This is how the numbers are embossed into the polaroids – using an old mechanical Olympia SM2 typewriter.
A few months ago, not only was the YAKUZA exhibit hosted in 3 locations across the city of Liège (what a tremendous honour that was), but I also got the chance to show an intimate preview of HEAVENS at Monos Art Gallery.
I'm currently showing the first 48 original polaroids from the skies above the 48 camps of Auschwitz during the Second World War.
As you might have read here before, HEAVENS is a large conceptual photography project in which I set out to photograph the skies above all 1,072 concentration camps from the Second World War... every time exhibiting and selling the previous polaroid to be able to make the next polaroid... and at the very end bringing everything together in a huge, heavy, book.
More on that soon.
Here is the exhibit text on the wall in Liège:
The heavens above us: pure, beautiful and everlasting, they literally connect all people on earth. We're all born under these blue skies and we all die underneath them, ever since the dawn of time. Heaven above is the ultimate context for us all.
These are the forty-eight heavens exactly above the forty-eight Nazi concentration camps of Auschwitz during the Second World War. Three main camps and forty-five sub-camps, all located within a radius of approx. 100km in Poland and the Czech Republic.
This is a work in progress. In the end, this work will contain no less than one thousand and seventy-two heavens, every sky photographed above every Nazi concentration camp that ever existed.
Unfortunately, we will never be able to know exactly how many died beneath each heaven. Not even exactly how many camps there were. Like an ultimate irony, sometimes, even in death, a human being does not count.
Yet we are connected to what happened. It seems as if the sadness contained within all these heavens together is larger than what one person can experience, more than what one person can bear.
But can sadness ever transcend what a single human being can feel?
Can one add up all the heavens above, and arrive at something larger, something more encompassing?
What is the weight of history?
Fingers crossed it brings good things to everyone involved, so I can continue and finish the project in the upcoming months and years. (more on how you can support soon!)
all the best, a
Hi. I've een working on a first Yakuza exhibit concept. I started out sketching by hand and then taking pictures at the actual location, but constantly going up and down to measure, make new pictures, adjust the sketch, became too time-consuming. The sketches would always lack a sense of proportion: I would e.g. have no idea how large or small an image should be printed to fit a wall in a balanced way, or what would be an ideal viewing distance for any given size.
So I forced myself to make time to learn the basics of 3D architectural modeling (I basically downloaded Google SketchUp and watched all the tutorials). It took a long time to get going, and it's quite crude, but as soon as I'd created the room in the right proportions, it became amazing how easy it was to virtually hang images on the walls, put people in the rooms, and see what the impact would be on the space the images were in, make them bigger or smaller, hang them up a little higher, work with different levels,... In a flash, this tool had become indispensable for me to test all my concepts in many more ways than I ever could do before.
Of course to actually sketch out ideas quickly, using 3D is way too slow. For that I will always use pencil and paper and actual tiny prints of my images stuck on a huge page across the whole table... and when I feel an idea that I sketched might just be possible in real life, only then do I go to the 3D environment to actually draw it in detail to see how it holds up. And only if it holds up there, I can start dreaming of the possibility of actually producing...
Another benefit of 3D is being able to show different views. Even though my concept is far from finished, I was able to show the gallery director a walkthrough and the different rooms and basically show whatever she needed to see. She loved it.
But I've still got a long way to go. As you can see, the digital model is still quite empty besides the "hallway"... and I might even change my mind on that one :-)
I'll talk more about the schematics of the room next time, as well as my concept... I just have to work a little more to be able to show you some clearer visuals. But up to now the installation seems to be quite cost efficient, portable, and modular as well; so it could fit it into different shaped or sized locations... because you never know what the future brings...
ps. don't worry about the actual image edit (if you can recognize any of the images anywhere), it's likely to change a million times between now and next week :-)
How do you guys go about sketching an exhibit?
Have a great day today,
Anyone who knows me, knows I'm always open to meaningful collaborations. Primarily as a photographer of course, but also, in other ways, in projects I simply believe in. For example, for BURN Magazine I designed and built the website, and collaborate closely with David Alan Harvey all the time. I speak to him almost daily as a creative consultant for anything that comes up. We do cool things together. And he's my mentor. Plus, most importantly, we've become great friends in the process. I don't think it's farfetched to say that both David and I are having a noticeable effect on each others' lives, and support each other's careers with great faith. ---
Luc and I, being business partners and close close friends for over eleven years now, know what it means to collaborate intensely. We've proven ourselves over and over to each other for over a decade. We work together perfectly in the web design company we founded. We know that we can depend on each other, and we know what the other is made of. We trust each other blindly. Maybe most importantly: we can stand each other's presence for 16+ hours a day when the going gets tough :-)
About a year ago, Luc started talking about a new art project he was shooting and writing, called "A Little Glow in the Dark".
