Esoteric Memes Series
Info Text below
Pondering / The Green Pill, 80 x 64 cm, 2022
Samsara Wheel, 80 x 64 cm, 2022
Allegory of the Cave, 80 x 64 cm, 2022
Fuhrwerkswaage July 2022, Foto: Bozica Babic /
Text published on the occasion of FUHRWERKSWAAGE - new talents 2022
Max Dauven - Plato’s Cave, Pondering / My Green Pill and Samsara Wheel
Max Dauven’s photo series Plato’s Cave, Pondering / My Green Pill and Samsara Wheel, explores the symbols, images and culture of esoteric memes, and represents the latest result of Dauven’s ongoing inquiry into online meme culture. Playful in appearance, this series nonetheless asks profound questions about how we interpret images in an internet-saturated, hyperreferential reality, and indeed who understands what in an image, in our on/offline worlds of multiple and layered ‘in groups’.

Meme, a term which was coined to describe how cultural artefacts (such as songs and jokes) try and ensure their survival in the same ways that genes do, has come to stand for digital images captioned with text which are experienced on the Internet. The making of memes is fundamentally participatory; loosely networked individuals constantly receive these digital images, remix their elements and introduce new motifs before re-distributing them further. They can be seen as a kind of contemporary folk culture, a collectively-produced torrent of digital cultural production with no clear authorship, in which the meaning and significance of an individual image is deeply contextual.

But what does this ongoing, collective exchange of ephemeral and inscrutable images have to do with the often solitary, single and deliberate act of photography? For Dauven the salient qualities of memes; highly compressed images which can be easily sent, viewed, manipulated and recombined, embody the essence of the digital image. And through many hours spent as a participant-observer in online communities he has gained both a deep appreciation of their communicative potential and developed a sensibility for their unique visual language and grammar.

The photos Plato’s Cave, Pondering and Samsara Wheel are born from research into esoteric memes which deal with a wide spectrum of topics, from anthroposophy to conspiracy, from spiritualism to magic, from mysticism to religion. In some ways what connects these disparate topics is the normal desire of young people to explore edgy, fringe and taboo topics. But beyond the irony, this inquiry into non-rational belief systems, seems to be a part of broader and genuine search for meaning, agency and security amongst a younger generation.

Dauven describes his photographic approach as the attempt to take a still from this constantly flowing stream of pictures, and then to place that still in the physical and discursive space of Contemporary Art. His process involves building compositions of individual elements from particular meme 'families', in this case various esoteric memes. But rather than doing this as a quick digital manipulation he painstakingly constructs images with physical elements in the studio, assembling the image in ‘camera’. This careful approach does not only give a new value and meaning to the medium of the meme, it documents the existential quest of an online generation.

The resulting photos are rich in references which some viewers will recognize, and others will not. Which makes them both Contemporary and Art. Because whilst they refer to the layered meanings of meme culture, the act of referencing itself is a gesture all too familiar to Art.

By Sam Hopkins