Kirsten Kay Thoen challenges conventions of landscape photography by making dynamic three-dimensional photographic sculptures. These range from geometric lightboxes to magical, multi-paneled, trophy-like structures that give viewers a new and strangely elevated means of experiencing the natural world.  

Her overarching practice began in 2006 when she journeyed to the redwood forest to make large format landscape photographs of various awe-inspiring sites. At the time, Kirsten Kay Thoen felt that something was lacking in their one-dimensionality and craved an experience that expanded beyond simply viewing the final images digitally or on the wall.  With this new idea in mind, she entered graduate school in 2007 and began to evolve her methods. 

Her multidimensional process begins by photographing various landscapes around the world in sites including the California Redwood Forest, the volcanic terrain of Kauai, and geothermic Iceland. She selects these sites for their “profound energetic qualities.” In her own words:

“For me they are guttural-earth. I’m becoming consistently drawn to volcanic terrain for this reason. There is a metaphysical component to the work and what I am trying to convey within the process of transforming nature into image and back into form, like a talisman…I’m compelled by the idea of bringing these phenomenal sites to an audience that may not have the opportunity to experience them first hand, and I’m intrigued with the desire and questions of how to achieve that.” 

After photographing these sites extensively, she returns to her studio to transform her one-dimensional images into tactile 3D structures. This involves drawing, prototyping, and combining masks of her original source images with templates for the final geometrical forms. Her process continually evolves to push the boundaries of each new photo sculpture, and she often works with a variety of material fabricators to help actualize her designs. Most recently this has expanded to include the use of 3D printing technology as well as casting/molding custom hardware to assemble image panels. The final pieces, comprised of materials that include plexiglass, wood, and metal, are often internally lit giving them a life-like illusion. 

Two of her most recent pieces, currently on view in the exhibition Plasmatik, curated by Natalie Kates Projects, work together to create what Kirsten Kay Thoen describes as a “personal cosmology via objects that inhabit concepts of space, time and matter.” The first, Crystalline Pendulum & Pyramid, pictured below, is a two-part hourglass-shaped sculpture that depicts ice crystals from a receding glacier in Iceland which Kirsten captured in their final moments before being absorbed into the ocean. The second piece, Volcanic Nonagon transforms straightforward images of a volcanic boulder into multiple geometric planes that protrude from the surface of the wall as if floating in space. 

“The photographic images are no longer mere depictions of nature, but vital forms of their own, calling forth the sites they derived from.” – Kirsten Kay Thoen

Bio: Kirsten Kay Thoen was born in 1977 in Holladay, Utah, and is based in Brooklyn, NY.  She received a BA in Arts in Context from the New School’s Eugene Lang College, continued her studies internationally at The Royal Academy of Art in Den Hague, NL, and received her MFA from the School of Visual Arts in New York. Thoen’s artwork has exhibited in New York by Humble Arts Foundation at the Chelsea Art Museum and Affirmation Arts, by Capricious Presents at Smack Mellon Gallery, and at Field Projects Gallery.  Among art fairs, her work has been curated into NEXT Chicago’s Special Projects and presented at SCOPE Basel, NADA Miami, and SCOPE NY 2014 with Natalie Kates Projects.  Humble Arts Foundation awarded Thoen with the New Photography Grant, Spring 2010, and included her work in 31 Women in Art Photography 2010 and The Collector’s Guide to New Art Photography, Vol. 2, published in 2011.  Thoen’s works are in private collections in New York and France.