Mariken Wessels’ latest exhibition, Nude - Arising from the Ground, at Amsterdam’s The Ravestijn Gallery and currently on standby due to COVID-19, presents an unusual approach to human motion and shape. This time, the Dutch artist surprises us through photography, sculpture and a new installation. 
The photographer was inspired by one of Eadweard Muybridge’s photo series and decided to shoot obese female bodies in a rather unusual setting: underwater. The results bring the audience into a brand new, mystique world of movement and the structure of the human body. The variety of art forms creates a diverse setting that enables the artist’s creativity to shine bright. Today, we sit down with Mariken to talk about her approach to art projects, ideas and the exhibition.
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What do you do when you're not working on a visual art project?
I'm usually working on multiple projects at the same time. Because most of my projects are research-based and deal with matters of fact and fiction, I am always on the alert as to what happens around me. I scan the world around me, sometimes more consciously than others, to recognize and seize on the opportunities presenting themselves. If you want to know about my hobbies, I can tell you that I like to play tennis.
With the idea already formed in your head, how do you approach working on a new project? What kind of space makes you feel the most creative?
Every project starts with an idea indeed. Often, when I'm already working on a project, a new idea might pop up. This idea nestles in my head and urges me to collect content step by step, which I can later employ to materialize and sharpen the concept. In my studio, I collect materials on what I call ‘walls of inspiration’ that work as intuitive collections and mood boards.
In my most recent book, Miss Cox (2020), such mood boards can be seen in the studio views that the publisher and I decided to include. It is possible that one project gives birth to the next, sometimes from the need to deepen and expand on a certain topic in a different medium. As such Nude – Arising from the Ground sprang from Taking Off. Henry My Neighbor (Art Paper Editions, 2015).
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Nude – Arising from the Ground was premiered in 2019 in Rotterdam, but it’s currently on view at Amsterdam’s The Ravestijn Gallery – now closed to the public due to COVID-19. Can we find new works there?
For sure! There are more photo works on display than in Rotterdam. Furthermore, I also show the installation Snapshots from the Unknown, which I built from light boxes, and there is a new film that I edited in a loop.
Previously, you mostly worked with film, text and photos. Why did you decide to include sculptures in this exhibition? Does sculpture allow you to present the idea of form and the human body better than other forms of artistic expressions?
For me, it is simple: sculpture is a three-dimensional medium, and I found it to be a nice addition and also a challenge to give shape to this topic in this medium. In ceramics, the body is more concrete and tangible compared to two-dimensional visual media.
All of the images were taken underwater, why did you choose to photograph the bodies/models in this environment?
I have chosen the underwater setting because I was curious as to how the body would behave under these conditions, contrary to above the ground, where we know much more about how gravity works. I was surprised by the results in which the obese bodies have turned into landscapes shaped by the water’s pressure.
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The exhibition is inspired by a particular series from Eadweard Muybridge's photo series Human and Animal Locomotion. What about these images is so interesting to you?
One particular photogravure from the Human and Animal Locomotion series gave me food for thought. Not only was I fascinated by the rather heavy body of the young woman portrayed, but above all, by her struggle to even just raise to her feet from a lying position. This is a move that most people will just perform without ever thinking about it. I wanted to shape this struggle into a three-dimensional form, that’s why it ended up becoming sculpture.
Do you often seek inspiration in work created by other artists?
Although I find inspiration in the work of other artists, I rarely ever base my projects on other people's art.
Is there a new meaning you want to assign to Muybridge's title Arising from the Ground through your project?
Not really. This image showing a woman – presumably named Miss Cox – made me imagine how having such an obese body turns something as simple as standing up into quite a task. I could only make the movement and changes in her body palpable by translating this two-dimensional representation into a three-dimensional work. Only after that I began to consider using a living model for the underwater series.
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How does the idea of movement find its place in your photography?
Movement was not the starting point, really. I was mostly looking for the often surprising effects on the heavy body floating freely underwater. This also called to mind the more animal-like qualities of the human body.
Obese female figures are not a conventional form of beauty. Do you think it's important for artists to discover and show that it is possible to find sensuality in different types of human bodies?
That isn’t really my line of approach. For me, it's mostly to do with the shapes the body assumes, which in a photograph could appear as a landscape. I've never been interested in the social position of obese people. What intrigues me is the way the body behaves underwater, how the heavy body appears to be exempt from the normal pull of gravity. I’ve also found beauty and elegance in the unexpected shapes the body is crinkled into by the water. Personality doesn't count in my project. That’s why you will barely see faces, or parts thereof, in this series.
What’s the reason you only focused on female bodies, and how do you work with models that need to pose in nude?
Because I was looking for unforeseen shapes, in which abstraction had a role to play. I sensed that the male genitals would be present so dominantly as to distract from the aesthetics. I was looking for a more anonymous type of body for the more bestial features of the human body. I invited several potential models to my studio to inform them about my project and my way of working, about what I expected from them and why. Thus, I was able to convince them about the importance of their contribution in a choreography that I directed.
You have created internationally acclaimed photography books. Why do you often choose this form to present your art?
I'm particularly interested in the photo book as a medium. I think that photographs placed in sequences work well when there's tension and suggestion built into the edit. Because photography is so intricately linked to the notion of time, to play with that relationship is what I’m attracted to. Because of its intimate character, I often choose the photo book as means and form. In a well-executed book, everything plays its part, from the size and weight to paper type and printing quality. And, contrary to film, the audience determines the order in which it wants to read the photo book.
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