Wallpapers of clouds and fake wood, bathroom tiles, pieces of carpeting, plastic flowers: Marnix Goossens sure likes to photograph unremarkable things. He finds beauty in little spots and corners most of us don’t even notice or don’t think are worthy of attention. More than simply seeing them, he meticulously constructs his compositions and even blows them up to enormous proportions, making them impossible to ignore. At first, the images are puzzling; why would he ever force these things upon us? They might take some getting used to, but after a while, we start to recognise what Goossens sees in the uninteresting.
In order to understand them, it’s important to realise that these photographs, currently exhibited in Foam Amsterdam, are not solely about the objects depicted. When Goossens (b. 1967, The Netherlands) documents wallpaper, he does so in extremely high detail, every little scratch on the surface reminding us of what we’re looking at. But, as suggested by the show’s title, Yonder, the images are also representative of another world, one that’s anywhere but here. The prints on the wallpaper – of flowers, birds, palm trees – refer to an idealized outside world we don’t get to see. We dream of tropical holidays through the eyes of the anonymous inhabitants of these shabby and unremarkable homes.
Shack 2012 © Marnix Goossens
The series reads like one big photographic game of seeing and not seeing; it’s full of contrasts between real and fake, between access and exclusion. We’re locked up in these claustrophobic rooms, looking at surrogate versions of nature, and the only real thing we see is some natural light pouring in. In Shack (2012), a translucent curtain forms both a connection to and a barrier against the world. The same goes for the gorgeous Skylight (2011), where only fractured shapes and vague colours shine through a window, hinting at things unknown. Everything that must be outside becomes all the more interesting when you can’t quite see what it is and can’t quite reach it.
Skylight 2011 © Marnix Goossens
In some cases, Goossens removes us even further from the real world by re-photographing existing images, thus creating multiple pictorial layers. In the case of the beautiful Mountains (2009), wrinkles in the paper of the original reflect unnatural light, distorting the image and assuring us that we’re dealing with a reproduction. The actual mountain landscape is at least two steps away, and Goossens’ photograph turns it into a symbol rather than a specific place with a name. This way, it becomes the generic subject of dreams of scenic walks and winter sports.
Goossens’ use of a large-format technical camera can be seen as a reference to actual landscape photography: while this type of camera is mostly used to document vast environments in great detail, Goossens uses his to zoom in on simulacra thereof, placing them at the same level by blowing them up. However, on some occasions his smaller prints work better; sometimes you should keep boring things boring. He praises his objects enough just by noticing them, and keeping them as small and hardly visible as they are, adding to the pleasant puniness of it all.
The title ‘Yonder’ is exceptionally well chosen. Those who are familiar with his previous work know that Goossens has photographed nature before. In a way, he still does, but he now searches for a more general idea of it indoors. The sense of imprisonment evoked by Goossens’ closed spaces, only strengthened by the proximity and inaccessibility of actual nature, is simultaneously frustrating and deeply fascinating.