storyteller, and the most self-aware will recognize themselves doing it. Tales is a beautiful, original play with a familiar genre and medium that yet alienates us from any clear truth. It is a reminder that we are always telling ourselves tales, and—despite our saturation by images and narratives—there are always more to be told.

Sofie Kniff’s Tales has been extended at Mariane Ibrahim through October 28.

T.s. Flock is a writer and arts critic based in Seattle and co-founder of Vanguard Seattle.