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Interview

Jeroen De Wandel: "For me, photography is a free jazz"

text:
Futures Photography
Date:
October 29, 2019
Nominated for Futures by FOMU, Jeroen De Wandel (b. 1980) lives and works in Ghent, Belgium. He studied photography at Academy of Fine Arts, Ghent.

De Wandel’s work has been becoming more and more a mix of photography, collage and other types of visual/installation art. It’s no longer pure photography. However, he still starts out from his archive of (autobiographical) pictures, interests and experiences.

In this interview, he talks about his work and his career:

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Can you explain us a little bit about your inspirations? What are the main themes in your practice?

It depends on the mood of the day. In general, I'm influenced by music, psychology, science, and our society. Lately, this has been my visual playlist: Edith Dekyndt, Wolfgang Tillmans, Katrien De Blauwer, Christian Boltanski, Tomas Saraceno, Roger Ballen, Joan Fontcuberta, Paul Klee, Batia Suter, Jaromir Novotny, Doina Kraal, Vincent Delbrouck, Quentin Lacombe, Gerhard Richter, etc. My auditory playlist: Murcof, Fire Orchestra, Laurent Garnier, Neil Young, Holly Herndon, The Comet Is Coming, Pink Floyd, 9T Antiope, Karen Willems, Felicia Atkinson, Amon Tobin, Stan Getz, etc.

About my practice, I normally use material from my personal archive to generate new images. I combine, recompose, cut, tear, and paste both analogue and digital pictures in my search for the unexpected. My work is a mix of photography, collage, and other types of visual/installation art – sometimes presented as object, sometimes as picture/artefact of atelier made installations. The starting point is my archive of (autobiographical & found) pictures, my interests, and experiences. My main themes are time, memories, the working of the brain, the medium photography itself and its relation with paintings, and re-use/recycling.

How do you see your relationship with photography? How do you deal with this medium to express your art?

The medium itself is quite interesting. For me, it’s a free jazz. Why should a picture be something you put on the wall? Why should it be something unique that you can only use once in a book or series? The way you combine pictures or compose them in an expo can make them change their meaning because of the associations you make. Therefore, I like to use my pictures in different settings – it’s like notes in a symphony.

How has been the experience of being a talent selected for Futures? How can Futures help with your career?

I had a good time at Unseen Amsterdam and appreciated the work you did to set up conversations and giving me a stage to explain my photography. Futures can become a big support and platform for all those upcoming and struggling artists.

My work falls in between photography and visual arts; therefore, I struggle to get my work exhibited as it doesn’t fit in regular, classical photography environments. So, helping to get in touch with curators, galleries, etc. is very useful. Connect the artists to your network!

I have two book dummies ready that I would like to get published, but it’s not always clear how the business side of photography works. Extra contacts of publishers where my work could fit are certainly welcome too.

Can you tell us a bit more projects that you have been working with?

‘Amygdala’, my most recent project, refers to the place in the brains where emotional memories are created, stored, and processed. Recent research showed that we cannot trust our memories: they are constantly being processed and influenced by new events and experiences, as a foundation for future developments that might have an effect on our lives.

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Memories are stored in different zones of the brain. Some memories get colored over time by, for example, retelling them again and again, not knowing the exact facts over time. Our brain will fill in the gaps. The amygdala is responsible for processing emotional memories such as a relationship ending, war, etc. These memories are usually very well stored. There's research nowadays about erasing those traumatizing memories, stored in the amygdala. We're closing in on planted memories, as you can see in movies like ‘Total Recall’. Scientific manipulation is close but the (collective) memory can be influenced by, for example, propaganda or social media. Ethical resistance for erasing memories is comprehensible, but we get manipulated already! By using a collage of (digital/analogue) layers of archive pictures (own and found footage), I express the multiple layers of memories. Fragments from the past lose their context in the present and their attachment to reality gradually fades away. ‘Blind Sheep’ & ‘Resolution 257’ (respectively the first and second images of this page) are both works closely linked to my ‘Amygdala’ project. The ‘Blind Sheep’ is an evolving work about society, the meaning of photography and questioning the medium. At the end of 2017, I made a huge outdoor collage for a Brussels art center. After a few months, I photographed what was left – what the elements, people passing-by, and time had done with the original collage. I assembled and integrated those photographs in the original collage and reprint it for a next exhibition. After that, the process started all over again, integrating time and decay in something new. In August 2019, the fifth version of ‘Blind Sheep’ was exhibited. The work also questions our society, our blindness for the problems we face, for manipulation through News, and for the abuse of power we see in politics, as well as in multinational companies. About ‘Resolution 257’, recent extreme-right election results all over Europe got me thinking. A lot of young people voted for these parties and one could wonder how this had come. One of the answers is that we always considered news on tv as something true, objective and, therefore, trustworthy. With social media, things changed. Extreme right parties are doing big social media campaigns, presented as ‘sensational news’ and people who see these messages believe this – or they get at least unconsciously influenced by these messages. This means that we get manipulated by what we see every day in the constant stream of information.

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People often don’t realize this manipulation, they don’t look any further, and extreme right parties know it and use this kind of propaganda to get to the power of politics.
We are kept blind, like the man with the towel on his head in the collage, and democracy shrinks every day, without a sound. If we look again at ‘Resolution 257’, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we see that we are further than ever from realizing it.

Can you share with us a little bit about your plans for the future after being part of the platform? Do you have any new project in mind?

At this moment, I will keep on working on my current project-I’m not really working in series. And further experiments in my studio with more sculptural forms of photography are probably next.

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