Awoiska van der Molen

The Humanness of Our Lonely Selves

Awoiska van der Molen

Awoiska van der Molen
#481-15, 2017

Awoiska van der Molen
#594-18, 2019

Awoiska van der Molen
#699-1, 2022

Awoiska van der Molen
#734-18, 2023

In the summer of 2024 Huis Marseille will exhibit new work by the Dutch photographer Awoiska van der Molen (b. 1972 in Groningen). Later in her career she became well known primarily for her nature photos, but just after her graduation in 2003 Van der Molen in fact photographed the urban environment. Now, over twenty years later, she is once again showing us understated black and white photos of the built environment containing traces of human presence. This time she zooms in on illuminated windows in the evening darkness.

From outside to inside

The contours of this new approach gradually emerged around 2015. ‘At a certain point I started to photograph landscapes, and when I did there was now and again a small house in the composition. At the time I had to slowly move away from the built environment. Then the reverse happened.’ Coming back from the wilderness, she migrated to small villages and looked at windows behind which people were living their lives.

Van der Molen stumbled upon the windows during a trip through the southern islands of Japan, where small houses are built from a range of materials using traditional methods. The walls there are thin because of the mild climate. Nevertheless, she was struck by the fact that, apart from the sound of the television, of soft stockinged feet on hollow floors or of rumblings from the kitchen, all you could hear was the monotonous air conditioning. No heated discussions, no loud laughter, no free noises. This was the beginning of many journeys through Japan and of her quest to find out why she finds these windows so intriguing.

From a distance, the photographer becomes aware that daily life is taking place behind the windows without it actually revealing itself. The windows reveal interesting surface distributions in black-white-grey nuances, and at the same time that shadow play introduces mystery in things because the opaque matt glass of the windows conceals the world inside from the viewer subtly but also resolutely.

The introduction of carbon prints

Van der Molen’s photographs require slowness. Slowness in creating the images. Slowness in their materialization. Slowness when viewing them. The muted world behind and around the windows is captured by Van der Molen during her silent movement through the darkness.

For her, the darkroom is the place where she once again and slowly permits her images to emerge, weeks after she pressed the shutter release button. For her exhibition in Huis Marseille, Van der Molen has selected, in addition to her much-acclaimed silver gelatin prints, a new technical procedure especially for the illuminated windows. For the first time she is using the noble nineteenth-century process of the carbon print. Originally carried out using lampblack (paint pigment), it is still one of the most durable printing techniques. Because of the intensity of the black, which is applied in a thin layer on the paper, the technique is most appropriate for the shadow play that is so important in the photographs. The carbon print technique – a transfer process – is hardly ever used now because it is so labour intensive. However, the illuminated windows call for a patient look that takes its time to let the image sink in, for both the photographer and its viewer.

Our lonely selves

You could say that the illuminated windows act as a screen between the photographer (or the viewer) and the world, between a psychological world inside and the external world of things. Initially there is the aesthetic, but then the solitary and the melancholic trickle through it. Looking through the window, you catch a hopeful glimpse of the life going on behind it, but you do not have any substantive contact with it. The windows are both a barrier to the longing for security and not just being like a distant view of it. At the same time, they represent the desire for closeness and being comfortable with distance. In that sense, the windows symbolize the existential loneliness which most of us have to relate to someday to a greater or lesser degree.

Van der Molen’s photographs can be interpreted as psychological spaces in which the photographer is searching for something and does not know what it is until afterwards. The nature photos, for instance, black, grey and white, made between 2008 and 2021, are more than a registration of the physical characteristics of a landscape. During her solitary wanderings in remote natural areas, Van der Molen tries to penetrate to the essence of a spot. Experiencing the return to the core of our existence – the profound sustained engagement with the earth, its cyclical rythym, the cosmos we are part of – is what Van der Molen tries to visualize in these photographs. A selection of these nature photos will be on show in the basement of Huis Marseille.

Van der Molen’s oeuvre is like a long story that comes deep from within herself. ‘I do not photograph until all the static has disappeared and there is no longer any awareness of time. At the moment that you’re even no longer preoccupied with yourself. A point zero.’ This layer of meaning is not actually visible in the photographic image, but is probably palpable for many.

Biography

Awoiska van der Molen (b. 1972 in Groningen) studied architecture and design followed by photography at the Minerva Art Academy in Groningen and the Hunter City University in New York. In 2003 she completed her MFA in photography at the St Joost Academy in Breda.

Awoiska van der Molen’s work has been part of several group exhibitions organized by Huis Marseille, including Pictures From Another Wall. The Huis Marseille Collection in De Pont (2020) and The Rediscovery of the World (2013). Four of her works have become part of the Huis Marseille Collection. Her work has furthermore been shown in, for example, solo and group exhibitions in Pier 24 Photography, San Francisco, The Foam Photography Museum, Amsterdam, the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, The Photographers Gallery, London, Kousei-Inn, Kyoto, Les Rencontres d’Arles, France, FOMU, Antwerp, and Fotomuseum Den Haag.

Van der Molen’s first monograph, Sequester, was nominated for the Paris Photo/Aperture First Book Prize 2014 and was awarded a silver medal for the ‘Best Books from all over the World’ in Leipzig, Germany. Her second book, Blanco, was published in 2017 and was followed in 2020 by The Living Mountain. All books were designed by Hans Gremmen and published by FW:Books. In 2011 Van der Molen was a finalist at the Hyères Festival International de Mode et de Photographie in France, and in 2014 she won the Japanese Hariban Award. In 2017 was on the shortlist of the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize and she received the Larry Sultan Photography Award. In 2019 Van der Molen was on the shortlist of the Prix Pictet, the global award for photography and sustainability.

Awoiska van der Molen’s new work was made possible by support from the Mondriaan Fund and the VandenEnde Foundation.

Book

At the same time as the exhibition a publication, once again designed by Hans Gremmen and published by FW:Books, will be available in the museum shop.

Featuring work from our collection by

Awoiska van der Molen