Erik Kessels' Best of 2017

Christian Boltanski’s After in Amsterdam’s Oude Kerk
This recently-opened exhibition in the Oude Kerk in Amsterdam is a real must-see. It’s a radical and site-specific exhibition by Christian Boltanski, who is known as one of the greatest artists in the world, with a ouevre that deals with the way we remember and commemorate. In the Oude Kerk, with its eight centuries of history and 2,200 memorial stones, his work is very much at home. The artist is creating a site-specific composition consisting of seven different works that address the existential question of what happens after our life has come to an end. Considering Boltanski made a bet on his own life, a bet which expired this year, this work is very much autobiographical.
After is an exhibition that is expected to have a profound impact on the audience. The installations, which are in proportion to the size of the centuries-old church, are invasive and they address the visitor even in a literal sense. Over 50 black tombs, varying in size and height, arise from the existing gravestones, creating a new architectural layer. In between are so-called hommes qui marchent, walking figures. When you get close they ask you a question, like: “Tell me, are you lonely?”, “Tell me, where is your home?” In the nave of the church lay coats worn by numerous inhabitants of the Amsterdam Red Light neighourhood. After the exhibition they will be returned to their owners.
Sébastien Girard’s My Tv girls photobook
It’s amazing the amount of bizarre stuff you can buy on the internet, but sometimes you get lucky and find a real gem. One day, on eBay of all places, Sébastien Girard hit the photographic jackpot. 993 images, taken over the course of four years painstakingly collected in 12 albums depicting hundreds of women over countless hours on one little TV. These images might be the story of a serial killer in training or a collection of short, one-sided love stories. There are almost 1000 Polaroid images, each with a cryptic description written in marker on the back, things like: “Invisible Jeans – New in Calif”.
The brilliantly titled My Tv girls is a fascinatingly bizarre collection; thinking about the why of it all is enough to send you mad. What Girard has managed to piece together about the creator of this extensive archive of 1970’s American female TV personalities is this: He was an American called Tom. He lived alone. In 1978 he bought a Polaroid camera and he likes TV and women a lot.
Naomi Harris’ Kickstarter campaign for the book EUSA
While eating Bavarian gingerbread in Georgia, USA photographer Naomi Harris unwittingly stumbled uncovered a cross-continental appreciation society. Harris visited an ex-logging town that had re-invented itself in the form of a European-style Alpine village in order to attract tourists. She then set out to discover whether there were more towns paying homage to European culture and customs within her homeland. What she discovered and subsequently documented was Americans embracing European cultural histories, and Wild West enthusiasts based in Europe. Her project EUSA documents American towns going to extreme lengths to celebrate tulip festivals and Oktoberfest and Europeans doing their darndest to recreate the Wild Wild West. It’s a small world after all. Harris promoted and funded this project of hers on Kickstarter, in her own very funny and original way.
Paul Bogaers’ new series The Forest
Paul Bogaers is a master in assembling and combining photographs to create something new and unexpected. His work employs a mix of found photography and images that he has created himself, and his latest series is called The Forest. Bogaers accumulates photographs and objects that he provided with a certain sculptural quality, slowly transforming a two-dimensional experience into a three-dimensional one. The photographs of women in trees in this series become tactile in their handcrafted frames, and the trees grow out of their frames into real ones. Bogaer’s boundless energy and curiosity allows him to play and stretch the ideas of traditional photography like a contortionist in a circus.
Piotr Uklanski’s Real Nazis, book and exhibition
A book and exhibition by Piotr Uklanski that I saw this summer in Kassel at Documenta. The book, published by Edition Patrick Frey, is a sequel to his 1999 publication, The Nazis – the original was controversial, but this follow up takes things one step further. Images of bona-fide Nazis are mixed with Nazi-fied representations of film stars, celebrities and artistic representations of ‘the perfect Nazi’, posing questions as to the validity of these people’s affiliation with the Nazi movement. The combination of images says so much about the way Nazis used propaganda, and then uses the same photographs to question the identity and representation of the Nazi image.