Interview Marcel Feil, curator Unbound 2021

Inca & Niklas Courtesy Dorothee Nilsson Gallery.

Unseen is the fair to discover the latest developments in contemporary photography. This edition, the Unbound section is added to these high stakes. A truly unique section with a focus on ground-breaking, multidisciplinary photographic projects, often with monumental dimensions. The latter is not a problem, because with 700 m2, the Transformatorhuis offers more than enough space for 13 artists to transcend the conventional flat surface.

Every year, Unbound has a specific theme and is curated by a guest curator. The curator for Unbound 2021 is Marcel Feil, former Artistic Director of Foam photography museum.

Unbound is the new, not-for-profit section at Unseen. What does Unbound add to Unseen?

Photography is an extraordinarily rich medium that can manifest itself in many different ways today. Digitization plays a major role in this. Nowadays, an image can now be printed on textiles, on metal, on foils or all kinds of other plastics. Alternatively, the image is shown on one of the many electronic devices, on laptops, mobile phones or on large screens. This creates the possibility for photography to escape the limitations of the flat surface of a traditional print.

Unseen is a photography fair that focuses on the latest developments in contemporary photography. Consequently, attention must be paid to the developments I just outlined. The traditional set-up of an art fair is not always suitable for this. There, space is limited by definition and, naturally, booths consist mainly of walls on which work is displayed. Unbound does justice to photography that manifests itself outside the flat surface. Photography that is spatial and often has a multimedia and interdisciplinary character.

Is a section like Unbound unique in the world of photography fairs?
Yes, a not-for-profit section that clearly focuses on a different presentational form of contemporary photography is a novelty within the range of international photography fairs. Especially because Unbound has an overarching theme and a guest curator. Other art fairs often feature sections focusing on a specific topics, such as presentations from young galleries, oversized or video works or a selection made by external experts. That makes an addition like Unbound truly unique.

What does that addition look like in practice?
By inviting a guest curator every year to curate an exhibition in the Transformatorhuis on the Westergasfabriek site. Unlike at the art fair, this is a well-considered and carefully curated exhibition with a clear theme. This ensures substantive coherence and strengthens the narrative of the presentations.

the Transformatorhuis.

You just mentioned that Unbound has a different theme each year. What is this year’s theme?
It is obvious to almost everyone that mankind must enter into a new relationship with nature. Especially from the realization that nature is not something that lies outside of us, but that we ourselves are an inseparable part of it and are connected to it. The search for a different and more responsible relationship with our planet is urgent and is of an economic, ecological, social, psychological and spiritual nature. Many artists focus on this fundamental shift that ultimately has to heal the relationship with nature. Literally: what is broken, what is cracked must be made whole again. Hence the title 'Filling the Cracks'. At the same time, the title refers to the importance of the skin and of the surface in many of the works on display.

Can you tell us a bit more about the experimental nature of the work shown at Unbound?
Of course. In some works, photography has been used to serve as the skin of an actual physical sculpture. Such a sculpture can be made of metal, wood or a plastic on which the photographic print is attached. It gets interesting when there are no longer two layers mounted together, but a real synthesis arises instead: work in which the photographic image really merges with a certain material. Then a game can be played more convincingly than ever with perception and with the awareness of reality and illusion. If both the photographic image and the sculptural object are characterized by far-reaching digital manipulations, a new, fascinating reality truly arises instead of a representation of something existing.

Letha Wilson, Wepping Rock Rolled Steel, Courtesy of the artist and GRIMM Amsterdam, New YORK.

How did you make a selection?
First of all, the proposals had to comply with the principles of Unbound: photography that manifests itself in a different way than through the traditional flat surface of a two-dimensional print. In addition, proposals had to fit in with the theme of this first edition of Unbound. In order to obtain as much diversity as possible in the offer, a conscious choice was made for a theme that can be interpreted broadly and can be approached in many different ways. Another criterium was the quality and feasibility of the projects. Finally, we examined whether all the selected projects could also be used to create an exciting and varied exhibition that is fascinating for a large audience while simultaneously doing justice to the contemporary use of photography.

In the end you have selected 16 participants, what connects them?
In addition to the theme, this is mainly an open view to what photography is or can be. And the courage and the conviction to use this to create substantive strong work that is formally innovative and relevant to the times in which we live. And probably for the time to come as well.

Arya Tabandehpoor, Courtesy of Mohsen Gallery.

Previously, you were the artistic director of Foam for quite a few years. Can you briefly outline the differences and similarities between curating a museum exhibition and Unbound?
That differences aren't that big. I approached Unbound as if it were a museum exhibition. Ultimately, it is about creating the strongest possible exhibition. An exhibition that is surprising, substantively and formally very diverse, has several layers and can be seen and experienced in different ways. An exhibition which is interesting for both the initiated professional and a regular visitor and can also be pleasing aesthetically.

The biggest difference is that for Unbound a selection had to be made from project proposals. That affects the way of working. For its production, we were in constant contact with both the gallery in question and the represented artist. I myself have also approached various artists and included their work in the exhibition. The whole has therefore become a nice blend of very diverse makers.

Is there a presentation you are particularly looking forward to?
Well, that is like choosing between children that have all become equally dear to me. That’s difficult. The thing I am looking forward to the most is the entire exhibition, the way in which works will enter into a relationship with each other, unexpected perspectives and sightlines and to the feeling that arises when visitors move through and experience the exhibition. Ultimately, that is never really predictable in advance. Ideas and reality really are two different things, which is a good thing, by the way.

Lara Almarcegui Courtesy Ellen de Bruijne Projects.

Participating artists Unbound:

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