Joachim Koester Jan Mot
Joachim KoesterJan Mot
Joachim Koester, detail, Cannabis #1, 2019, archival pigment print, framed, 92 x 74,5 cm, edition of 5 and 2 A.P.




“When we perceive an artwork, it happens through a string of correspondences, connections and associations. Of course we also connect to art through emotions, but as soon as we start thinking and speaking about an artwork we actively engage a web of potential meanings.”

- Joachim Koester



Exhibition view, Joachim Koester, The way out is the way in, solo show Kunsthalle Mainz, 2020-2021, photo by: Norbert Miguletz



In the mid-1970s a new type of imagery emerged in counter-cultural magazines such as High Times and Sinsemilla Tips. Cannabis plants dripping with resin would appear as centerfolds, modelled on the photographic style of Playboy. This interest in the physicality of the plant came at a time when an increasing number of people in the United States were growing cannabis themselves. The formerly lush Mexican fields were in shambles and a huge market for domestically grown marijuana had opened up.





“Psychoactive plants, like cannabis, can alter our experience of reality, bridging the world of matter and consciousness. In this history, consciousness, for better or worse, became inscribed into the very flesh of the plant as a consequence of desire, politics and legislation. With the series From the Secret Garden of Sleep I have made photographs of several strains of home-grown marijuana. These images of hybrids reflect a sub-genre of plant photography and point to the history behind the otherworldly appearance of modern cannabis.”

- Joachim Koester, From the Secret Garden of Sleep, 2008 (1)




Joachim Koester, The invisible index, installation view at Jan Mot, 2021



The rise of domestic growing came to a halt in 1982 when the Reagan administration set out to crush the domestic marijuana industry. Not only did Reagan see the increase in home-grown marijuana as unpleasantly reminiscent of more lenient times, he also perceived the use of marijuana as an important symbol of the counter-culture — one that had to be eradicated. In the span of a few years, cannabis swung from being on the cusp of acceptance to being domestic enemy number one. The means for achieving this was fierce legislation against growers and users. (2)



Joachim Koester, The invisible index, installation view at Jan Mot, 2021



Little did the Reagan administration suspect that they had started a genetic revolution. As harsh sentences were implemented — for example, growing any amount of marijuana in Oklahoma could result in a life prison sentence — and surveillance and government control increased, domestic cannabis growing moved indoors and, ironically, a plant of wonder materialized. Amateur gardeners in the Pacific Northwest applied their talents to crossbreed cannabis indica and sativa strains, creating hybrids that thrived indoors, cultivated under blazing metal-halide light. Gone were the days of low-yield plants that sometimes grew to be as tall as five meters. Instead something like a muscular dwarf emerged, just knee-high, with buds the size of fists and a concentration of psychoactive compound significantly higher than before. (3)





“The images do not depict the excess of bliss; rather, it is the excess associated with the tunnels of Mordor or free market economy.”

- Joachim Koester, Intoxication and Phantom Bodies, an interview with Lars Bang Larsen





Joachim Koester's 16mm film installation entitled The Hashish Club traces back to 1840s legendary Club des Hashischins and French intellectuals such as Baudelaire and psychiatrist Moreau, who investigated the medicinal effects of drugs.


“Persian lamps and green light evoke the atmosphere of the club, where the members wore oriental clothes. They were very inspired by the myth of the hashshashin. According to this myth, the medieval warlord Hassan-i Sabbah in Iran had his disciples awakened under the influence of hashish in his garden to show them paradise. The word assassin comes from hashshashin. The artists and writers of the hashish club wanted to assassinate bourgeois aesthetic. That's where the idea germinated that making art under the influence is a subversive act.” (5)





Drugs are interesting because they change our consciousness, and since drugs like cannabis, cocaine and opium have a history as colonial commodities, this history is also part of the perception of the consciousness they induce.





As for coca and the later the synthesis of coca to cocaine, it was the possibility of exchanging food and sleep with coca, that initially intrigued the west - the prospect of feeding soldiers or slaves with coca leaves for a better performance and at much lower costs.







Joachim Koester (b.1962, Copenhagen) lives and works in Copenhagen. Focusing on occurrences of mysticism and the occult as well as the more surreal moments from our cultural and social histories, Koester examines events in time that have become more than the sum of their parts.


