Thomas Kuijpers: The Artist as Editor

Thomas Kuijpers’ (1985, NL) artistic practice is all about collecting. Browsing the media landscape, he saves every topic of interest that might become relevant in a neat file cabinet in his studio. His latest collection: an assemblage of Twin Towers memorabilia. 

Installation shot from Foam 3h: When the Twins were still beautiful, 2016 © Christian van der Kooy

Following certain topics or media hypes for longer periods of time through a strict self-imposed regime of reading several daily newspapers and following other media broadcasts, Kuijpers’ artworks reflect on the development, impact, and consequences of imaging and representation. While most of his works reflect on recent events or developments, such as the current Islamophobia in western media, the work presented in Foam 3h, When the Twins were still beautiful (2013 – ongoing), goes further back in time and in fact reflects on a history of symbolic representation.

Al-Baghdadis, from the series Explanatory Clippings: Q4, 2014 (2015) © Thomas Kuijpers and LhGWR

When the Twins were still beautiful
started about two years ago, when Thomas Kuijpers stumbled upon a painting at a thrift store by an unknown artist depicting the iconic image of the Twin Towers. The description only said ‘painted before 2001’. As soon as he noticed it, the replaying footage of the collapsing towers so heavily engrained in his memory was put on hold for a moment, and replaced by a glimpse of how the image of the World Trade Center must have been experienced before the disaster. Fascinated by this thought, he decided to buy the painting. This ultimately became the starting point for Kuijpers to amass a wide collection of pre-9/11 memorabilia, including tourist photos, puzzles, socks, books, snow globes, film excerpts and even a bathing suit.

While the installation at first sight might be taken as a silly attempt to recreate a world in which the Twin Towers are still standing, in fact it refers to another paradigm, a way of seeing the world before the War on Terror emerged, prison camp Guantanamo Bay opened and a strong feeling of Islamophobia spread throughout the western world. Thomas Kuijpers doesn’t provide answers, but raises questions about what 9/11, as the biggest media event in history, represents in our collective memory, and how it changed the Twin Towers’ symbolic meaning.

Canada, from the series Explanatory Clippings: Q4, 2014 (2015) © Thomas Kuijpers and LhGWR

During the last quarter of 2014, Thomas Kuijpers subscribed to five of the most popular newspapers in the Netherlands. He carefully categorized all his observations on different subjects in special folders, in order to better understand how the captions of photos differ between newspapers. It ultimately led to the work Explanatory Clippings: Q4, 2014 (2015), which is very illustrative for Kuijpers' way of scanning the media. More works evolved from this period of intense study, such as collecting press photographs of world leaders’ handshakes, which led to the work Gesture (2014). In this work the artist analyzed one hundred political handshakes with the results of academic research on hidden communicative signals enclosed in these gestures, also directly reflecting on the functioning of these images within the medium of photojournalism.

Abbas-Sharon, from the series Gesture, 2014 © Thomas Kuijpers and LhGWR

His work sometimes seems to function as a counterpart to the media for missing or underrepresented voices. In stark contrast with the overwhelming amount of images in When the Twins were still beautiful, the work Auditive Imagery (2015) consists of two framed oval portraiture passe-partouts in which the actual photographs are missing. Headphones are attached to the frames, through which one can hear one person after another describing someone’s portrait – black hair, green eyes, light skinned, handsome, friendly looking and wearing a turban. Who it is remains unanswered, but can be guessed eventually.

Auditive Imagery is a loophole, an image-hack for images that need to be seen, but are not to be seen – for images that are necessary to balance the scale of understanding, but which cannot be shown because there are not to be present physically” states the artist on his website.

Thomas Kuijpers has a nose for inconsistencies in media narratives and their imagery that are mostly overlooked by others. Trained as a photographer, he decided to use his photographic eye for different purposes. Within our mediatized society, where everyone can be a news reporter by uploading and sharing images within a split second, this democratization brings along an unrestrained stream of news sources that are hardly checked properly on their truth value.

Kuijpers is not so much interested in the ‘decisive moment’ of a picture, but in its afterlife and the plurality of meanings it can pick up throughout its use within different contexts, or by different explanations of what it might represent. The way he translates his findings into conceptual artworks that criticize and comment on our mediatized culture makes of him a highly relevant catalyst who keeps us sharp in the overwhelming daily stream of images and news. Because his artistic practice strongly relates to today’s actualities, the meaning of his own artworks might also become a subject to change throughout time.

About Thomas Kuijpers

Thomas Kuijpers (b. 1985, Helmond, NL) studied photography at the AKV St.Joost, Breda, and is represented by LhGWR, The Hague (NL). Earlier this year he had his first solo show Paradigm #01 at B.A.D., Brussels (BE). The past few years his work appeared in several group exhibitions and has been acquired for the collection of the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. He currently lives in Rotterdam, but holds onto his studio in Eindhoven where his ever expanding archives and collections of media material are stalled.

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