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#19 The gallery as a Work LAB

Speaking: Wiesje Peels

Wiesje Peels and Steffen Maas during their Work LAB at Galerie Pennings, March 2014. photo Joep Eijkens

In March 2014 Wiesje Peels (1975) had the opportunity to set up a Work LAB at Galerie Pennings. A unique opportunity!

A retrospective in which she tells how she came into contact with Galerie Pennings, how the contacts lead to a Work LAB and how the contacts remained afterwards.

Photographer Wiesje Peels is an autonomous photographer and also a teacher at the Fontys Teacher Training at Hogeschool voor de Kunsten in Tilburg. She teaches ‘Image Issue’ among other things. What steps do you take to make a design in order to create an image or an object? This is done by questions such as ‘what’, ‘why’ and ‘how’? With second-year students she just visited the Graduation Show during the Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven. The students of the Design Academy showed designs and projects that were created by the same questions and that fits in nicely with her teaching method.

In 1998, Wiesje graduated from AKV | St. Joost in Breda. Harry Pennings had seen the graduation exhibition and was impressed by her photos. He invited Wiesje for an exhibition in the stairwell of the gallery, where a part of the graduation work could be shown.

Invitation for the exhibition of Wiesje Peels at Galerie Pennings in 2004

"My graduation work consisted of two series: Pappa (Daddy), a portrait of my father, in color, made with a technical camera, and In de buurt van water (Near water) in black and white, about marines on Texel, among other subjects." She made photos at night, with a Technica. She made three booklets with the progress of the graduation project as subject. The black and white series was on show in the stairwell in 1999, together with the booklets. In 2004, in a solo exhibition, she showed the series of color photos about her father as the clown and magician Enrico Magnetico. Her father had a regular job as a technician at Philips. In the weekends he performed as a one man circus, Theatro Picolini, at Center Parcs, campsites and healthcare institutions.

"I was one of the first to start making booklets during education." She made the booklets for In de buurt van water together with a designer and a printer. The booklets were printed at Mart Spruyt in Amsterdam. The contact with Mart Spruyt was the result of the paid assignments she carried out, in the graduation phase, together with Mischa Keijser. They took photos for annual reports from Wärtsilä (formerly Lips), which were printed by Mart Spruyt.

During her studies she had done an internship at publisher DuoDuo in Rotterdam. As an internship assignment, together with Frank van Delft, she made a photo book about locks in the Netherlands.

Portfolio of Wiesje Peels, published by Galerie Pennings in 2004.

With a starting stipend she planned to follow with her camera a young captain, sailing on the largest bulk ship of the world, in Rotterdam and also in India, where he came from. She traveled with two friends. However, the project ended prematurely, because the atmosphere in the company in which the young captain was living in his hometown in India became hostile. Wiesje then fled with her friends and they started traveling. Along the way they met a circus. They filmed, photographed and interviewed the circus company. And that resulted in her photo series Great Bombay Circus. And from there the "Mimus, series was created.

Harry Pennings saw her series of circus children in India and advised her to watch movies by Fellini, in particular ‘La Strada’ (1954), and take a look at photo books such as ‘The Circus’ (1958) by Bruce Davidson. She experienced this as an incentive: “I felt strengthened. It is right what I am doing."

She has worked on the circus project for ten years and it resulted in the photo book “Mimus,. The circus photos in India were the basis for this. And so was her father who regularly acted as a clown in her youth, while she came along as his assistant. So, she was introduced to circus life at an early age.

The photo book "Mimus, by Wiesje Peels, published in 2014

To make the photo album “Mimus, together with designer Steffen Maas, she was given the gallery by Petra Cardinaal for a week to set up as Work LAB, an open studio. They invited befriended designers and artists to respond to the visual material and the selection, structure and design of the book. Wiesje had hung large contract sheets on the walls. Visitors were also invited to participate in a selection process, by sticking stickers on the favorite photo. That a photo had received many stickers by the audience did not automatically mean that the image was also chosen for the book. "Many stickers can also mean that the image is ‘too easy’, too obvious.”