Attempting to capture traces of what once was, Joachim Koester’s work functions as a kind of documentation of the past as well as a poignant commentary on what happens to the places that are left behind once these moments have passed. Carefully questioning narrative and identity, Koester uses the mediums of photograph and film to explore the ways in which our shared histories are established, and in the process to question how these mediums are, ultimately, ambiguous.


Koester has exhibited widely, with solo shows at Museum Dr Guislain, Ghent (2021); Kunsthalle Mainz, Mainz (2020); The National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen (2018); Beirut Art Center, Beirut (2018); Bergen Kunsthall, Bergen (2018); STUK Kunstencentrum, Leuven (2017); Camden Arts Centre, London (2017); Turner Contemporary, Margate (2016); Forum Eugénio de Almeida, Evora, Portugal (2015); Centre d’Art Contemporain, Geneva, Switzerland (2014); Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2013); MIT List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA (2012); Kunsthal Carlottenborg, Copenhagen (2012); Museo Tamayo, Mexico City (2010); The Power Plant, Toronto (2010); Moderna Museet, Stockholm (2007); Arnolfini Gallery, Bristol (2000) and PS1 (project space), New York (1999) among others. Selected group exhibitions include: Aargauer Kunsthaus, Aargau (2021); CaixaForum Zaragoza; CaixaForum Sevilla (2021); MO.CO., Montpellier (2020); BOZAR, Brussels (2020); Festival of Ephemeral Arts, Sokolowsko (2020); Camden Arts Centre, London (2020); MAXXI - National Museum of 21st Century Arts, Rome (2020); CaixaForum Madrid; CaixaForum Barcelona (2020); S.M.A.K., Museum of Contemporary Art, Ghent (2019); Centro Internacional das Artes José de Guimãraes – CIAJG, Guimarães (2019); FRAC île-de-France, Le Château, Rentilly (2019); Beirut Art Center, Beirut (2019); Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern (2019); MMAC, Juan Soriano Museum, Morelos (2018), Museum der Moderne Salzburg, Salzburg (2018); Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt (2018); Kunstmuseum Stuttgart, Stuttgart (2018); FRYE Foundation, Seattle (2018); FUNDACIÓN JUMEX ARTE CONTEMPORÁNEO, Mexico City (2018); The Aspen Art Museum, Colorado (2018); Moderna Museet, Malmö (2018); Centre of Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw (2017); Gyeongnam Art Museum & Pool, Seoul (2017); Calgary Contemporary, Calgary (2017); FRAC, Jardin des Plantes de Rouen, Sotteville-lès-Rouen (2017); Lunds Konsthall, Lund (2017); Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, Michigan State University, East Lansing (2017); CPH: DOX 2017, Copenhagen (2017); Kunsthaus Graz (2017); Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk (2016); BPS22 - Musée d'art de la Province de Hainaut, Charleroi (2016); STUK Kunstencentrum, Leuven (2015); MUSAC, León (2015); KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin (2015); The Model, Home of the Niland Collection The Mall, Sligo (2015); deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, Lincoln (2015); Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam (2015); Imagerie Lannion, Lannion (2015); Boghossian Foundation – Villa Empain, Brussels (2014); Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago (2014); 2nd CAFAM Biennale, Beijing (2014); The Crime Was Almost Perfect, Witte de With, Rotterdam, The Netherlands (2014); From the Collection, S.M.A.K, Ghent (2014); Prospectif Cinema, Centre Pompidou, Paris (2014); Habitar el tiempo, Museo Jumex, Mexico City (2014); and ARKTIS, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk (2013). Koester’s work has also been exhibited in numerous biennales including the Taipei Biennal (2012); Manifesta 7, Trento, Italy (2008); Sharjah Biennale (2007); the Venice Biennale, Slovenian and Danish Pavilions (2006, 2005 respectively) and Documenta 10 (1997).

(1, 2, 3) From the text “From the Secret Garden of Sleep” by Joachim Koester, 2008 published in Joachim Koester “patterns, shimmers, scenes”, Den Kongelige Kobberstiksamling, The Royal Collection of Graphic Art, SMK, 11.10.2018 - 3.2.2019
(5) Joachim Koester interviewed by Christine Vuegen: “Exploratie van bewustzijnsveranderingen,
In gesprek met Joachim Koester Christine Vuegen”, HART magazine, 2021
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