Natasha Johns-Messenger


Shifting Codes- The Embodied Perception

“Vision is not the metamorphosis of things themselves into the sight of them; it is not a matter of things’ belonging simultaneously to the huge, real world and the small, private world. It is a thinking that deciphers strictly the signs given within the body. Resemblance is the result of perception, not its mainspring. More surely still, the mental image, the clairvoyance which renders present to us what is absent, is nothing like an insight penetrating into the heart of being.”
— Merleau Ponty, The Primacy of Perception

"Perception is automatic rather than logical," says Natasha Johns-Messenger. Known for her large-scale installations, Johns-Messenger re-molds existing structures into new simulated environments, whereby both the original architecture alongside its simulacrum, become the subject of indoctrination. Often, her work is a process of imitation, illusion and trickery, inviting a new optical deception between the eye and mind.

By examining the tensions between sensory and unconscious realities, Johns- Messenger creates a virtual and physiological bodily experience. Objects are transfigured and re-worked into new pictorial representations. Hal Foster's concept of phenomenological reflexivity of "seeing oneself see" is at the core of Johns-Messenger's practice. She mediates the space by combining architecture, painting and the moving image into an organic corporeal structure.

Initially trained as a painter, Johns-Messenger applies the compositional laws of perspectivism, seriality and gesture within her practice. Her process begins by an examination of the properties of the site, its scale, composition, proportion, and light, to either re-create new representations or abstractions from the original. We walk through, around and underneath her installations and begin to perceive the reproduction of either a window, a frame or door completely anew, as a "thing in itself", and detached from its original contextualization. These installations become passageways to "see ourselves see" and extend visibility into a new field of sensory perception.

Notably influenced by the space and light movement, which emerged in the 1960's in Southern California, by artists James Turrell, Robert Irwin, and Doug Wheeler, Johns- Messenger experiments with the particularities of space, light and volume, and re-defines the subject- object relationship. She employs a complex system of optical physics, i.e. strategically placed material devices, such as periscopic mirrors, live video projections, architectural mimicry, and cuts to set up a discursive framework in real space.

In many cases, her practice is a political revolt against the pre-conceived associations to objects and subjects. "I perceive the world and the site through a process of undoing," she says. This process of un-doing rejects notions of a priori relationalism and re-contextualizes the object in a new spatial orientation. It is the study of epistemology and the conditions of discourse that surround objects in space. In this sense, Johns- Messenger asks us to critically re-examine the origin of signs, symbols and language, and to question how knowledge systems have altered the way we navigate ourselves in space.

Perception overtakes logic in her work, whereby the act of participation rather than looking becomes the operative intention. The viewer plays a considerable role by oscillating between both subject and spectator. Johns-Messenger disorientates the viewer by creating shifting perceptions and sharp contrasting scenes that achieve both unity and dis-unification.

Johns-Messenger's simulations are not intended to form reflections, nor mirror the original, rather to re-create a new experiential phenomenological perceptivity. She disrupts the order of things, and places the viewer into a synchronized psychological space made up of the virtual, the material and the juncture of these two constructed realities, whereby the signifier and the signified are blurred into a new exchange.

1 Hal Foster, The Art-Architecture Complex (London: Verso, 2011), xii