Five Years at Unseen: Interview with Bas van Tol

by Unseen September 22 2016

Since the fair launched in 2012, industrial and interior design company Müller van Tol has been on board with production – responsible for the iconic interior set-up that has now become so integral to Unseen Photo Fair. In celebration of this special fifth edition, Unseen dropped in with one of the founders, Bas van Tol, to gain his insight working behind-the-scenes for the annual fair.

How did you first get involved with Unseen in 2012? Does Müller van Tol do these events more often?
I got involved with Unseen Photo Fair back when the concept was still in its early stages. I think they approached me because, like the idea behind the fair itself, they wanted something different from the standard art fair set-up with booths and exhibition space – something they knew Müller van Tol could do.

What inspired the design that has now become so integral to Unseen Photo Fair?
The form of the fair is inspired heavily by the location; all Müller van Tol’s designs are site-specific. So we began with two important factors in mind: the space, unique in its circular form, and the use of the space, to exhibit work whilst simultaneously allowing people to interact naturally. It is at this point that the idea of slices came to mind. By dividing the space the way we have, all galleries are treated equally as the space is democratically divided between them all. At the same time, the open structure allows for people to meet – both in the centre and on the outskirts. In this way we’ve created the right balance between presentation and interaction.

Has this stayed the same in the last five years or have you made changes?
The form of the gallery stands in the Gashouder and Transformatorhuis has stayed much the same these last five years because it is the one that best fulfils the needs of this event. The attending galleries and the art they bring is what changes the space every year.

What we do actively change per year is the outside space, the square between the two buildings. Every year we come up with a new way of using it, ensuring that it differs from the last.

How does an event like Unseen differ from other projects that you do? Does it differ?
Every project we take on requires us to make unique, often temporary, set-ups for a specific location – making Unseen simultaneously similar and different to other projects we’ve done. Nothing else we do looks like Unseen Photo Fair. However, due to its temporary existence and site-specific form, Unseen fits nicely into our portfolio of past, current and future projects.

We believe that accessibility is of the utmost importance, and strive to make each space a good one. Since starting in 1995 we feel we’ve become specialists in this regard, paying attention to the location, the commissions ambition and the users of the space in equal measure to come to a special place.

Do you think this is a design that you will one day retire? Is there an opportunity to do so?
The opportunity is certainly there when another location pops up. The same function can be achieved even if we were to use a different form (the pizza slice concept), but it’s not about the form – it’s about the use of the space. For Unseen, this is about meeting people and presenting work in a stimulating atmosphere. You have to find the special quality of a particular space and connect this to its function at a given moment.

In the case of Unseen, the current form fits the location and the commission perfectly and so there is little need to change it. From the very deliberate division of the interiors to the specific structure of the walls and furniture we use, it’s a pleasure to see how these spaces have developed such a strong identity these last five years.

Drop by Unseen Photo Fair this weekend and see the awe-inspiring space yourself! Buy your tickets here.

Image credit: Unseen Photo Fair, 2016 © Iris Duvekot