The fact that everyone was welcome in the open studio also meant that people came to ask for attention for their own work ... “That was difficult, because we didn't want to lose too much time with that. It was a Work LAB, we were in a work mode. We wanted to work very concentrated, for a week. That could also have been possible in my own studio, but now we were bound by the opening hours of the gallery, which made us even more focused on the project. What the Work LAB has achieved is that, through the opinions of others, it gradually became clear what you want and what you don't. It keeps you sharp.”

The book release took place in September 2014 during BredaPhoto, completely in style with circus acts.

Photos from the "Mimus, series were subsequently shown at Galerie Pennings, but not as a solo exhibition.

Wiesje Peels made a picture of this 'landscape' during her artist-in-residence in Zundert. In fact what you are looking at are frost nets.

After ‘Mimus, GoghFlow came, which was created during an artist-in-residence in the guest studio of the Vincent van GoghHuis in Zundert. A project in which she again collaborated with Steffen Maas and from which another book emerged. Petra took a few works from this series to art fairs.

During this period of time, Wies also participated in jump!, a new initiative from bkkc (now called: art loc) focusing on talent development, in which four galleries in Brabant participated. Galerie Pennings was one of those galleries. Initially the idea was that every gallery would link an experienced artist to a starting artist. Galerie Pennings nominated Wiesje Peels as an experienced artist and Noortje Haegens as a starting artist. The idea was that the more established artist would share his or her knowledge and experience with the starting colleague. But gradually that idea was abandoned and Wiesje became the only ‘established’ artist in a group of younger and starting talents. Nevertheless, she looks back satisfied participating in the process, because she has benefited a lot from the presentation skills. She applied these to a pitch, together with Steffen Maas, at the Donkere Kamer (Dark Room) in the Nederlands Fotomuseum in Rotterdam. “We won that pitch and the money, which we used for the publication of the booklet GoghFlow. And now I teach my students the presentation skills I learned at jump!”

(A second edition of jump! has already started, in which Pennings Foundation no longer participates as a gallery, but in which Petra Cardinaal is involved as coordinator of this talent Hub.)

The presentation 'Nest' (at the right) by Wiesje Peels in the exhibition PREVIEW at Pennings Foundation in 2018. photo Fieke van Berkom

Now Wiesje has been working on the Nest series for some years now, together with her daughter Trijntje. During the group exhibition Preview (see blog #17) she showed some photos of this series. In a presentation last summer at the Stedelijk Museum in Breda, the project was more elaborate. Their big dream is, one day, to complete ‘Nest’ with a show where photos come to life on stage. But first they want to go to Sweden as Artist in Residence, to get inspired by the aesthetics in Ingmar Bergman's movie ‘The Seventh Seal’ (1957).

Interview about WorkLAB in Brabant Cultureel April 2014 (Joep Eijkens):

Clown after the show. From the series "Mimus, photo Wiesje Peels

Review “Mimus, in Brabant Cultureel October 2014 (Irma van Bommel):

People feel very attracted to the circus. The traveling way of life looks so romantic. The reality is different. It is hard work and it demands a lot of training. Do the same thing year after year. The artists are not always cheerful. When they perform they play a role.

Wiesje shows them as soon as they stop performing, when they leave the stage or during practice. They are still wearing (part of) their artist's clothing, making them recognizable as artists. But there is no audience, no applause. They don't have to smile. The mask falls off. The images show the contrast between illusion and reality.

Although Peels has also taken photos of actual situations, most of the photos have been staged. Occasionally Peels asked an artist to perform a completely different role. For example, we see one actor as a princess, another as Atlas. She also asked artists to perform the male-female relationship.

The longer one looks at the images, the more one understands. There is a layering in the images. This is indicated at the end of the book where sources of inspiration from painting and movies are shown. The title of the book is derived from Latin, where Mimus means both ‘actor’ and ‘farce’.

The artists in Mimus play a role. They try to meet patterns of expectations. But don't we all act like this? Do we not all play a role in our work, as partners or as mothers or fathers? The photos reflect the mood of the artist. The central question that Wiesje Peels asks is "how can

you maintain your independence and at the same time commit to someone?”

Do we not all play a role, at work, as a partner or as a mother? Self portrait Wiesje Peels

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