In "A Little Glow in the Dark", Luc tells a story about life lines. He believes that every human being is born naked and slowly builds up what are about 200 meaningful connections with others throughout his life. Everyone has a personal yarn ball that can only unwind, never to be wound up again... thick or thin, short or long, you don't know when it will be over or what you leave behind. And as everyone unwinds, we all become entangled, literally strung together, connected in one way or the other.
In a way, "A Little Glow in the Dark" is a story about relationships. A story about mutual respect. A story about being intimately connected during this singular and spectacular journey we call life. A story about choices and dreams. And a story about what we leave behind when our yarn is unwound... will it all have been worth it?
To make this happen, Luc went to South Africa and re-enacted "life" for seven intense weeks, the decor being the Nyanga Township, several miles of white knitting yarn, and 200 local township kids. He built up meaningful relationships and created art together with them... and he documented the process along the way.
He came back and showed me the story, his intentions, his aspirations. He showed me the work he had done. I said I'd love to be a part of shaping and bringing this story to life. And given our history together we both knew this could be done.
So I'm joining forces with him yet again... To design and create two books with his work. To talk about the story. To help give back to the local community of Nyanga. Because I deeply believe in him and in the story he wants to tell.
And for some reason, I know the books are gonna be fantastic. I just feel it in my guts. I'm confident the concept is strong and I feel the story needs to be told. I've seen the quality and sheer amount of visuals that he has created. I'm proud to be part of it, and yes, I can't wait to talk about this one over the next coming months....
These are two samples of the images he made. Tiny, little pieces of the puzzle. I promise, you'll soon see the depth and breadth of this project unfold. Once in a while, I'll be talking right here about everything, and of course more regular project updates will be talked about on alittleglowinthedark.com. Luc and I will be designing and producing the books and everything surrounding it, the dummies, the handling, the printing, right here for everyone to see.
Super exciting... :-)
The Balancing Act
Of course, my own photography stays on track and (hopefully) continues to grow. For those who've been following, new chapters on Dislocate are being made as we speak, and another deeply moving trip for Heavens is being planned for the fall... Yakuza of course has the solo exhibit in spring 2013, which I'm sketching now, and also Sugar might even have a little surprise in store... more on all this soon.
Over the years I've come to learn that the "natural" rhythm of every single project I'm doing (and every single project that I'm involved in) always seems to be totally unique. for me, the art is to be able to not only find and respect those rhythms, but also to balance them all in the best possible way in the rest of my life, mainly trying not to "urge overkill". In a way, to find projects that naturally fit into my life, as opposed to trying to press(ure) projects into my life, let alone trying to press my life into any project. There are so many wonderful and interesting things to do in a lifetime.
I'm really glad I can balance between Dislocate, A Little Glow in the Dark, BURN Magazine, Yakuza, Heavens, and Sugar. And along the way, in turn, each will get center stage, and hopefully, every time one is finished, another will take over or a new thing will simply appear. In a way I feel that working at this kind of finding and balancing, is key.
Oh, and also: always be prepared to leave behind interesting things that don't work out. Hmmm. Might be interesting to write something about this too...
Stay tuned for more. Really. I have a feeling that Yakuza was just the beginning.
Question: how do you all manage the balancing act of everything interesting going on in your life? Do you let a lot of outside pressure in? What would you define as outside pressure and what not? Would, or should, income and security have a big impact on choices?
So here is the big news... my first YAKUZA solo exhibit has just been confirmed for spring 2013.
And it's one hell of a unique location... the former Winterslag coal mine now-converted-to-cool-cultural-centre C-mine... A long time ago, this was also the coal mine my late grandfather and godfather (not Antoine, but Bert) worked in.
I now have exactly 11 months to prepare. It seems like a long time, but in reality it's not.... I'll be drawing concepts, making scale models, test prints, paper types, and sketching like hell. And the edit and sequencing of course will be crucial... and the production of the artwork itself will take several months... not to mention producing the installation itself.
I think I've got some cool things in mind as to how I'd like to approach this, and the next conversations with C-mine will determine the feasibility of what's inside my head. They loved the initial concept, so hopefully it'll work out the way I'm envisioning it.
I'll be talking about every step of the way right here, building the concept online, and letting it grow from idea to sketch to model to reality... a careful deliberate journey, and hopefully mucho fun!
I just visited the location, and I've got a whopping 450 m2 (about 1,500 sq ft) at my disposal.
Hey. As promised, and as a follow-up of my grandfather's story, here goes the original concept of Heavens. In a next post, I'll talk about the realities that set in during and after my first journey to Oświęcim, Poland, to the Auschwitz concentration camps, and how it changed me.
The original concept
Heavens was conceived as a book+installation project, in which I personally try to make sense of the Holocaust during the second World War. I attempt to understand and show my feelings about and vision on the massive suffering that has happened... and hopefully, in what I create, I can in a tiny way help to never forget.
I intend to visit every known Nazi camp and sub camp (following the Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos published by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum) and make an image of the blue sky exactly above each location. A blue sky, as in 'that heaven above', and nothing else. A clear view on each heaven, sober and blue, yet burdened with holding the memory of the ones who suffered below.
Standing on the very same places as the victims, and looking up at the very same sky that they must have seen, it is my belief that their souls went to that heaven in that place. And for that reason, I feel those pieces of heaven should belong to them. With this work, I wish to touch the concept of heaven and how it can exist, knowing that something clamant as the Holocaust has happened.
At the same time, as a viewer, you can never really know if I actually went to these locations, because there's nothing physical in the images to prove that they were made in those places. Only via a reference number connected to each image, and a separate list, you can find the location of that image. This in reference to the difficulty - still now - of historians reconstructing the lists of people who died, and where.
The truth of these images lies in part in the faith the viewer must have in who I am, that he/she knows I actually have done this. Just, and only because I say I did. That truth is my word that this happened, yet at the same time is no direct physical proof... again a parallel with history, as so many camps were destroyed to cover up their existence.
Because what am I, if I don't have my word?
The list contains 1.075 camps, located all over Europe (look here for an example of a map to sense the magnitude), the overwhelming majority of which have been destroyed and don't exist anymore. I will attempt to document each heaven and publish a book with 1.075 pages and 1.075 blue images. An edition of 1.075 copies. 1.075 heavens.
This book, containing only blue skies and a reference list, will appear too senseless, too abstract and too large and too heavy and too much to hold and comprehend... But that's exactly my point: The Holocaust is too much to hold, istoo much to comprehend.
It is too much.
I want to make this book because I've always wished there existed already such a book, because I've always wanted to buy such a book and give it a place between all the other books in my room, as a reminder, to carry it along with me in my life, as a weight that we maybe, maybe, all should be carrying on our shoulders.
Time to think
I know the research will be immense to locate every location exactly (it already was when I tested going to all 48 camps linked to Auschwitz), and setting myself the maybe too narrow sliver that the sky has to be blue is not making my life any easier either.... And the installation that will surround the book, well... that is even another story.
And the part of how on earth to fund this project, which will be massively expensive, and can I justify this cost in the name of an art installation? Would that money not be better spent elsewhere?
What are your thoughts? I realize that I am blowing a conceptual bubble that is very very thin... reducing an incredibly massive and the "heaviest" of topics to its barest minimum and hopefully its essence... but I'm doing it purposely, as it is my vision on this.... and at the same time I can't help but thinking: isn't reducing to the maximum actually the only possible way? And isn't the only goal that I have - being that I contribute in some way to the continuing awareness and prevention of the Holocaust from being forgotten by looking at it in a way that (I hope) is different - justification enough to go for it?
That evening, I set out to drive 1.100 kilometres to photograph forty-eight blue skies. I was to be a first grand field test for Heavens.
I've been told that a good visual story is one that leaves sufficient "blanks" so the viewer can fill in and latch on... Not leave too little to the imagination, but also not leave too much; try to make it just right.
In this case, wanting to photograph 1,634 abstract blue skies seemed to be a little over the top: the idea is actually so abstract that it simply leaves everything to the imagination. Even photography itself. I'd be demanding a lot from the viewer. The work becomes a very, very delicate bubble in support of the story, even if it was quite deliberately done that way...
But might it be just too thin? Will it hold? The heaviest of stories paired with the simplest of photographs?
It seems like I might be venturing off into installation territory for this one. Not a bad thing per sé, not bad at all... but quite a break from my previous work, I must confess.
Reducing to the essence... Man, I don't think I've ever reduced anything to this extent.
That's the thought process I'm struggling with now: shaping Heavens into something possible. Because Heavens is me adding my little tiny drop, however small, to never forgetting the Holocaust. Because I believe we should not forget. And I'm scared that we might be. And if an installation turns out to be the best vehicle to bring this message across, well, then...
Hmmm... I just realize that the above might sound overly cryptic to everyone - maybe even to me. I guess I should describe the concept behind Heavens pretty soon. And show a photograph too.
First on my to do list. Promise.
But now, sun's setting, spring's started, evening's beautiful. Today's given, tomorrow's never promised. Enjoy the now.