Erik Kessels & Friends
Erik Kessels ranks among the most important creative professionals in the world. He co-founded the international agency KesselsKramer in Amsterdam and is not only a rock star among advertisers, but also an artist, curator, publicist and a passionate collector of photographs. The Erik Kessels & Friends exhibition, at the NRW-Forum Düsseldorf, will be the first comprehensive Germany-wide retrospective of this Dutch artist and advertiser who has a preference for the imperfect and the incomplete. From 11 August to 5 November 2017, the retrospective will showcase the most important works of the past 20 years. Aside from that, he has invited along five friends, the artists Paul Kooiker, Joan Fontcuberta, Peter Piller, Joachim Schmid and Ruth van Beek, who will be intervening in the survey exhibition with their own works.
Advertising is all about the perfect picture. For Erik Kessels perfect pictures are boring. As both an artist and an advertiser, Kessels is interested in flawed, accidental and dissonant photographs, those that are overexposed and blurred, the ones where a finger is obscuring the lens and where there are those unfortunate poses and moments of weakness. This is because these images are human. He collects all types of photographs that he finds in his own and other people's albums as well as on the Internet. Family albums, which today are almost automatically infused with something melancholic, are his material just as much as the digital images that flood the Net en masse and bear witness to curious, personal as well as cultural obsessions. He does not alter or manipulate the images but, instead, he collects, sorts and recontextualises the found items and tells humorous stories of families and strangers, coincidences and destinies, of art and commerce, of remembering and forgetting, of succeeding and failing. His works constitute a narrative photography fair and they leave room for the unfinished, for coincidences, failures and for the imperfect as well as, at times, even some very personal insights into his own family portraits.
Every single day, the world is subjected to an avalanche of new photos. For the work 24hrs In Photos, Erik Kessels chose a single day and printed out the images for that date. The result was a mountain of photos that will reach up to the ceiling of the exhibition room. Kessels has not added any new images to this because there was already enough of everything that he needed. The Album Beauty series is a celebration of the photo album, a vanishing item that once had a place in every home and which, these days, is surrounded by an aura of melancholy and transience. In the age of digital images, the series invites us to think about a time when photos were still rare and precious and also about what happens to them when they 'age' rather than just disappear into the ether of the flood of images.
For the Mother Nature(2014) series he assembled photographs exclusively of women posing in front of flowers. The images, all of which were drawn from family albums, show women of different generations, in various places, at different times, whether in their own gardens, in a public park or in a field. They tell their own individual stories of universal themes and, likewise, bear witness to the particular beauty of amateur photography as well as to our cultural approach to the medium of photography. The series will be presented in large formats on cubes in the Ehrenhof, where it will be accessible to the public. The realisation of the works 24hrs in Photos and Mother Nature was supported by the photo and online printing service CEWE - a partner of the NRW-Forum Düsseldorf since 2016 that is committed to promoting the cultural product of photography.
Unfinished Father (2015) is one of Erik Kessels' most personal projects. It revolves around a project that was left unfinished by his father who, before he suffered a stroke, had restored four Fiat 500 cars. A fifth car remained half-finished and this formed the basis of the exhibition and book project that poignantly alludes to the fact that most things in life do not have a happy end but rather end abruptly and, often, are left unfinished. The series was shortlisted for the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2016. The work My Sister(2002), at first, seems to be a normal family video where a brother and sister are playing table tennis. It is only the music that suggests that something terrible is happening until, at the end of the video, the viewer learns that Kessels’s sister died soon after the film was made.
My Family (2008-2017) is a collection of photos of Erik Kessels’s children who got a bloody nose or black eye by accident while playing. For him, this is a way of being proud of these scars, but for other people who do not know the stories behind them they are shocking because they take these photos to be pictures of maltreated children.
Like My Familiy, the Tree Paintings(2009) series is one of the few works for which Erik Kessels personally took photographs of trees that were marked for felling.
The Useful Photography (2002) series recontextualises photographs from catalogues, instruction manuals, brochures and textbooks. These are anonymous images that we are confronted with daily, without even being aware of it. When they are placed into a new context they display unsuspected intricacies and awaken new interest.
