Post-Photographic Anxiety: Catching Up with Issue 15 Guest Editor Simon Lehner

"I love you like an image" by Simon Lehner at Kunst­pa­lais, courtesy of the artist.

We’re featuring what our Issue 15 guest editors have been up to since the issue was released at Paris Photo in November 2022. Each of our 50 guest editors on the issue selected an image by an artist from our international open call to feature in a spread next to an image of their own in Issue 15. To see their work in the issue order your copy. Our guest editor Simon Lehner’s work concerns themes of memory, autobiographical construction, and mental health. His first institutional solo show opened on April 1st at Kunst­pa­lais in Erlangen, Germany. The show, titled “I love you like an image”, will run until July 2nd.

In recent years Simon Lehner's artwork has developed as a fascinating exploration of personal and collective memory, deconstructing how memories are formed and represented. Taking the photographic as a starting point, Lehner answers many of the nerve-racking questions which photographers are currently debating with ease. His pieces at Kunstpalais suggest a continuous movement from the 2D photographic relic to the 3D, with video works, virtual simulations, and kinetic sculpture. The boundary between the outside world and the inner being becomes fluid. Lehner’s work shines as an example of how an image-based artistic practice can push forward with the help of machine-made imagery, embracing the complexity encompassed by potentially formidable new tools.

Lehner takes much of his inspiration from his personal archive, including photo albums and video cassettes that document his childhood and family life. He expertly weaves together the autobiographical with commentary on how media content shapes the visual memory of society as a whole, particularly of his generation. Throughout the exhibition at Kunstpalais visitors are confronted with characters that resemble Lehner, shrouded in chroma-key green tones and trapped in box TV screens. Reminiscent of Gillian Wearing’s work, Lehner seemingly creates an independent family for himself, utilizing his likeness to play all the parts, regardless of gender or age.

Lehner deconstructs the photographic image and its claim to depict reality, putting narratives about the self to the test by examining roles and stagings presented for the camera. In his multichannel video insulation, one of Lehner’s characters nervously paces around a chair, stopping to scream “World famous!” into the abyss over and over again. This almost schizophrenic fragmentation of the self-image is a recurring theme throughout Lehner's work, constantly rearranging completed imaging processes to formulate something unexpected. Here the mental health of the Artist, capital a, is thrown into question, as Simon’s personality splinters before us. The pressure to advance in our culture of immediacy becomes an almost sinister presence, with Lehner’s presentation of animatronic sculptures whose faces are contorted into menacing grins.

In his exhibition, Lehner creates a link between the flood of images in the mass media and the inner psyche, including logos and slogans from large corporations like Disney as raised 3D motifs in his large wall-mounted pieces. The contents of a collective digital unconscious push to the surface of his pictures and compete obtrusively for attention. Much like Lehner’s predecessor, Cindy Sherman, who had her first solo show on German soil in Erlangen in 1982, "I love you like an image" stands as a captivating exploration and testament to the power of contemporary visual perception and its impact on selfhood.