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Tandem — © 2014, Manon Wertenbroek
Tandem — © 2014, Manon Wertenbroek
Tandem — © 2014, Manon Wertenbroek
Tandem — © 2014, Manon Wertenbroek
Tandem — © 2014, Manon Wertenbroek
Tandem — © 2014, Manon Wertenbroek
Tandem — © 2014, Manon Wertenbroek
Photography Extended III, Museum Het Valkhof, Nijmegen, Netherlands, 2016 — © Manon Wertenbroek
Photography Extended III, Museum Het Valkhof, Nijmegen, Netherlands 2016
Foam Talent, Atelier Néerlandais, Paris, France, 2015 — © Manon Wertenbroek
Foam Talent, Atelier Néerlandais, Paris, France 2015


Finding a form for fee­lings, text by Karin Bareman
Foam Talent 2015

A white frame floats in mid-air. A man looks through it, sta­ring into the middle dis­tance. His bodily contours are empha­si­zed by big black lines. He is off­set by an ochre and white back­ground, a pink band ties eve­ry­thing toge­ther. Of all the pic­tures in the series Tandem, this one is per­haps the most intri­guing. Whereas in the other images the model is still very much a human being, here he is very nearly trans­for­med into a two-dimen­sio­nal paper cut-out.

Manon Wertenbroek’s route into pho­to­gra­phy is per­haps a lit­tle unu­sual. She star­ted off her pre­pa­ra­tory year at the art aca­demy fully inten­ding to study indus­trial design, as a result of her inter­est in objects, mate­rials and forms. However, the requi­red tech­ni­cal unders­tan­ding of machi­nery pro­ved frus­tra­ting. Photography pro­vi­ded her with a way to conti­nue crea­ting and desi­gning objects. As Wertenbroek puts it: What I liked about [it] was the fact that I could have a frame. I could create objects, but at a cer­tain point I was sup­po­sed to stop [wor­king on them], because they had to go into the frame that I chose with the camera.” 

Even though her ima­gery reminds me of that by artists such as Daniel Gordon, Hannah Whitaker and Lucas Blalock, the artist consi­ders expres­sio­nist pain­ting to be far more influen­tial on her prac­tice than the work of fel­low prac­ti­tio­ners.
It the­re­fore comes as no sur­prise that the com­bi­na­tion of mate­rial design and pho­to­gra­phy pro­vides a way for Wertenbroek to pro­cess her emo­tions and expe­riences.

She tries to give form to them, to make them tan­gible and visible. Her pre­fer­red mate­rials are those that can be sha­ped easily and ins­tinc­ti­vely, ran­ging from clay to paper to pig­ments. She then care­fully consi­ders the objects she wants to create and how to arrange them in the final frame. The next step is to craft the actual objects. The pro­duc­tion time for each pic­ture can vary from hours to weeks, but on ave­rage she works three days on crea­ting and ligh­ting a set. Wertenbroek then gene­rally spends an after­noon recor­ding it. Capturing the scene as she has concei­ved of it in her mind’s eye pro­vides clo­sure. In the artist’s words: When I finish the pho­to­graph and print it, it finishes these fee­lings. It’s like I tur­ned a page. If I still had the sculp­ture I would feel like I am still having that fee­ling of some­thing that I am sear­ching for. With pho­to­gra­phy, it is a conclu­sion.” This need for clo­sure also means that the ele­ments of her images are never reu­sed in other pic­tures.

For the body of work fea­tu­red here Wertenbroek col­la­bo­ra­ted with her bro­ther as model. She ini­tia­ted this series, because she used to be very close to her sibling during her child­hood. However, upon rea­ching adul­thood they qui­ckly grew apart. Teaming up with her bro­ther was a way for Wertenbroek to pro­cess her emo­tions as well as an effort to recon­nect. Moreover, as she states: “[As] I had been wor­king on lots of pro­jects with only objects, I wan­ted to go back to do some­thing with por­traits. I wan­ted to put some­thing real into my sets, some­thing that already exis­ted.” It was an inten­sive time. They spent three months crea­ting the pho­to­graphs. During the after­noon and the eve­ning they could be found in the stu­dio, with her bro­ther model­ling for seve­ral hours on end. 

Wertenbroek sees their time spent toge­ther as a cathar­tic per­for­mance: I wan­ted to find a way to express and digest these emo­tions and also to frame him in a cer­tain way in order to keep him. To make an image of him that I wan­ted to have. It was almost a per­so­nal lie. I wan­ted to have my bro­ther [back] so badly I was going to do this pro­ject and keep him in my images.” Wertenbroek feels that at a cer­tain point they did become clo­ser. Nonetheless, it remai­ned very dif­fi­cult to explain to her bro­ther why she was doing this. And when the series came to an end, the dis­tance retur­ned. The artist is satis­fied with the results though: It was a way to replace the weird memo­ries by some new ones, some funny ones. Now I feel less disap­poin­ted about the fact that I am not that close to him, because at least we sha­red some­thing new toge­ther after our child­hood memo­ries.”

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