In this new body of work, Khan re-photographs and digitally layers a sequence or series of pictures in an enigmatic play of appropriation and re-creation. His photographs possess characteristics more akin to drawing or painting and are presented as a kind of photographic palimpsest, animated by the accumulative intervention of the artist's hand. The influence of early proponents of the modern typology movement, Karl Blossfeldt and later, Bernd and Hilla Becher, has strong resonance in the work of Idris Khan. At one remove from typology, Khan collapses and condenses series of images to create work that proposes new visual and conceptual terms to consider and distill historical photographic practice. According to the artist, his work offers 'a playful emblem of our own departure from the corpse of photography, burdened with what the Futurist Anton Guilio Bragaglia once referred to as its "glacial reproduction of reality".'
Fascinated by the images, practitioners and theoretical writings that have influenced the history of photography, the artist has recently moved beyond the subject of photography to literature and music. Struggling to Hear…After Ludwig van Beethoven Sonatas, 2005 condenses sheets of music from Beethoven's piano sonatas to a single composite image. The work poignantly considers Beethoven's personal frustration with the deterioration of his hearing. Musical notes coalesce in a dense blur of abstract movement and chart their own rhythm across the page in an attempt to be heard. Offering a visual replication of the composer's frustration, Khan suggests that the memory of music - its idea, shape and image - became more essential to Beethoven than its sound.
An enlarged page of multi-layered text from one of Freud's key psychoanalytic works forms the photograph Sigmund Freud's 'The Uncanny', 2006. The image challenges the viewer to digest all the essay's words in one glance. As the artist describes: 'it's kind of a fantasy and a nightmare rolled into one - the wish fulfillment of apprehending a whole book in an instant, but the fear and anxiety of never being able to understand what the book wants to tell us'. Beneath the shadows of the text two images emerge - Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa and The Virgin and Child with St Anne. In his book Sigmund Freud discusses these paintings with reference to the 'Vulture fantasy' - claimed to be da Vinci's first visual memory as a child. In this fantasy da Vinci describes a vulture sweeping down onto his chest and pecking into his mouth. Freud interprets this reference as a manifestation of the erotic relations between mother and child: "My mother pressed countless passionate kisses on my lips". The mouth, often rendered as an enigmatic smile, is a potent feature of da Vinci's female figures and has, for viewers, long produced the most powerful and confusing effect. In Khan's 'The Uncanny' a deep dark void draws the viewer into the image, echoing what historical writers and poets have written about this smile: 'she who seems to smile seductively, now to stare coldly and soullessly into the void.'
Returning to photography's historical archives, Khan's body of work entitled, Rising Series..... After Eadweard Muybridge 'Human and Animal Locomotion', 2005 looks back to early scientific experimentations with photography. This series of five platinum prints borrow images from Muybridge's sequential motion studies of human and animal form. Khan's intimate works, both in scale and subject, realise an aesthetic and narrative quality far removed from the scientific pedigree of Muybridge's research. Creating an unequivocally pictorial aesthetic, the choreographed movements of these human subjects, now seemingly suspended between the present and the afterlife, evoke the Victorian fascination with the spiritual and metaphysical possibilities of photography.
Khan affords similar treatment to the photographs of plant segments collected by pioneering 19th century photographer Karl Blossfeldt. Some 6,000 plants were captured on film as a pedagogical record in Blossfeldt's book, 'Art Forms in Nature', as he sought to expound the principle that 'nature is our best teacher'. Khan's ghostly Blossfeldt.... After Karl Blossfeldt 'Art Forms in Nature', 2005 belies its natural origins and solicits a psychological mood and relationship with the work, formerly extracted by Blossfeldt's meticulous documentation of characteristic, detail, pattern and texture of nature.