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Katja Farin’s recent body of work examines illusions: of the self, of safety, prosperity, community, and how we trick ourselves, and others, into believing certain things. Farin addresses these topics without preaching or moralizing, avoiding subjecting the bodies that appear in their paintings to “examination and interrogation,” [1] in favor of inviting strangeness and peculiarity into the spaces these figures inhabit. Their exhibition at Friends Indeed, titled Counterfeit, teems with optical illusions, sleights of hand, and everyday magic. Implicit in the common usage of the word counterfeit is the notion of deception, of passing off something fake as authentic. Yet perhaps Farin’s paintings resonates more closely with the term’s latin origins: contra (in opposition) + facere (to make). Their works don’t seem to protest, yet instead subtly rub against the grain of expectations. The adjacency of the everyday with the bizzare in Farin’s painting—amplified through their bold use of color and theatrical framing—makes the strange seem familiar and the otherworldly commonplace.

Paintings depicting scenes like an androgynous person blithely striding through an ordinary produce aisle with an e-cigarette in their hand are displayed alongside works in which disembodied hands frame a solitary figure through the skeins of a cat’s cradle or someone sullenly lurks next to an ornamental nightlight atop an undulating checker-patterned floor. In Sanctuary, a person sits in repose, pantsless, resting their feet in a koi-filled inflatable pool while verdant bushes bloom behind them with shadowy faces and hands in place of leaves. Sanctuary collapses conventional notions of interior and exterior, figure and reflection, space and time. A person caresses a blurred apparition of a Janus face while three blank sheets of paper seem to levitate on the table in front of them. Behind them, a shadow puppet is cast upon a curtain that extends towards an exterior staircase ascended by a seemingly lovelorn figure with flowers in their hand. The relation between these figures is unclear and the closer that one examines the image, the more tenuous the spatial configuration begins to feel: the actual lived space of everyday life melds with an interior world of distortion, dreams, and desires.

Illusion disrupts the boundaries between reality and fantasy. It distorts the senses, tricks the mind, unsettles a stable sense of self. The relation between good and evil has historically been cast as a clash between the real and the illusory. As Marina Warner points out in her study of optical illusions, in medieval Christianity “the devil is a mimic, an actor, a performance artist” doomed to mere imitation. [2] While the early history of spectacles, magic shows, and devices for simulating optical illusions were certainly associated with the “devil’s work” and bore the negative connotations of fakery and deception, contemporary re-readings of illusion might open a productive space for fantasy, pleasure, and radical imagination—for thinking through and beyond the world as we know it.

— Jesi Khadivi

[1] William J. Simmons, Queer Formalism: The Return, p23.
[2] Marina Warner, "The Desert of the Real,” The Guardian, September 25, 2004.

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