JP Hanekom’s art-making is conceptually driven by the process through which he creates his artworks. In doing so, the narratives conveyed by his pieces are always informed by the process of image-making. Hanekom blatantly exaggerates aspects inherent in different photographic processes. He then masterfully uses these exaggerations to frame the aesthetic and compositional strength of the works whilst underpinning the conceptual threads that are intertwined in his works. He works primarily with found objects and treats ready-made images as objects that he re-works through alternative photographic process to re-capture the imagery.
The artist takes the view that contemporary society is immersed in a mediated culture which results in imagery being viewed excessively. With viewers being bombarded with imagery, the process to create images is often overlooked. Unknowingly the viewer’s understanding and experience of images are informed by the photographic process. The process then, as much as the creator of images, has a vast influence on the formal qualities of an image and the construction of its meaning.
Hanekom’s photographic process incorporates a variety of photographic media and devices to create imagery. In doing so, he diverges from the contemporary notion of photography as a solely digital medium between a camera and computer. He rather uses various printing techniques and devices, like a scanner and camera both digital and analogue, to deconstruct and then layer his imagery. This process results in different layers of meaning that are evoked by the content of the image as well as the nature of the photograph as an object. The deconstruction of the traditional photographic process transforms photography into the construction and imagination of reality itself.
The artist often uses a scanner to deconstruct the traditional concept of photography. He creates imagery by scanning found objects and ready-made photographs whilst simultaneously manipulating the scanning-process. Hanekom draws a parallel between the image created by using a scanner and the photogram created in the darkroom. Creating imagery with the scanner generates images in accordance with the scanner’s own principles of construction. These principles manifest as specific formal qualities within Hanekom’s work: a very shallow plane of focus, reflections of the scanner’s light, digital artefacts caused by light refraction and dust particles sitting right on the picture plane. These remnants of the scanning process that are usually eliminated from photography, becomes an important physical element crucial to Hanekom’s work. He allows these ‘imperfections’ to i) inform the composition of his work and ii) to emphasise the picture plane. This results in the images being displaced outside of its normal context as exaggerated, illusory abstraction. These abstractions are clearly understood as different from the object it represents.
When Hanekom makes use of a digital camera to create artworks, he intentionally pushes the digital technology to its limits in order for the medium to become evident in his work. Hanekom manipulates the technical settings of the camera to create an exaggerate grain texture in his imagery. In addition, this process allows coloured textured grain patterns, specifically red and green, to emerge. This coloured texture emerges because of the physical architecture of the digital sensor itself. Thus, the digital sensor begins to create visual traces of itself within the content of the image. With these remnants of the digital camera, Hanekom questions the validity of the reality represented in the content of his work. Concurrently, the remnants also serve to emphasise the liminal nature of the digital image.
Hanekom uses the above-mentioned image-making processes to inform the conceptualisation of his art-making. Currently, his works fall into three bodies of work: Stardust,In/Between and Memento Mori.
“The Cosmos is all that is or was or ever will be. Our feeblest contemplations of the Cosmos stir us – there is a tingling in the spine, a catch in the voice, a faint sensation, as if a distant memory, of falling from a height. We know we are approaching the greatest of mysteries…We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.”
-Carl Sagan (physicist);Cosmos, 1980
The Stardust series consists of imagery of scanned found-objects presented on large-scale. This body of work intently interrogates the world around us and brings into question the constructed way mankind sees and understands objects around them.
Hanekom keenly focusses his gaze and abstracts what he sees when looking through the scanner. By scanning small objects like seeds, stones, plants and human relics, Hanekom attempts to use the aesthetic principals of the scanner to emphasise the constructed nature of the world around us. Through the process of scanning the objects, Hanekom interrogates interaction between the photographed object and photograph as an object. The outcome is the picture plane (or surface) of the image becoming the subject matter, rather than the object itself.
This body of works initiates an epistemological play with the viewer where Hanekom juxtaposes the distinction between justified belief and opinion. This play with contradictions and epistemology is supported by the title of each image in the series where the title will evoke a certain idea or thing while the image is something else.
Furthermore, this body of work taps into an astrophysical line of thought and explores the idea that all the things we see around us were once part of a star which collapsed upon itself and spewed its own stardust across a vast distance in a great explosion. In time, all of this Stardust condensed and came to be everything we know and see today. To accentuate this theoretical line of thought, Hanekom places his images in a galactic black background. The dust particles that are left behind from the scanning-process, simulates the visuals of a starry sky. Stardust aims to connect the mundaneness of objects with the transcendental nature of the universe itself. The artist tries to evoke a sense of reverence in the viewer –not only for the objects they are gazing at but also for themselves and all things and beings in existence.
JP Hanekom's Memento Mori series examines history through a voyeuristic lens. This body of work consists of scanned and manipulated found-photographs (all of which has become public domain) that the artist obsessively collects. The artist interest in found-photographs lies in the process in which these photographs are found and comes to us (whether it is passed on in families or collected from second-hand shops) and the archived. During the process of archiving, the meaning of the original photograph is already being questioned as it is archived with so many uncertainties.
This body of work is mainly concerned with the constructed manner in which history is presented and retold by those in power. Hanekom brings the validity of history in question by reconstructing found photographs to re-tell narratives. This body of work subverts the original meaning of the found photographs. Hanekom does this by combining different images that are not related to each other to construct new narratives or by experimenting with the scanning process to create faults and illusions in the original image. In doing so, he skilfully 'bends' the imagery to have new meanings.
The artist simultaneously interrogates the way in which history has the potential to influence one’s identity. Through unraveling the memories and nostalgic glimpses that these images evoke in the viewer, Hanekom interrogates the way in which identity is constructed by society and cultures and passed down from one generation to the next. Ideas and constructed identity are reformed during the process of reconstructing the meaning embedded into the found-photographs.