Michael Schirner’s series Pictures in Our Minds (1985 – 2011) connects our processes of reading and visual interpretation, reflecting on how language is intimately connected with the cultural codes through which we understand images. Schirner’s stark descriptions of iconic photographs evoke images that have been engraved in our collective consciousness by the ubiquity of mass media. Drawing on the conventions of advertising and the strategies of conceptual art, they engage the viewer’s interpretive faculties, deliberately withholding any actual glimpse of the photos themselves. Displayed within the everyday context of billboards and street posters, the work highlights the public nature of visual culture and the role of images in structuring our perceptions.

Referencing the plain tone of documentary photo captions, Schirner’s white texts on black backgrounds describe a wide range of notable images: many are traumatic, such as Naked Vietnamese child fleeing after a napalm attack, which conjures the photograph of Phan Thi Kim Phúc taken by Nick Ut (1972); others are lighthearted, such as Albert Einstein sticking his tongue out, which describes the uncharacteristic 1951 portrait of the physicist by Arthur Sasse. Each of Schirner’s image references share an ability to evoke the powers of our imaginations and a sense of cultural import that is greater than what can be signified by visual language alone.

Based in Berlin and Beijing, Schirner works at the intersection of multiple genres, blurring the boundaries between mass media, fine art, and photography. This wide range reflects the German artist’s diverse professional life: Schirner is a creative director in advertising, a professor of communication design, and an artist working at the intersection of media art, photography, performance, and installation.

Presented in partnership with Pattison Outdoor Advertising and Nikon Canada