Unseen Photo Fair returns for its fifth anniversary, introducing a programme of exhibitions and activities that will challenge, excite and inspire. Taking place from 23-25 September at the Westergas area in Amsterdam, Unseen welcomes 53 international galleries presenting the latest work of more than 150 artists. We speak to Head of Artistic Affairs, Emilia van Lynden about this year’s edition.
A: Unseen presents both emerging talent and new work by established artists – what benefits do you feel this brings to your fair and festival by having this rich diversity?
EL: At the core of the Unseen concept lies our dedication to presenting the newest works within the medium of photography. Unseen was founded because there was a feeling that emerging talents did not have a platform of their own to showcase their newest works. This belief was confirmed as the founders of Unseen realised that most of the work globally exhibited at art fairs was that of established artists and that there was a need to create a platform for the vast amount of emerging practitioners and for new, innovative approaches to photography.
Through showing the newest works of both emerging as well as established artists, we now see that people come to Unseen to make discoveries; to gain insights into the latest trends within the medium. Unseen visitors will be surprised by what is exhibited but also by how the work is presented and how our interaction with the medium can be altered when placing photography in unusual settings.
A: Over the past few years that Unseen has been running, have you see any significant changes in the type of work that is appearing by young artists – does there seem to be any noticeable theme across this year’s fair and festival?
EL: There have certainly been changes since the start of Unseen within the practices of artists that we present at the fair. We have witnessed that many of our artists have started to blur the boundaries of photography, often weaving other tools or mediums into their work. Artists like Rachel de Joode (CINNNAMON) use photography as a starting point but end up creating multi-layered objects that have sculptural qualities. These artists are constantly questioning how they can utilise photography to create structures that take on different forms.
Additionally, we have seen an increase in artists working not only across the mediums of contemporary art but also with varying industries that are not directly linked to photography. Artists such as Maija Tammi and Mandy Baker (East Wing) work with scientists to explore questions in regards to our environment and our health. Addressing global issues concerning how we treat our surroundings, as well as our bodies.
The breaking down of traditional boundaries is very apparent within photography, both through artists working with other artistic mediums, as well as with unrelated industries.
A: The new interactive project Making Memeries at this year’s fair enables visitors to become digitally interactive with the photographic works. Do you think along with this concept we are going to see a development in how we can interact with photography in the future?
EL: How we interact with photography is exactly what we want to play with within our festival, as well as at the fair. During this edition of the fair we have invited various artists to be part of our ‘onsite projects’; projects that are realised on the fair grounds and that explore this notion of looking at photography through varying presentation forms.
Artist Clare Strand will be creating a large fun fair stand in a project called All that Hoopla: The Fairest Game at the Fair. Within this project she is questioning how we interact with photography and whether we should consider different manners of presenting photography. She will create a large Hoopla stand where visitors can buy hoops and throw them over her works. Should your hoop land perfectly over one of her works, you win the work and get to take an original Clare Strand piece home with you. Within this context, our approach to photography becomes altered, giving it a playful and more accessible feel.
At Unseen, we are also keen to hear how organisations and platforms outside of the Netherlands present photography in novel ways. Within our speakers programme, Unseen Living Room, we have created an element that specifically looks at how a variety of platforms in Africa challenge current presentation styles. I am especially intrigued to hear what these industry leaders can teach us in regards to breaking away from the norm when curating exhibitions and interactive projects.
Each year, Unseen welcomes a small group of innovative artist run collectives to show alongside the traditional gallery stands as the Unseen Niches. 8 Ball Zines has invited over 40 international artists to submit photographs from their countries that will be transported to Amsterdam in the form of hundreds of zines. The project aims to symbolise the free movement of information through a medium that has historically represented freedom.
A: As a fair, festival and publication, Unseen provides such a diverse platform of resources, particularly for young talent – how are you looking to expand this in the future?
EL: Unseen is a multifaceted organisation and one that will continue to grow in such a manner. This year, we are especially looking at the format of the festival and will be evaluating which structure works best when including so many exhibitions in a reasonably big city. I think that our biggest aspiration is to create continuous momentum throughout the entire year and not to only work towards that peak in September. This is why we designed a completely new website which will also consist of a slow magazine, so that we can continue to give emerging artists a platform throughout the year. An online platform also means that we can continue to work with external writers and photography professionals and build upon the foundation of our annual publication, Unseen Magazine.
A: What exhibits and speaker programmes are you looking forward to this year at Unseen?
EL: This is definitely a hard question to answer but if I had to choose a few then I would say that within our speakers programme, Unseen Living Room, I’m looking forward to exploring the theme of portraiture and self-portraiture with artists such as Koos Breukel, Zanele Muholi, Juno Calypso and Willem Popelier. They will be debating the directions in which these genres are moving and will hopefully be able to give a glimpse into what we can expect to see within the work of emerging artists. In regards to our onsite projects, the project Face to Face (co-curated by OFF the wall) is one that we have been working on for a long period of time and includes a huge variety of artists from the Africa continent. I am intrigued to see how these artists will shed light on the new wave of portraiture and how they are incorporating elements of their photographic heritage in contemporary ways.
I of course have to state the obvious and say that I am eager to see how all the exhibitions, projects and speakers programmes that we have worked on during this past year materialise. But most importantly, I am hugely excited to celebrate our five year anniversary with artists, curators, collectors and photography enthusiasts alike.
For more information, visit www.unseenamsterdam.com
1. The Honeymoon Suite, from the series, The Honeymoon, 2015 ® Juno Calypso TJ Boulting.