Several of the artists featured in Nature as Artifice travelled to Rochester to help us install the exhibition. We had a great time hosting our Dutch guests and hope to work with them again. We have some ideas for future projects but in the meantime we asked Cary Markerink & Theo Baart to write something about their project for the blog. They sent a great description of the project and images of their Snelweg series installed in different venues. Enjoy!
Snelweg: Highways in the Netherlands by Cary Markerink & Theo Baart
The Netherlands is a small country with a population of 16 million people. It would easily fit four times into New York State. Space is scarce. Since the 1970s the country has been transformed into a big suburbia, interconnected by a grid of highways and railroad-tracks. We were looking for a metaphor for this transformation of the Dutch landscape (and in a broader perspective Dutch culture) and we decided the highway could showcase the changed country in it’s frantic rush towards economic progress.
Since the Dutch prefer to look at “high culture” rather then reflect upon the “low culture” – the suburban landscape – it was difficult to find funding for our project. It forced us to take the lead. We subsequently became the producers, photographers, publishers and designers of the project. For the publication we had in mind we invited the American-born Dutch writer Tracy Metz who contributed an elaborate essay on the phenomena of the Dutch Highway. When designing the photo-book we choose a linear form. We had photographed in a mix of styles – using a variety of cameras and film – reflecting on the changes that had occurred in landscape-photography since the seventies. Every spread of the book was different; we used gatefolds, grids, full-bleed pages and included a typographical landscape as a double-gatefold, using the names of underpasses which in the Netherlands are called after the historical locations present before the highway was constructed there.
We presented Highways in the Netherlands for the first time in 1996 in The Kunsthal in Rotterdam. Again we used a linear concept and designed an installation on a 25 meter long wall: a floating composition based on a line of large photographs which we connected by placing smaller prints above and below them using a mix of frames. On the opposite wall we placed the typographical landscape of names, which then reflected in the glass frames of the photographs. At the opening of the exhibition we organized a symposium where 400 invited people attended: leading architects, city-planners, policymakers and journalists. We gave away 400 copies of our book. The project generated a lot of publicity at the time, but mainly because of the themes we addressed. The discussion about the vernacular landscape was stimulated.
It took years before the photographic form of our project was appreciated but since 1996 Snelweg was presented in Moscow, at the Naarden Foto-fest, in Otterlo, in Munich and now in Rochester. Every time we put together a slightly different installation as our ideas about the presentation evolve.
But we stay loyal to J.B. Jackon’s observation (from his 1994 book ‘A sense of place, a sense of time), which we had used as the motto of our project: “Roads no longer merely lead to places; they are places.”
Jessica Johnston is an Assistant Curator in the Department of Photographs at George Eastman House. She manages numerous exhibitions and projects at the museum including our recent participation on the Flickr Commons.