Erik Kessels

The Many Lives of Erik Kessels

A retrospective exhibition dedicated to the re-appropriated photographic work of the Dutch artist Erik Kessels.

Over the 20 years of his career, Kessels has come to the fore as a main and unquestionable reference in the field of so-called ‘found photography’. Instead of shooting new images, for most of his projects, he brings together pre-existent photographs and reuses them as tiles to form his own mosaic. He is a photographer without a camera or even a lens: in his practice, photography is a ready-made element to be sampled and re-contextualised. The result is a sort of eco-system of images, through which nothing is added to the enormous quantity of imagery which now crowds out the world and grows exponentially day by day, but which on the contrary merely recoups and recycles what is already there.

The Many Lives of Erik Kessels traces the entire photographic career of the Dutch artist through a detailed exhibition itinerary featuring hundreds of images. In total there are seventeen series on show, as well as a great number of books and magazines published by the now famous publishing house founded by Kessels himself (KesselsKramer Publishing) as well as by other publishers. Along a non-linear and non-chronological itinerary, we come across monumental works, more intimate and private series, authentic icons of the whole universe of ‘found photography’, not to mention more recent and even previously unseen work such as Budapest Beauties, a video specifically relating to the Hungarian capital.

The Many Lives of Erik Kessels thus in turn constitutes a great act of accumulation. First of all in terms of display: featuring framed and unframed images, hanging from walls and laid on the ground, using lightboxes, cubes, wallpaper, portrait frames and projections, it, first of all, provides a synthesis and a de-construction of every possible photo show. And of photographs, for of course, there are no genres, artists, epochs or geographies excluded from Kessels omnivorous research. Right down to the cast-offs: instead of being a blight to be carefully avoided, here on the contrary the error becomes an attractive and meaningful element. That’s what makes a photograph special; a mark of its vitality. Kessels rummages through the photographers’ waste, restoring it to the collective gaze from an entirely renewed stance. It is also from here that the often ferocious and desecrating irony of his work stems. Laughter has a liberating and purifying function. It allows Kessels to dig down deep, plummeting every form of hypocrisy and expressing a deep affection both for the involuntary protagonists of his photographic pantheon and for photography itself.

During the exhibition, a selection from the books by Erik Kessels is available at the Mai Manó House bookshop. On the occasion of the exhibition two new books have been published: Budapest Beauties and another work as part of the series In almost every picture, compiled in conjunction with the Horus Archives.

The exhibition was realised with support from the Netherlands Embassy in Budapest, the Mondriaan Foundation, NKA, Heineken and KLM Royal Airlines.

All installation images ©Imre Kiss for Mai Manó House.

Visual presentation of The Many Lives of Erik Kessels on behance by de_form.