In Search of the Picturesque
14.04.12 – 10.06.12
As part of his PhD in the arts, Jan Kempenaers’ show In Search of the Picturesque presents an overview of his photographic work of the past years. The body of work represents a visual study of the eighteenth-century notion of the picturesque in the present-day landscape image and its contemporary relevance. His research takes its cue from the formal criteria of the picturesque as they were formulated by the English painter William Gilpin (1724–1804) in the book from 1789 that is also on display here. As the father of the picturesque tradition, the painter believed that it was only a matter of following these criteria to bring forth the ideal ‘landscape image’. Gilpin’s rules were later regarded as the basic principles of the picturesque, which in its academic form was extended to numerous other media.
The particular picturesque mood evoked by Kempenaers in his photographic oeuvre, strongly manifests itself in his recent ruins pictures and natural landscapes such as inhospitable rock formations and thick forests; images that specifically engage with our conceptualization of the nineteenth-century ideal, romantic landscape. Although less explicitly, the characteristics of the picturesque are also apparent in Kempenaers’ earlier works: among other things, these photographic series show massive Yugoslav monuments in deserted natural landscapes, or urban landscapes.
The pictures here are not arranged according to a strict, thematic division, which makes exactly their formal coherence and common references to certain picturesque characteristics stand out. Whether the pictures frame ‘unspoilt’ wildernesses, a politically charged monument as a modern variant of the ‘romantic’ ruins, or an urban typology, Kempenaers invariably employs a recognizable visual style to represent a specific contemporary reality. Rather than nostalgically documenting a social and historical context, Kempenaers visualizes an expressive contemporary view on the picturesque.