The new exhibition at Images Vevey’s permanent exhibition space, L’Appartement, is great. It’s funny and warm, but also a little heart-breaking. It’s relatable, but also completely crazy. It is a singular work of introspection, while also being absolutely universal. For the first time ever since its opening, L’Appartement is dedicating the entirety of its exhibition space to one artist, Barbara Iweins, and to her unique photographic project, Katalog.
Barbara Iweins is a Belgian photographer who embarked on a huge project several years ago, after her eleventh move and a sudden divorce. She began photographing her belongings, her children’s belongings and all the objects that make up her domestic universe. Over the course of four years, she photographed 12,795 objects one by one, straight on, against a white background. Once everything was photographed, she catalogued, indexed, organised and analysed. She made graphs of the things she used most often and compared them to the price she paid for them. She classified her belonging by color, by material, by price, by frequency of use, by how often she misplaces or loses the object (if you are wondering, hair ties are the things she loses the most). Each object receives the same amount of attention. A lego, a holey sock, a sex-toy, the solitary cap of a pen, a book…everything, absolutely everything, passes under her lens and is then classified.
The thousands of photos of her things are interspersed with personal anecdotes on specific objects. Next to a picture of some pills, she tells a story about her depression, and the exact moment when she realized that not everyone felt the same way. Next to a wall full of photos of single blue socks, the artist shares her system of escaping the tedious chore of matching socks (she buys only navy blue size 38 socks that she keeps in a basket on the bottom step of the stairs and each family member helps him or herself).
Through these stories, sometimes hilarious and other times disturbingly sad, but always bluntly truthful, Barbara Iweins reveals an honest introspection into herself and her life. The visitor is brought into her psyche and into her world through the most intimate details. It’s a little TMI, but also leaves you wanting to know more about this person. When I met Barbara, it seemed unconceivable that she knew nothing about me when I knew so much about her. I thought of her always-mismatched undergarments and was astounded that I would know something that intimate about someone I had just met. (It didn’t seem to faze Barbara in the slightest that everyone at the opening that night knew that she never wears matching lingerie.)
Barbara Iweins exhibition is also a reflection on consumer society. Throughout the exhibition are little facts: “90% of gloves are lost within two weeks of purchase,” which begs the thought, “Why do we keep buying gloves?”. You can’t help but think what an exhibition of your personal objects would look like. How many would there be? What percentage of would be blue? It is almost too overwhelming to think about.
The photographic project is captured in a beautiful book, also named Katalog, that predates the exhibition and captures the totality of the artists’ striking neurosis. Sequenced room by room, the book invites the reader to a guided tour of the house, starting with the entrance and continuing through the kitchen, the living room, Barbara’s bedroom and those of her three children, without forgetting the bathroom and the cellar. Because of the short stories, it reads like a novel. Combining stories and confessions, photography and text, Barbara reveals her true self.
Tinged with lightness and self-mockery, the artist reveals some of the most difficult moments in her life. Barbara Iweins calls Katalog – the project, the book, the exhibition – a “necessary therapy”. But for the visitor of this exhibition, it is a fascinating trip into the mind and into the home of someone who begins as a stranger and slowly, somehow becomes an intimate friend.
About the artist
Barbara Iweins is a Belgian photographer who has started her artistic career in Amsterdam where she has lived for a number of years. A collector since a tender age, Barbara continues to classify, and gather and archive her photographic subjects according to strict criteria. Fascinated by the vulnerability of humans, she passes her time to push the boundaries of what is intimate. Her series “Au coin de ma rue” where she entered bit by bit in the private life of strangers. Or her project “7AM/7PM” where she invited these same strangers to sleep at her house to capture the innocence and fragility just as they wake up. Her series “Bath” where she captured the moments of quiet solitude characterize her quest for innocence and the beauty in imperfection. Since her return to Brussels, she has retreated into her own world where she lives like a hermit working on her new project KATALOG. It’s the first time she uses her private life as a case study.
L’Appartement – Espace Images Vevey is inside the main CFF train station of Vevey (going towards the main exit of the station, go left through a door and up a couple of flights of stairs to get to the exhibition space. It is well indicated.). Previously an apartment for CFF workers, it now serves as an exhibition space for contemporary photography.
The exhibition “Barbara Iweins, Katalog” is on view until 14.05.2023.
On Images Vevey: