Review: Exhibition Kim Zwarts, BenC Gallery, Alexander Battalaan 51, Maastricht 2011.02.27-2011.04.15
What is the human condition? We are stuck somewhere between nature and culture, between not knowing and knowing. We different from the rest of nature because we are equipped with the consciousness to reflect on nature and on ourselves. But this consciousness doesn’t allow us to fully comprehend the world. What remains is the drive. The drive to get to know the world, to get to know the human condition. There are two ways to investigate the human condition: art and science. Art is the way of Kim Zwarts.
Kim Zwarts has been a student of human nature for many years now. He is an internationally acclaimed architecture photographer. He has been photographing the products of human nature for over 30 years. Architecture is a really good, although indirect, way to study human nature. Architecture is the most tangible expression of humanity. It is the expression with the most day to day impact. Other arts, like painting, are also expressions of humanity, but they lack the everyday impact. We are surrounded by architecture most of the time. And when we are not surrounded by architecture, we are surrounded by nature. It can be ‘real’ natural nature of cultured nature. Nature is things that grow in a certain way, have a certain structure, material and color. What Kim Zwarts tells us in his’ US.2009/2011′ photo series is that urban landscapes and natural landscapes are basically the same. The confrontation between the images of nature and of urban landscapes is very expressive. Both are constantly growing and changing in a way that is not controlled by anybody. Cities and nature have to grow, you cannot design them as a whole. There are interventions by city planners and landscape designers, but the final urban landscapes are guided by forces beyond our control. We could call these forces nature. So nature is also at work in the urban landscapes. Human nature.
Maybe this is also true for good individual buildings, maybe they have to grow as well. Maybe a good building grows from the interaction between the architect and the building. Or as Geert Bekaert puts it: “The work conceives and makes itself and the architect helps it to come into the world.”
Architects are obsessed with their buildings. In architecture photography it’s mostly about making this one building look as cool as possible. The place in the fabric of the city, people using the building, the building in bad weather and imperfect angles are not really popular with architects. But the reality is that there is no architectural masterpiece on every street corner. Most of the time the urban landscape is filled with nondescript anonymous buildings guided by other principles than our contemporary ideas of architectural beauty. They are not necessarily ugly, but they represent a different beauty than the one we find in architectural magazines and books. It’s a bit like the difference between the photoshopped supermodels you see in magazines and normal people on the street. Zwarts’ photos in the ‘US.2009/2011′ series compare to glossy architecture photos in the way Rineke Dijkstra’s photos of everyday people compare to glossy supermodel photos. The photographs are still extremely aesthetic and stylized, but they show a different beauty, a more everyday beauty of the world around us. A beauty that is more touching. A beauty that is closer to us. A beauty of the ordinary. Through the artistic qualities of the photographer the ordinary is elevated to the sphere of the monumental. Somehow seeing beauty in everyday life seems more valuable.
There are no people in the photos of Kim Zwarts. Solitary cars and trees live in his pictures. Sometimes they stand in little groups, but most of the time they are alone. The absence of humans can be felt. You know they must be somewhere, but you cannot see them. The architecture is free of human beings so we don’t reflect on the individual humans but on humanity as a whole. We examine humanity by its footprints, by the marks it leaves.
The nice thing about great art like Kim Zwarts’ is that is not only for looking at, it also gives you new eyes to look at things anew.
Kim Zwarts: Phoenix \ 07.03.2010
Architecture doesn’t tell stories. It is the backdrop for stories, personal stories, personal projections. For me architectural images are an answer to argument between Mondriaan and van Doesburg. The painters Mondriaan and van Doesburg got into a big fight about whether lines in a Neo-Plastic painting should be limited to horizontals and verticals. Mondriaan was on the 90 degree position and van Doesburg believed that lines in 45 degree angles were the true modern way to go. The argument was so fierce between them that Mondriaan left De Stijl. Art history told us that Mondriaan was the most right. Mondriaan and van Doesburg wanted to make a truly abstract image without any depth or space. Their efforts told us that a painting without depth is impossible. Colors have their own spatiality and even Malevich’s black square has depth. So an element of figuration is always present. Architectural images combine the best of both worlds. Through the play of lines abstract compositions of planes are created, while still being figurative in the sense that they depict real objects, figures. I think in the end the perspective line of architecture is a great answer to Mondriaan and van Doesburg’s argument. The perspective line creates the planes needed for abstract compositions while still connecting to reality and the way we perceive it normally. The perspective line is between the 90 and the 45 degrees of Mondriaan and van Doesburg. The perspective line is actually a horizontal line, tilted by the force of perspective. The way the perspective lines work to create great compositions can be seen in the ‘US.2009/2011′ series.
Kim Zwart’s urban landscape images also connect to the paintings of Mondriaan because of his use of color. Zwarts images are in greyscales for the most part. This links to the black and white base of Mondriaans paintings. Certain parts are accented by colors to create an extra layer of spatiality. They almost look like they are colored in like Mondriaan used to color particular planes to bring the composition to life.
Finally Zwarts and Mondriaan share a fascination for trees. Mondriaan came to his famous abstract style by creating different versions of a tree. In several iterations he translated the structure in nature, in the tree, into a structure for abstract compositions. A similar fascination for and dialogue between the structure in nature and abstraction can be seen in the work of Kim Zwarts.