post editions

A Contrived PastKorrie Besems

from the press Mrs. Deane

... Korrie Besems, who has been documenting the rise (or better: conquest) of neotraditionalism in a country which has had a longstanding modernistic tradition in architecture. Having gone over several projects (verzonnen verleden and vinexatie #1) on her website, I wondered why she wasn't included in the Kröller-Müller show as it would have fitted in quite well within the conceptual framework of the exhibition:

Worldwide, 'Dutch landscape' still evokes an immediate mental picture: the picture of the idyllic agrarian landscape that is rooted in the tradition of Dutch landscape painting. However, the Netherlands, like many other countries, has changed radically in its function over the last century, and has thus also altered in its appearance. Affected by a global reordering of production and industry, the agrarian function of the landscape is making way for suburbanisation, recreation, industrial and business parks and infrastructure for transportation. Today it is precisely the planning, the artificial manner in which the Dutch manipulate their landscape and nature in a continual and far-reaching way, for which The Netherlands is internationally famed.

Besems shows how this 'mental picture' of an idyllic Hollland seamlessly meets with the articificial manner in which we manipulate our landscape. Give people what they want, seems to be the credo of the neotraditionalist (or neo-romantic) project developers, and what the Dutch people seem to crave is endless copies of Vermeer-like streets, identical rows of Dudok-style houses, blazing white 'colonial style' villas and even 'reborn' versions of post war architecture from the fifties. It seems the country is gripped by a collective kind of weird homesickness. Of course the project developers themselves aren't, for these retro-buildings may look old, they are not built with the same kind or quality of materials and, worse, not with the same eye for detail, which is what makes or breaks the realness of these modern copies. You can't see this really well on Besems postcard-like and rather straightforward pictures, but when inspected close-up the illusion of traditional architecture falls apart and the uncanny feeling sets in of walking around in an elaborate film set rather than in real world homes and streets. What I find even more uncanny is how this doesn't seem to bother anyone - the sales rates in these new neighbourhoods are amazing. Impressions and simulations seem to be as good as the real thing. This can only mean that people who fall for this kind of architecture are guided by their sentiments rather than by their ability (or even: their wish) to see things as they are. Disconcerting is what I find it.

June 13, 2008

Last week a friend of ours went to the presentation of Korrie Besems' new book A contrived past and lend it to us to look at and possibly do something in the way of review on it for the blog. I've posted about this Dutch photographer before and instead of repeating myself, I'll limit myself to saying a few words about the book, preceded by a lengthy quote from Maurice Berger's essay taken from yesterday's book by Robbins and Becher, as the respective projects of these artists echo another in a certain way. Where Becher and Robbins are fascinated by the transportation of place, likewise Korrie Besems can be said to be fascinated by the transportation of time in modern Dutch architecture. Berger:

The work that results from Robbins and Becher's process functions on a number of aesthetic, conceptual, and ideological levels, from cultural criticism to social activism. Preeminently, they critique the exploitative power of signs taken for truth, the extent to which the Western eye confuses visual resemblance - especially when it functions as a direct trace of the world, as in photography, video and film - with reality itself. This 'certitude of signs', as Homi Bhabha calls it, the Westerner's 'compulsion to believe' in the veracity of visual images, exposes the eye and mind to all manner of manipulation. 'Reality shows' on television pass off contrived stunts, infantile games, and staged events as spontaneous slices of everyday life. Theme parks and even contemporary cities build tacky simulacra of other places [..] that are for many as desirable and engaging as the real thing.

When reading this I wondered wether the 'compulsion to believe' in the veracity of the visual really is typical for the Westerner's eye only, or if it is [or was] also found in other cultures. If Berger is right in what he says, it would come to me as somewhat of a relief. It would mean alternatives still exist and escape routes out of the compulsion to believe are still open. The thought of living in a monoculture is simply unbearable for me. - But back to the book.

Our friend who attended the book presentation told about the problems Korrie Besems had with finding someone to publish her work, but when you see the actual book it is hard to understand why it should have been so difficult. Episode publishers did a wonderful job in chosing the right size and graphic format for Korrie's work. The book is large yet easy in the handling due to its unusual portrait size of 340 mm high and 215 mm wide. The large format photographs, in Korrie's typical rather cool but saturated color palette, each fill out an entire page spread. Each image is followed by a page spread in a uniform beige printed with a single line of a poem by Ingmar Heytze. These in-between pages serve as a kind of backing to the photographs, preventing the image from showing through on the next page. Text is there, but tastefully placed at the back of the book, as it should be with many photographic publications, and takes the shape of an essay on the rise of this odd neo-traditionalist architecture, with which the country is flooded since the last decade or so. This essay isn't available in English, so I won't go into it other than saying it adds some background and discussion material for those - like me - interested in recent developments in Dutch residential architecture, but Korrie's work is just fine without these texts. Oh, one final remark: contrary to the Robbins & Becher book, the texts are properly printed on matt paper, not glossy, so reading is a joy no matter under what lighting conditions. Hats off to Episode publishers for taking care of those small details, which really make the book work! At €29.50 the price is a little heftier than the €9.90 from yesterday's publication, but that's because this one is freshly printed - and it almost smells like the new houses pictured in it too! No doubt in few years it will surface in the ramsj as well, if you can wait that long. We will just have to borrow it from our friend just a little longer ...

Update 30.04: Korrie send me note, that the book has also been published in an English version under the title A contrived past. Now there is really nothing keeping you from adding it to your library.

Mrs. Deane | Mar 31, 2009

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