#2 In conversation with Erik Kessels & Thomas Mailaender

by Unseen September 04 2017

There are many exciting things in store at Unseen Amsterdam 2017. At this year’s edition, we are delighted to announce that Erik Kessels and Thomas Mailaender will welcome you to their ‘Photo Pleasure Palace’, a special place dedicated to fun and frivolity.

Thomas Mailaender is a French multimedia artist and photographer based in France. He is the unparalleled master of re-appropriating unclassifiable imagery in a completely new and often totally unexpected way.

Erik Kessels is a Dutch art-director, artist, curator and the co-founder of advertising agency KesselsKramer. He has published many books covering a wide range of subjects, including the importance of failing, and most recently a mid-career retrospective entitled ‘The Many Lives of Erik Kessels’.

Both artists work with the re-appropriation of images, gathering inspiration and material from the weird and wonderful world of the Internet, as well as flea markets, second hand shops, and photo albums. Both are insatiable and compulsive collectors of photography, as well as keen observers of sociological patterns. These are two people who take the absurd and ridiculous very, very seriously.

In this feature, we get to know Thomas and Erik a bit better to find out more about how they work and what they have in store for their intriguing ‘Photo Pleasure Palace’.

Where does your fascination with photography come from?

EKMy fascination with photography got more intense throughout my job as an art-director and designer. I frequently work with photographers and always surround myself with images for inspiration. I have an aversion to ‘perfect’ images though, so for many years I would get inspired by images made by amateurs. This so-called vernacular photography is less hermetically sealed than ‘regular’ photography, which often lacks naivety, mistakes and humour. With the ‘Photo Pleasure Palace’, our aim is to really try and emphasise these emotions.

TM: I did my studies at École des Art Décoratifs in Paris where I specialised in photography. We were taught about the Official Photographic History, so I became obsessed with images that resisted this framework. It was the beginning of the Internet and I could see that new techniques of sharing images would totally change the game. I met Erik ten years ago and ever since we have had a constant exchange about these topics. We witnessed the great new momentum for photography together.

How do you see the role of people in contemporary photography? How do they define photography?

EK/TM: There’s a large group of contemporary photographers that work with online images only; there are so many images available that it is quite possible to work solely with these. A photo camera has become a tool for the contemporary photographer to execute an idea rather than a medium in itself. This new way of working and re-appropriating existing images brings an enormous freedom and playfulness to the work. You could say that photographers nowadays use their eye better than before. You don’t need a camera nowadays to become a photographer. The great thing about this moment in time is that photography is a totally democratic craft, everyone is a specialist and it just comes down to who has a new brilliant idea.

How did the idea for ‘Photo Pleasure Palace’ come to life? And what is the idea behind it?

EK/TM: We both decided that it’s important to be much more playful with photography as it is lacking in humour. Unseen Amsterdam is the perfect place to play and interact with this idea. The ‘Photo Pleasure Palace’ will be a combination of a photographic exhibition, installation and a fun fair. It has seven main attractions and shows the visitors how they can interact and experience photography in new and innovative ways. In this exhibition, we try to make the viewers take a closer look at the photography that surrounds them. We want them to stop being passive and to actively interact and search for answers, because by detaching images from their original context you can change the way that they are viewed. Through the processes of selection and curation you can enhance an existing story. You can never completely alter the image or create something that wasn’t there already, but you can boost different elements. We want to create an opportunity for people to pause and take a moment out of their daily image consumption to discover something new.

Which perspective does the idea focus on? Are you more concerned with the visitor’s vision, your personal vision, or something completely different?

EKPersonally, I always feel the need to try and change the way people experience photography and images. An exhibition containing just a line of framed photographs on the wall will soon be history; there are so many more ways to enjoy and experience imagery.

TMWe have had the idea for this exhibition for a long time, we just needed to find the right moment to make it happen. It is great to get the chance to do it with Unseen Amsterdam. While the galleries show all kinds of photography, we like the idea that visitors can enjoy photography in a different way. We like to play with the medium of photography and hopefully help the visitors understand that there are so many ways to interact with imagery.

What roles did each of you take during this process?

EKThomas and I are close friends, we have worked together many times and both share the same passion for art and photography. I think it works well that even though we know each other well, we still don’t feel entirely comfortable with another. When coming up with ideas, we fire each other up and try to reach a place where we haven’t yet been. A good amount of humour and irony is also very important in our collaboration.

TM: I see a physical explanation to our collaboration, Erik is around two meters in height and I barely reach one meter 75 centimetres. Like my father used to say: size matters, so while I can get a close and direct view, Erik is able to get more distance.

What do you anticipate visitors will take away from their experience at the ‘Photo Pleasure Palace’ and which element of the exhibition is your personal favourite?

EK: The idea of the ‘Photo Pleasure Palace’ started with the ‘Smash Gallery’, which is a gallery where you can release some energy after looking at lots of images. The aim is to try and hit your favourite image on the wall by breaking the glass. The image is sealed in plastic, so if you manage to hit the glass you can keep it as a souvenir.  

TM: Another physical interaction that we are proposing involves literally jumping into a picture. Some stairs are provided to give some height and from there you jump onto a big airbag that has a huge picture of Donald Trump’s face printed on it. We call this installation ‘Jump Trump’. There will also be a ‘Photo Fortune Teller’ where a gifted fortune teller will use photographs from your present or past to predict your future. There will be many other features too, including an unforgettable toilet visit, awkward tattoos, weird short films, and much, much more…

Find out more about the Photo Pleasure Palace here