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Daejeon artists experiment with ‘souping’ photographic film

Rosalie Knaack places photos on the wall for the exhibition 'Soup Kitchen' in Daejeon, April 13.  With thanks to Rosalie Knaack

Rosalie Knaack places photos on the wall for the exhibition “Soup Kitchen” in Daejeon, April 13. With thanks to Rosalie Knaack

By Monica Nickolai

Artists in Daejeon embrace curiosity, experimentation and coincidences through film photography in a new group exhibition entitled ‘Soup Kitchen’.

The name refers not to free meals for the underprivileged, but to an experimental photo developing technique that involves soaking a roll of film in boiling water and other household ingredients, deliberately damaging the film in hopefully an artistic manner.

Artist Rosalie Osborn Knaack explained the process in an interview with The Korea Times. “You make the film and throw it into the liquid with boiling water, salt and other ingredients, like citric acid and vinegar and juice, soap and pineapple,” she said.

'Torn Palm' by Rosalie Knaack / With thanks to Rosalie Knaack

“Torn Palm” by Rosalie Knaack / Courtesy of Rosalie Knaack

The images – still in their film canisters – dry for weeks or even months before they are finally developed. The chemicals cause unpredictable and sometimes unfortunate effects on the film. “Sometimes it completely destroys the movie,” she said. “But in the hunt for that really beautiful image, I think as a photographer I can really make art.”

A roll of film is served with pine and salted lake water tea on March 1 in Daejeon.  With thanks to Rosalie Knaack

A roll of film is served with pine and salted lake water tea on March 1 in Daejeon. With thanks to Rosalie Knaack

Creating staged photography as a collaboration was the brainchild of Knaack, who graduated from Kongju National University in Korea with an MFA in ceramics. She has exhibited her jewelry, fiber art, cyanotype prints and ceramics in several solo shows. She is a former artistic resident of Art Space Jang and is the current president of the Daejeon Arts Collective. She has a ceramics studio at home where she gives ceramics lessons. She also teaches English courses at Joongbu University.

Knaack likens herself to a child with a chemistry set and first became interested in chemical reactions through her practice in ceramics. In a process known as wick-firing, she places unglazed ceramics in a metal container containing various chemical elements and sets it on fire. Sometimes the pieces break. But fortune can produce unexpectedly beautiful results.

This image, shot on Kodak 400 film, was staged in pineapple, causing the color emulsion layers to delaminate.  With thanks to Rosalie Knaack

This image, shot on Kodak 400 film, was staged in pineapple, causing the color emulsion layers to delaminate. With thanks to Rosalie Knaack

“You can see the flames swirling on the surface of the clay. You turn black from the carbon or red from this copper effect. There is no way to control or anticipate the results except by giving the ingredients and making the most of it to hope. When you get to that really good result, it’s so satisfying. The reward makes the risk worth it,” she said. “Soups are the same.”

Her previous work in ceramics focused on images of bones and death, and the subject of the current show continues that trajectory. Within her artistic process and the content of her work, Knaack embraces death and the chemistry of decay in her images of dead flowers, a rusted car and a statue so destroyed by the soup process that the layers of color have disintegrated.

“There is no life without death, and death is what makes life valuable,” she said. “I definitely see the beauty in decay.”

The film shows a rusted car that has been enhanced with chemicals.  With thanks to Rosalie Knaack

The film shows a rusted car that has been enhanced with chemicals. With thanks to Rosalie Knaack

Each artist uses their own approach to extract meaning from the souping process.

In an age of digital art and artificial intelligence, artist Hank Haddock embraces the physicality of the medium by taking photographs with vintage cameras and developing his and his fellow artists’ film in a photo studio he built in his own home. He often takes street photography with cameras that allow him to shoot at chest height. His street photography documents his brief, chance encounters with unwitting subjects during an era of human coexistence.

Street photography by Hank Haddock / Courtesy of Hank Haddock

Street photography by Hank Haddock / Courtesy of Hank Haddock

Another of his photos was not only ‘staged’ but also improperly developed. The resulting image is so brilliantly colored that it appears otherworldly, becoming an abstract documentation of a brief, unexpected moment in his artistic process.

Souping ruined this photo of Hank Haddock and created brilliant colors at the same time.  Thanks to Hank Haddock

Souping ruined this photo of Hank Haddock and created brilliant colors at the same time. Thanks to Hank Haddock

Several images by Bettina Jones critique the uncertainty of the current economic landscape and sympathize with the workers who have suffered as a result.

She selected found images from a collection of slides recovered from an old paper mill in Madison, Maine. Jones described the scanned slides as “environmentally damaged” due to mold and moisture.

In a written post about the work, she wrote: “When I found the slides, I immediately connected emotionally to them because of the time period, the history and because of the emphasis on the move to stock options and the promise of long-term security. , something that was on the verge of disappearing across the state and country. I was also struck by how beautiful the slides were and how the environmental factors had created something new through destruction.

A souped-up slide offers a delicate pattern of cracks.  Thanks to Bettina Jones

A souped-up slide offers a delicate pattern of cracks. Thanks to Bettina Jones

In another of her images, a 15-meter-tall statue of a golfer, prominent in Daejeon, becomes abstract through the souping process, transforming the banal symbol of a pastime of the wealthy into a mysterious Colossus.

'Golfer' by Bettina Jones / Courtesy of Bettina Jones

“Golfer” by Bettina Jones / Courtesy of Bettina Jones

Other participating artists include Suné Horn, James Knaack, William R. Pugsley and James Reid.

Souping brings out unusual colors and textures in this photo taken by William R. Pugsley.  Courtesy of William R. Pugsley

Souping brings out unusual colors and textures in this photo taken by William R. Pugsley. Courtesy of William R. Pugsley

Ultimately, the theme of the exhibition is embracing our own humanity and the uncertainty of our existence. Speaking about what she likes most about the work, Knaack said: “It’s the total lack of control. Giving yourself over to chance and experimenting. You never know what will come out.”

The group exhibition can be seen at the Small Window Large Landscape Gallery in Daejeon until April 30. The gallery is open Tuesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Follow @artintherok on Instagram to see more of Rosalie’s work.

Monica Nickolai is a writer and artist. Her text-based artwork has appeared in exhibitions in the US, Europe and Korea. She currently lives in Daejeon and teaches at Hongik University’s Sejong Campus. Visit monicanickolai.com for more information.