As Unseen Amsterdam opens in the impressive Westergas cultural park, George H King highlights some of the Dutch capital’s less-known photography spaces and initiatives
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Maurice Scheltens and Liesbeth Abbenes have long been preoccupied by perspective. In fact, this year is the 18th that the artist duo – partners in life, as well as in work – have spent creating their painstakingly controlled scenes to capture on camera together. Translating their immaculately constructed three-dimensional sets into technically precise two-dimensional images, they have made a name for themselves with rich, playful and illusory works that toy with spatial dimensions, and which, though aesthetically pleasing, are conceptually rigorous first and foremost. The concept, Abbenes assures us, always precedes the picture.
Their spring exhibition at Amsterdam’s Foam Museum (from 15 March to 05 June) is something like a retrospective, giving the Dutch duo an opportunity to look back over almost two decades of work from a new perspective. And true to form, they are first rearranging the rooms their work will inhabit by uncovering windows that have not been opened in many years. “We will have light and some fresh air, hopefully. We have to give up walls for that, but it’s good to have a bit of the outside world coming in,” they say. Shifting the dimensions and conditions of the space itself will alter the way viewers see the work, and that typifies their approach to the exhibition, rethinking how the works will appear in this new context, and how they relate to each other.
A group show of contemporary Czech photography, Tender is dedicated to work that “registers vulnerabilities of people and their environments – the bruises on the fruit”. The selected photographers include image-makers such as Tereza Zelenková, Vendula Knopová, and Hana Knížová, for example, who adopt widely varying styles but can all be seen to investigate this idea in their selected work.
“Remember, ‘tender’ also means a bid and this exhibition is a part of a program established to promote the Czech Republic abroad,” write the exhibition curator Michal Nanoru. “Are you going to accept the offer?”
In 2016, Natascha Libbert was commissioned to photograph the sea locks of IJmuiden – large constructions which allow ships and boats access to the Dutch port, and which are therefore of tremendous importance to the economy of the Netherlands, and in particular the port of Amsterdam further downriver. But while they’re important, they’re not necessarily exciting photographic subjects, and some of what makes them significant is hard to pin down visually – as is shown by the phrases and thoughts that the Dutch photographer jotted down in her notebook while working on the project, such as “man-made landscape”, “90 per cent of all trade is transported by sea”, and “at sea, the brain receives 85 per cent less information than on land”.