Francesco Zanot for Camera – Italian Centre for Photography: The Many Lives of Erik Kessels

The Many Lives of Erik Kessels, curated by Fantom’s Francesco Zanot, is on view at Camera – Italian Centre for Photography from 1st June until 30th July 2017. The exhibit offers the first solo retrospective dedicated to the photographic work of the Dutch artist, designer and publisher Erik Kessels.

Over the 20 years of his career, Kessels has come to the fore as a main and unquestionable reference in the field of so-called ‘found photography’. 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-contextualised.

The result is a sort of eco-system of images, 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 there.

On display throughout the entire Camera exhibition spaces, 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 twenty-seven series on show, as well as a great number of books and magazines published by the now famous publishing house founded by Kessels himself as well as by other publishers. Along a non-linear and non-chronological itinerary, we come across monumental works, more intimate and private series, authentic icons of the whole universe of ‘found photography’, not to mention more recent and even previously unseen work.

Among the works on show, 24hrs of Photos literally invades the exhibition space with a mountain made up of prints of all the images, hundreds of thousands of them, uploaded onto the Internet in a single day. My Feet, a majestic installation made up exclusively of images of the feet of those behind the camera, immediately introduces the concepts of repetition and archiving. Valery, a woman who throughout her life had her photograph taken underwater; Oolong, the equilibrist rabbit, and a dog too black to appear correctly in photographs are just some of the protagonists of In Almost Every Picture, a cycle of 14 projects each revolving around an obsessively repetitive figure. My Sister is a video taken from a home-movie dedicated entirely to a table-tennis match between the artist and his sister, who tragically died in a road accident at the age of just nine. Album Beauty is a whole room dedicated to the phenomenon of family albums: among Kessels’s privileged subjects, democratically reappraising amateur photographers, and turning the spotlights of artistic research onto them.

The Many Lives of Erik Kessels thus in turn constitutes a great act of accumulation. First of all in terms of display: featuring framed and unframed images, hanging from walls and laid on the ground, using lightboxes, cubes, wallpaper, portrait frames and projections, it first of all provides a synthesis and a de-construction of every possible photo show. And of photographs, for of course there are no genres, artists, epochs or geographies excluded from Kessels omnivorous research. Right down to the cast-offs: instead of being a blight to be carefully avoided, here on the contrary the error becomes an attractive and meaningful element. That’s what makes a photograph special; a mark of its vitality. Kessels rummages through the photographers’ waste, restoring it to the collective gaze from an entirely renewed stance. It is also from here that the often ferocious and desecrating irony of his work stems. Laughter has a liberating and purifying function. It allows Kessels to dig down deep, plummeting every form of hypocrisy and expressing a deep affection both for the involuntary protagonists of his photographic pantheon and for photography itself.

The exhibition is accompanied by a book of over 500 pages published on this occasion by Aperture, New York, with texts by Hans Aarsman, Simon Baker, Erik Kessels, Sandra S. Phillips and Francesco Zanot.

Erik Kessels (born in Roermond, the Netherlands, 1966) is a Dutch artist, designer, and curator with a great interest in photography. Since 1996, Kessels has been designer of the communications agency KesselsKramer in Amsterdam. As an artist and photography curator, Kessels has published over sixty books of reappropriated images, including Missing Links (1999), The Instant Men (2000), in almost every picture (2001–15), and Wonder (2006). Since 2000, he has been an editor of the alternative photography magazine Useful Photography. For the DVD art project Loud & Clear, Kessels worked with artists such as Marlene Dumas and Candice Breitz. His bestselling book Failed It! (2016) is an inspirational guide for creatives, students, and young professionals on the art of making mistakes. He writes regular editorials for numerous international magazines, and has spoken at several international design conferences, ranging from Singapore and Goa, India, to New York, Toronto, and Bangkok. He has taught at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie, Amsterdam; ECAL, Lausanne, Switzerland; and Amsterdam Academy of Architecture, where he curated a celebration of amateurism. Kessels has made and curated exhibitions such as Loving Your Pictures, Use Me Abuse Me, 24hrs in Photos, Album Beauty, and Unfinished Father. In 2010 Kessels was awarded the Amsterdam Prize for the Arts, and in 2016 he was nominated for the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize for his project Unfinished Father.

The Many Lives of Erik Kessels
From June 1 to June 30, 2017
Camera – Italian Centre for Photography 
Via delle Rosine 18, Turin