People who accidentally get into our photographs, those who appear in the background or at the edges, are the main theme of the Strangers in My Photoalbum (2007) series. Erik Kessels found these images in his private photo albums, he singled out and enlarged the 'strangers' and, in this way, gave them a new importance. Although they are anonymous they become part of your own life. Their lives are visible but without them revealing themselves. In Almost Every Picture (2002) is a series that puts a special emphasis on the little flaws that creep into nearly all photographs, such as a finger that obscures the lens. The series is a collection of moving and humorous photographs that constitute intimate and curious moments of anonymous photographic keepsakes. The observer becomes a voyeuristic eyewitness who reconstructs an unknown life on the basis of small details.
Accidental mistakes, such as unfortunate cropping or double exposures, that in analogue photography you only noticed when you collected your developed film, are the subject of the Wonder (2006-2017) series, which will be showcased at the NRW-Forum as a gigantic house of cards.
Erik Kessels has so far published more than 60 books and these will be on show at the exhibition. While there are various themes the principle remains the same - found photographs from family albums, archives and the Internet are taken out of their contexts through selection and processing and are given new meanings.
The exhibition will be accompanied by an artistic marketing campaign, which Erik Kessels will create himself, and will thus bring a part of his work into the public space. 'The Many Lives of Erik Kessels', a publication to accompany this exhibition, will be published by Aperture at the end of April 2017.
Erik Kessels’s Friends
Paul Kooiker, born in 1964 in Rotterdam, is a conceptual photographer. Although he works almost exclusively with photographic images he considers himself to be a sculptor and installation artist. He is not interested in perfect photographic images or an individual photograph but rather in dealing with the images, selecting pictures and manipulating them.
Joan Fontcuberta lives and works in Barcelona. The artist, who was born in 1955, is known for wittily exploring the boundaries of photography. He creates dream worlds, invents plants and animals and also engages with concepts from both science as well as fiction.
Peter Piller, born in 1968 in Fritzlar, is known in particular for his “Archive Peter Piller“ that consists of around 6000 newspaper photos that he has assembled into thematic series and sorted according to their design elements and their similarities in terms of content.
Joachim Schmid was born in 1955 in Balingen. From 1982 to 2012, he collected photographs in the public domain and many of his works are based on these. In 1989, he coined the following motto for his way of working: “No new photographs until the old ones have been used up”.
The Dutch artist Ruth van Beek (born in 1977) collects photographs, from old books or second-hand shops, which range from landscapes through family photos right up to archaeological finds and animal images. By cropping and folding she takes these out of their contexts and domesticated animals out of their poses.
Erik Kessels, born in 1966, lives and works in Amsterdam. He has been the Creative Director for the agency KesselsKramer in Amsterdam, London and Los Angeles since 1996 and he works for national and international clients. He has published a series of book projects, such as Missing Links (1999), The Instant Men (2000), in almost every picture (2001-2013) and Wonder (2006). Since 2000, he has been an editor of the alternative photography magazine Useful Photography. For the DVD art project Loud & Clear he worked together with artists such as Marlene Dumas and Candice Breitz. He writes for international magazines and has lectured at the D&AD President's Lecture as well as at several international design conferences, including, in Singapore, Goa, New York, Toronto and Bangkok. He has taught at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy and at the Amsterdam Academy of Architecture. He has curated exhibitions such as The European Championship of Graphic Design, Graphic Detour, Loving Your Pictures, Use me Abuse me, 24HRS in Photos and Album Beauty and co-curated the exhibition From Here on together with Martin Parr, Joachim Schmid, Clement Cheroux and Joan Fontuberta. In 2010, he was awarded the Amsterdam Prize of the Arts and, in 2012, he was voted the most influential creative professional in the Netherlands. In 2013, he was represented with exhibitions at the Victoria&Albert Museum in London, at the International photography festival in Arles and at Museum Pier 24 in San Francisco. In 2016, he was nominated for the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize. He has already been showcased at the NRW-Forum Düsseldorf, in 2015, with his work "My Feet“ at the international group exhibition Ego Update. The future of the digital identity.
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