11 July 2012 Interviews
Unseen had the chance to speak to WassinkLundgren, the Dutch duo based in London and Beijing. Thijs groot Wassink (1981) and Ruben Lundgren (1983) work in partnership on various projects, focusing on photography and film, and playfully turn some of the unwritten rules of these media upside down. At Unseen, WassinkLundgren will be showing a new body of work in a solo presentation at Van Zoetendaal Collections.
Could you tell us about your photographic partnership? Can you explain your creative process?
Sure. We met at the Utrecht School of the Arts in 2005. We became friends, shared the same interests and our collaboration seemed like the most logical thing to do. It was simply more fun to do things together. And it's great to be able to bounce ideas off one another. As our work is often conceptually driven this is a really useful element in our collaboration. Since late 2007 we have lived in both London and Beijing, so we have become heavy Skype users. That tool is a life-saver!
How would you describe your work? What would you say is the most prominent theme in your work?
This question is always challenging. Greg Hobson of the National Media Museum in the UK described it very accurately by saying that we work on photography and film projects that "shift mundane, often unnoticeable, everyday occurrences into visually compelling and gently amusing observations of the world around us". This, together with an interest in how the medium itself works - or distorts the thing we're looking at - is among the important aspects in our work. It is visible in almost all projects. From Don't Smile Now.... Save it for Later! (2008) to Hans Kemna: Catalogue (2008), and from Empty Bottles (2007) to Luxiaoben (2011).
When someone looks at your work, how would you like them to feel?
A short moment of confusion or a laugh would be a good reaction for us. A while ago we heard the word 'mind fuck' in relation to our work. That expression is actually quite suitable. It is great when our work leads to a minor mind fuck that leaves the viewer slightly puzzled.
From the series Empty Bottles, 2007 © WassinkLundgren (Flowers Gallery, Uncommon Ground)
Could you tell us about your Tokyo Tokyo and Empty Bottles series?
Oh, where to begin from.. Well, perhaps the shortest way of describing these projects would be the following. Tokyo Tokyo is a body of work in which we both photographed the same subject, roughly at the same time, but from a different angle. This makes the people in the photographs almost sculptural and the images feel a little like a distorted 3D picture. For Empty Bottles, then, we photographed people picking up the empty bottles we laid in front of our view camera. It is a documentary project, as we documented a tiny part of the recycling industry in Beijing and Shanghai, while it at the same time prods the notion of documentary photography.
Tokyo Tokyo and Empty Bottles series have been published in limited edition photography books. We recently spoke to co-founder of Radius Books and Assistant Director of the Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco, Darius Himes, and he mentioned that there is currently a “deep love and interest in the photography book.” Would you agree? What do you think is the importance of photography books?
Yes, we agree with this - without a doubt. A "deep love and interest in the photography book" is a nice way of putting it, as it often is referred to as a "hype". The fact that we actually know more people making photo books than people buying them, is, however, slightly scary. Part of the attractiveness of making books probably lies in the fact that it is relatively easy and also accessible for the audience. It is like a stage on which you can display your thinking or tell your story: we are no exception to this trend. Despite the hype, the basic criteria for a good photo book have not changed much over the years. The best quote on this would be John Gossage in The Photobook: A History: “Firstly, it should contain great work. Secondly, it should make that work function as a concise world within the book itself. Thirdly, it should have a design that complements what is being dealt with.” The recipe is still as simple is that.
From the series Project Zuidas, 2012 © WassinkLundgren/Van Zoetendaal Collections
What’s next for WassinkLundgren?
Unseen Photo Fair. Shortly after that we shall have a solo show at Foam, which we are really looking forward to. We are also very excited about a different kind of project we embarked on approximately four years ago: a publication and a show on the history of the Chinese photo book. For this project we have been sourcing Chinese photo books in collaboration with Martin Parr. In 2013 all this should end up as a show at Arles, and a little later as a book published by Aperture. But that's still a long way away.
WassinkLundgren will be represented by Van Zoetendaal Collections at Unseen. For more information on the duo, see their profile here or their personal website wassinklundgren.com.