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The Many Lives of Erik Kessels

Open to the public:
May 22, 2019 – August 18, 2019.
Tuesday - Sunday 12:00 – 19:00.
Closed on Mondays and public holidays.
Curator: Claudia Küssel

For the Hungarian audience it is worth noting the name of Erik Kessels, the Dutch artist, designer and curator. Hosted by the Mai Manó House, the exhibition The Many Lives of Erik Kessels presents the artist’s photographic body of work by way of seventeen projects and an installation comprising many hundreds of photos and occupying entire spaces. The first presentation of three new works by Kessels adds to the importance and special nature of the exhibition at the Mai Manó House. The new works are a video piece and two new photography books: Budapest Beauties, a work specifically relating to the Hungarian capital, and another work compiled in conjunction with the Horus Archives and forming part of the series In almost every picture.

Over the twenty years of his career, Kessels has come to the fore as one of the main and unquestionable points of reference in the field of so-called ‘found photography’ with Time Magazine even calling him a visual sorcerer. Instead of shooting new images, for most of his projects he brings together pre-existent photographs and reuses them as tiles to form his own mosaic. He is a photographer without a camera or even a lens: in his practice, photography is a ready-made element to be sampled and re-contextualized in keeping with a Dadaist matrix. The result is a sort of image-neutral approach, through which nothing is added to the enormous quantity of imagery which now crowds out the world and grows exponentially day by day, but which on the contrary merely recoups and recycles that which is already available.

The Many Lives of Erik Kessels traces the entire photographic career of the Dutch artist through a detailed exhibition itinerary featuring hundreds of images. In total there are more than seventeen series on show, as well as a great number of books and magazines. What all these have in common is the main image deposit which Kessels draws on. The photographs of his works are taken from the widest range of archives: scientific, industrial, public and private, from family albums to the boundless seas of Internet imagery. The results constitute openly anti-authoritarian projects, based on criteria which are not the expression of an official power exerted from above for the purpose of controlling and ordering, but deriving from personal choices. The model is that of the Wunderkammer, often cited as among the forefathers of the modern museum, here mitigated by the explicit rejection of any exclusive possession. Further, he introduces the criterion of the narrative, exploring stories that may be true or fictional, which are often absurd, provocative, humorous – and far from the usual conventions.

In Almost Every Picture #10 – Images of pigs being bottle-fed by clients in the Montreal restaurant Au Lutin Qui Bouffe. 2011 © Erik Kessels
In Almost Every Picture #10 – Images of pigs being bottle-fed by clients in the Montreal restaurant Au Lutin Qui Bouffe. 2011 © Erik Kessels
In Almost Every Picture #1 – Portraits of a woman taken by her husband over a period of 12 years. 2002 © Erik Kessels
In Almost Every Picture #1 – Portraits of a woman taken by her husband over a period of 12 years. 2002 © Erik Kessels
In Almost Every Picture #7 – The story of Ria van Dijk, a Dutch woman whose life is seen from the point of view of a fairground shooting gallery. 2008 © Erik Kessels
In Almost Every Picture #7 – The story of Ria van Dijk, a Dutch woman whose life is seen from the point of view of a fairground shooting gallery. 2008 © Erik Kessels
In Almost Every Picture #11 – An obsession spanning decades: Fred photographs Valerie with her clothes on in the water. 2012 © Erik Kessels
In Almost Every Picture #11 – An obsession spanning decades: Fred photographs Valerie with her clothes on in the water. 2012 © Erik Kessels
In Almost Every Picture #13 – The most common mistake in the history of image-making: the attack of the giant finger. 2014 © Erik Kessels
In Almost Every Picture #13 – The most common mistake in the history of image-making: the attack of the giant finger. 2014 © Erik Kessels

The Many Lives of Erik Kessels is thus in turn a great act of accumulation. First of all, of forms of display in which photography and design find each other in a perfect symbiosis: from framed and unframed images, hanging on walls or lying on the floor, using light-boxes, cubes, wallpaper, portrait holders and projections, it constitutes at the same time a synthesis and a de-construction of every possible photographic exhibition. Secondly in terms of photographs: there are no genres, artists, eras or geographical areas excluded from Kessels’s omnivorous research. Right down to the offcuts: instead of being a mishap to be carefully avoided, here on the contrary the error becomes an attractive and meaningful element. It’s what makes a photograph special. A sign of its vitality. Kessels rummages among the wastebaskets of photographers, bringing discarded images back to life from a completely fresh perspective. Finally, the exhibition brings together and organizes the roles played by Erik Kessel – which are different in every project he undertakes – and it presents three of his new works: a video piece and two new photography books: Budapest Beauties, a work specifically relating to the Hungarian capital, and another work compiled in conjunction with the Horus Archives and forming part of the series In almost every picture.

Born in Holland, in 1966, Erik Kessels is an artist, designer and curator with a special interest in photography. Starting from 1998, he has published over 60 books, mainly exploiting archive photographs, both through his own publishing house, KesselsKramer Publishing, and with other publishers around the world. He is founder of the magazine Useful Photography, launched on an international basis in 2001. For the project Loud & Clear, brought together in a DVD, he collaborated with artists like Marlene Dumas, Ryuichi Sakamoto and Candice Breitz. He has taught in numerous universities and academies, including the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam, the ECAL in Lausanne and the Amsterdam Academy of Architecture, where he curated an exhibition dedicated to amateur photography. Co-curator of the exhibition featured at the Rencontres in Arles, From Here On with Martin Parr, Joachim Schmid, Clément Chéroux and Joan Fontcuberta, in 2010 he won the prestigious Amsterdam Prize of the Arts. In 2016 he was shortlisted for the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize. In 2017 his mid-career retrospective was shown in Turin and Düsseldorf. From March 30–August 4, 2019 his well known installation 24 hours photos is exhibited at the SF MOMA in snap+share: transmitting photographs from mail art to social networks.

Talk

On May 22nd the Mai Manó House organizes a talk with Erik Kessels from 6 pm.