Staring at the work of Copenhagen-based photographer Per Johansen is like gazing at artifacts in a perfectly curated museum of oddities. His bizarrely beautiful snapshots feature raw meats and fish stuffed inside crystal-clear glass and plastic containers, arrangements that evoke both a knee-jerk reaction to the grotesque subjects and a sense of awe at the pure aesthetic organization.
Simply put, the viewer is simultaneously grossed out and amazed by the strangely profound still-lifes. But why, you might ask, would Johansen have felt compelled to create such disgustingly satisfying masterpieces?
"I had a feeling of being full or fed up -- not just physically but more by the fundamental idea of materialism," Johansen wrote in an email exchange with The Huffington Post. "It was a feeling of disgust and absurdity. And the images of a Coca-Cola bottle, filled up with raw liver, [became] a nightmare that tumbled around in my head for a while. Until I simply felt that I had to make the image come to life."
In the photo series that followed, "Mæt (Full)," Johansen wanted to use the same "tricks" we, as consumers, are exposed to on a daily basis. In order to stir up a discussion on the nature of materialism, he mimicked the behaviors of manufacturers who strive to package their products in the most appealing ways. Like the individuals attempting to sell common food stuffs or household items, the artist wanted to make the form of his images so appealing that it would obscure their actual contents -- in this case, raw meats and rotting vegetables.
"I wanted the viewer to experience the conflict of being attracted by the beauty regardless of whatever the contents may be," he explained, "and to wonder what is beautiful and what is ugly? And how you decide?"
Johansen slyly achieves this with each sausage casing and eel carcass he jams in empty soda bottles. Using the packaging maneuvers we see everyday at the grocery store, the otherwise repulsive appearance of raw chicken parts and brown meats takes on a new meaning and shade of beauty.
Despite the seriousness of Johansen's thoughts on consumer culture, he does not miss the levity in his zany art project. "I didn’t experience anything altogether grotesque while producing the series, but buying loads of transparent containers was a funny activity," he recalled. "Not once did I see a cashier wonder why [I was buying them], even though the shopping cart contained solely 30 transparent bottles with varying contents from tomato soup to brush cleaner."