Karen Asher

Karen Asher is an analog photo artist from Winnipeg, Canada, whose work explores her obsession with stress, absurdity and the human condition. She received her BFA Honours in photography from the University of Manitoba in 2009. Asher is the recipient of numerous grants and awards and is featured in Flash Forward – Emerging Photographers from Canada, United Kingdom and the United States as well as the book Front Line: Interviews with International Contemporary Photo-Based Artists. She has shown her work internationally, and has been featured in several publications including Canadian Art, BlackFlash, and Border Crossings Magazine.

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The Full Catastrophe

I am obsessed with the full catastrophe: the all-consuming chaos of life, the highs and the lows, the beautiful and the bizarre, the delirious absurdity of it all. I want to tell a story of a certain stress that conveys a roller coaster of emotions, celebrating and confronting this all-consuming chaos, and marrying the conflicting emotions into a peculiar visual dance that is striking, raw and sincere.

Three years ago, when confronted with an undiagnosed illness, I became fixated on issues surrounding my health, and equally fascinated and terrified by the way the body can unexpectedly break down. I was inspired to create work as these fears tainted virtually every one of my thoughts, dreams and nightmares. With this dark obsession, no theme has been more fitting for me to photograph than the human condition. Initially, my goal was to use this obsession as a platform to confront issues surrounding health and illness in an unconventional manner, with the intent of creating intriguing images depicting the mental noise of an overwhelming preoccupation with sickness. I have since fleshed out the idea to not only confront the complexity of my own experiences, but also to recognize the “full catastrophe” in everybody’s everyday life.

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I first encountered the phrase “the full catastrophe” years ago in John Kabat-Zinn’s Full Catastrophe Living. Kabat-Zinn gives his own experience with the phrase early in the book, where he describes a scene in the film Zorba the Greek. The protagonist is asked if he has ever been married. Zorba responds with: “Of course I have been married. Wife, house, kids, everything… the full catastrophe.” Kabat-Zinn interprets that Zorba’s sentiment “was not meant to be a lament, nor does it mean that being married or having children is a catastrophe. Zorba’s response embodies a supreme appreciation for the richness of life, and the inevitability of all its dilemmas, sorrows, tragedies and ironies.”

The idea of this richness of life, with all its highs and lows, resonated deeply as I tried to create images that confronted my own health. The more broadly I considered the topic, the more it made me want to specifically explore the absurd scope of life, and the fact that we all live inside a catastrophe of some kind. I started this work fueled by my own toils with illness, and it has led me down a path of exploring how we all go through the same types of stresses, which become strongly magnified as we let them take up more space in our perspectives.

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The Full Catastrophe dives deeply into the human condition, and looks at the body sculpturally, as a medium explored through movement, gesture, abstraction and exchanges. The images capture moments in time that play out like absurd daydreams, bizarre fantasies and delirious nightmares that are equal parts humour and horror. I want to capture everyday moments that convey the catastrophe of life — the good, the bad, the odd and the ugly.

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To see more of Karen’s work, please visit her website.