Scheltens & Abbenes: Zeen

Cos, Collections, Soapbars, 2012 © Scheltens & Abbenes

Foam presents the largest museum solo exhibition of the artist duo Scheltens & Abbenes so far. The duo is seen as the most progressive still-life photographers in the Netherlands today. Maurice Scheltens (1972) and Liesbeth Abbenes (1970) have managed to build an international artistic practice at the intersection of commissioned and autonomous photography.

The exhibition draws the visitor into a sense of wonder at the things we encounter in daily life. In their studio, Scheltens & Abbenes analyze the essence of things by subjecting their anatomy to a meticulous and painstaking examination. Object come to life by lifting them from their everyday context, framing and zooming in on them, to thereby penetrate to their innermost core: a colorful powder patch, the sharp crease in a men’s shirt, rivets on a lorry.

Left: Bouquet III, 2005 © Scheltens & Abbenes. Right: Modern Design Review, Muller van Severen #4, 2013 © Scheltens & Abbenes

This is what the title of the exhibition refers to: ZEEN. This is a Dutch synonym for a tendon, which is a robust but pliable form of tissue that ties a muscle to the skeleton. This serves as a metaphor for how Scheltens & Abbenes zoom in on the inner dimension of an object’s body, and then tie this to a greater whole. It also refers to displaying the characteristic features of an object at a very detailed level. Lastly, the title is a play on the words Zien, (Maga)Zine and Zen, all of which refer to paying attention, to concentrating, to being sensitive to details – which are all important elements in the Scheltens & Abbenes oeuvre.

Left: Pin-Up Magazine, Doilies 1, 2018 © Scheltens & Abbenes. Right: The Plant Journal, Trailer #1, Pink Tulip, 2016 © Scheltens & Abbenes

Photography emerged as an applied form of art that has gradually evolved into an autonomous art form as well. Scheltens & Abbenes’s work explores the intersecting field. This puts them firmly in the tradition of prominent Dutch product photographers such as Piet Zwart, who played with the flat surface of the photograph and the three-dimensionality of what he photographed, within a commercial context. Far from being dead objects, the items photographed by Scheltens & Abbenes are bursting with life, color, beauty and power. The viewpoint of the camera is essential to their work: the carefully composed sets would immediately become a jumble if the camera were to be positioned just a fraction to the left or the right.

Left: Fantastic Man, Irony, 2012 © Scheltens & Abbenes. Right: Pin-Up, Detail in Reverse, Baluster #3, 2010 © Scheltens & Abbenes

The exhibition guides the visitor around an extensive oeuvre built up over the past 18 years. Scheltens & Abbenes also created a new video installation, specifically for Foam. Just as they treat the objects they photograph as building blocks for their final composition, they used their previous photographs as building blocks for this site-specific video installation. The installation perfectly captures their fascination for repetition, lines, surfaces and structures. In addition to the video, the exhibition comprises a large number of diptychs. Reproductions of magazine pages on which photographs by Scheltens & Abbenes were originally published are presented in a small format. These images are combined with large prints that have been taken out of context. Through these combinations, Scheltens & Abbenes interrogate the tipping point between commissioned and autonomous photography. It also becomes clear how the different individual images in the various series relate to each other. The viewer is encouraged to look very slowly, and so to share the duo’s fascination for the structure of things at a micro-level.



Exhibition at Foam until 5th of June.
Courtesy of The Ravestijn Gallery Amsterdam.

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