Interview with Emilia van Lynden
Artistic Director at Unseen, Amsterdam
Tell us a little bit about the history of the fair
Unseen Photo Fair was launched in 2012 with a mission to showcase works of young, emerging talents and the newest work of established artists. The founders believed that, at that time, art fairs were largely only presenting works by established artists and often works by the pioneers of photography, such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Man Ray, Ansel Adams, Diane Arbus etc. These are of course photography greats, however what was missing were the young practitioners: those who were focusing on the future of the medium and those that were taking photography to new unchartered territories. Additionally, art fairs were seemingly inaccessible for a larger audience and collecting still seemed to be avocation – or occupation – which only the wealthy could enjoy or be part of. These were the core reasons why Unseen Photo Fair was created: to show work by emerging talents and the newest works by more established artists whilst simultaneously focusing on opening up the art market to a larger audience. Unseen Photo Fair from its inception wanted to create an event which was inclusive and where the artists were always put first. In recent years we also developed a festival along side the fair and this year we made the decision to re-brand and become an all year round online and offline platform for contemporary photography. Our main event, Unseen Amsterdam, will still take place every September and will include the fair with fifty-three international galleries, the book market with sixty independent publishers, a space that is dedicated to artists collectives, and much more. We are thrilled to see how our audience has grown substantially over the past six years and we are eager to connect to an ever-changing audience both online and physically on a global scale.
How do you, as the artistic director, ensure that the event stays contemporary and current in the fast-paced world that is the art market?
Research is an essential part of my job and this research must be done both on and offline. I travel a lot to different art fairs, photography festivals, exhibitions and graduations shows. It is important for me to have a good understanding in regards to the bigger changes that are occurring within contemporary art in general but also specifically more within the photography community. I need to keep a constant eye on how photography is being positioned by fine art galleries within the contemporary art landscape, whilst simultaneously observing how younger emerging artists are presenting themselves and their work at photography fairs and festivals. Knowing what artists are making and how they are showcasing their work, both in regards to their presentation formats as well as in what type of settings, is therefore imperative.
Online research is another important tool for me to be able to keep up with new artists, collectives, galleries or initiatives. There are certain blogs that I read on a continuous basis, certain people I follow on Instagram and events that I follow via social media that are perhaps too far away to attend. This is of course the absolute beauty of the internet, that we can constantly keep up to date with things that are happening all around the world which means that we don’t have to miss the great work that is being presented just because we can’t physically be there.
Listening to our audience would be my final key tool to get an understanding of what they want to see and what they believe the most important current artistic movements are. We have so many different manners in which we are able to engage with our audience and receive their input or feedback; this can be through social media, personal contact with our external relations or through our visitors survey done after the event. We must be mindful of what the community craves to see, whilst simultaneously also surprising them with new and unexpected themes, artists, works and ways of presenting photography.
Is there something in this year’s program that you are particularly looking forward to?
It is always tricky to answer this question as we have such an extensive program with so many phenomenal artists showing their work, but if I would have to select one program element to focus on then it would be our newest addition to the event, "Unseen CO-OP". This is a space that we are dedicating to artists collectives from all over the world, including Bangladesh, Colombia and Nepal, and are inviting them to become part of the art market through asking them to think of pioneering commercial models. It is of course difficult for an artist to become sustainable without having gallery representation and this is one of the reasons why we have seen an increase in artists turning to each other for help. This sense of cooperation and collaboration has become increasingly important within the art world and therefore we wanted to create a space that put these initiatives in the limelight. Together with the CO-OP curator, Lars Willumeit, they have worked on hugely varying projects that will all be showcased in different manners and where you can purchase photography that goes beyond the traditional two-dimensional print.
What do the artworks being presented at this year's fair reveal about the current trends and market?
We are showing the work of over 200 artists in and around Unseen Amsterdam, so I think it might be easier to target specific themes that artists are working on. One prominent theme is that of nature and technology. A variety of artists are addressing the complex relationship that we as human beings have in regards to technology and nature. Take Jacqueline Hassink for example, who is exploring ‘white spots’ in nature in her series "Unwired Landscapes". These are geographical areas where there is no Internet connection and which are totally off the grid. The work highlights our reliance on technology and the affects that this might have on us. Melanie Bonajo addresses how technology has led to people becoming emotionally unconnected to each other and looks at the purity of children in their relationship to nature and animals before they are somehow “corrupted” by technology and our commodity based society. Both explore the influences that technology is having on our society and are in their separate ways looking at what can potentially happen to us when we distance ourselves from technology. Another theme is that of different, often undiscovered, communities. The Danish collective Phenomena, explores different communities of diehard believers in extraterrestrial beings in the United States. The Spanish artist Ricardo Cases looks at the shifting contemporary landscape of the east coast of Spain and draws a comparison between palms trees – native to this area – and decay, both within these communities as well as in nature. These are just two of the many themes that are being presented within the fair, however other themes such as politics, nature, sexuality and the limits of photography as a medium are also investigated.
In regards to the market, I think that people are taking more of a risk in the work that they are showing. Take for example the work of Momo Okabe that is being presented by Gallery Naruyama, Japan. Okabe’s work can be seen as rather confronting and her images are very raw and beautifully honest – not the traditional images that you would expect to see at a fair. The gallery, to my huge joy, is coming with a solo show of Okabe’s work so I will be very interested to see how the market will react to this work.
What advice do you have for the collectors that will be attending the fair this year?
Trust your instinct. The majority of the works are being presented on the market for the first time. Don’t be unsure about an artist just because you haven’t heard of them before. Instead see this as an opportunity to discover new artists and get there first. Since Unseen was founded, we have seen many artists exhibiting at Unseen as their first fair, and years later they are being presented at leading institutions which of course has had a direct influence in regards to their prices. The feeling that you don’t want to have is “if only I would have bought it at Unseen all those years ago”. I’ve had this feeling often after working at Unseen for five editions, so I can tell you from my own experience that it is simply not worth it! Trust your gut feeling, and if you love the piece and can afford it, then simply buy it.
In addition to Unseen, what exhibition or event is on your “must-see” list?
There is so much to see at Unseen Amsterdam, including "CO-OP", our speakers program, the book market, onsite projects and exhibitions but there is also a huge amount taking place in the city of Amsterdam. Head over to the Stedelijk for Zanele Muholi’s exhibition or to Foam for their “Foam Talent Exhibition” which also includes artists that are showing their work at the fair such as Vasantha Yogananthan, Mark Dorf and Thomas Kuijpers. Visit the phenomenal space of Looiersgracht 60 and the exhibition named “Printed Matter” by the talented Aimee Zito Lema. Additionally, go to the north of Amsterdam to Framer Framed and see the exhibition of photographer Jody Brand.
Amsterdam is filled with photography during Unseen Amsterdam and there is something for everyone. Many of the city program partners will also host special events during Unseen’s "Open Gallery Night" on Saturday the 23rd of September, so this might be the best way to get in as much photography in one evening in the city.
More Information on Unseen Amsterdam