Brussels-based photographer Julie Scheurweghs (24), a recent Sint Lukas graduate, used to dream about being asked to exhibit her work at Amsterdam’s De Brakke Grond. She’s just landed her first solo exhibition there and we had a big fat chat with the rising star about this dream-come-true, an expo with a moveable theme titled ‘Accidentally on Purpose’, and what drives her work: namely capturing beauty that is out of reach.
What’s the theme of the exhibition? What’s the idea behind your series?
I don’t really work according to a theme, and I hardly ever work with series. My mind is always full of possible images waiting to be produced and this time, after visiting the expo space, I immediately started thinking of what could go where – all of this with images and structures that all existed separately in my mental space. As my work mostly exists out of single images and two or three folds, when I produce them they stand alone and have nothing to do with one another. Of course all being made by hand, they work well together aesthetically and in building up the expo I enjoyed playing with the confrontation of the different subjects with one another. So basically for exhibitions, I never start with a theme but I just start shooting all the images I think could be interesting and then I start seeing similarities in them, and so a theme becomes visible. The work and the things they depict come forward out of daily life, and are subject to my current observations and obsessions.
‘I’m looking for the beauty in banal objects and situations.’
I have always been fascinated by the human body, and a lot of my older work concerned visualising both physical and mental illness. A theme I think everyone can relate to, as we all get sick (or know someone who is) at some point in our lives. Working on the exhibit I realised the theme had shifted a little bit from people searching inside themselves and their bodies to humans being in confrontation with the objects that surround them. The expo space should be a place where the viewer does not have to walk from wall to wall, left to right. But the idea is rather that you can spot a work you find interesting and than walk towards another one (that can be across the room) that you think is nice in relation to the one you just saw. What I tried to do with these images is to give people a new view of the everyday. I’m looking for the beauty in banal objects and situations. Things people use and see everyday without really looking at them. It’s like people who have a headache and take a glass of water and put an aspirin in it. They do this because they need to, but fail to see the beauty of the bubbles going up as the aspirin dissolves.
‘The aim is not to have a picture in just another framework, but for the pieces to structurally and sculpturally become one.’
I try to put these objects we pass by every day in a different perspective. Not by doing awesome or complex things with them, but by simply taking them out of their every day environment and decontextualising them trough the simple use of a white background. Thanks to the lack of disturbing scenes in the background, you can see the subject depicted purely for what it is, and find beauty in its simplicity. The images and the structures I build around them should be seen as one. The aim is not to have a picture in just another framework, but for the pieces to structurally and sculpturally become one. I tried to play more with the way the images are perceived trough the use and combination of different materials and structures. For example the combination of the high quality (and allure of) inkjet print showing pieces of bark which are displayed onto a simple push pin board generates both a symbioses and a clash between these two very different materials.
When and where did you work on the images, and what was the working process like?
There is a whole course of action that goes into the creation of my work. When I get the idea for an image it mostly remains floating around in my brain for a while. This mental stage can last for a few days, a month or sometimes years. In this stage I think about the idea constantly and adjust it until the work is conceptually and visually strong enough to be produced. When I decide it’s time to bring the work into the physical world, I start looking for the key elements I need to translate that mental image as exactly as possible into a concrete work. I’m a perfectionist, and I know what I want so the search for the perfect model or object is a very exact one. Once all the practical things for the making of the images are fixed, I shoot it. Because I know exactly what the image should look like, I work towards that goal while shooting, but try to also leave room for accidents and serendipity. I try not to go overboard in postproduction, as long as it enriches what I am trying to show.
‘I find the best images are the ones that strive for a perfection that is just out of reach.’
I find the best images are the ones that strive for a perfection that is just out of reach. They seem sterile from a distance but as you take a closer look, the image will show you its faults. I have a studio in Brussels that I share with a good photographer and friend of mine Nicolas Kengen. Most of the images where taken there. Some of them though where taken on location, like the man holding the periscope between the rocks. This image is very layered for me, as it was taken in Ostend, the city I was born and raised in. With regards to when I work on the images, I guess the correct reply to that is all day every day. Even when I’m not physically working on images, I’m always mentally rearranging and adjusting them.
How did you get to manage this expo in Amsterdam?
How do you mange an expo anywhere? Hard work is the answer. But I’m very honored to be able to do my first solo in such an amazing place. De Brakke Grond is the place to be, every good Flemish artist has exhibited there at some point or another in their career and when I was younger I dreamt of being part of an expo there, so you can imagine how thrilled I was when they invited me to do a solo there.
How has your work developed over the years?
I’ve been photographer from when I was twelve ( when I decided I was going to be a photographer) and I got my first camera.What I photographed then is mainly what I photograph now, simply the world around me and how I perceive it. The difference between now and then is the way in which things are perceived and photographed. I wouldn’t say you see a change in style but rather an evolution. As you master the techniques more you do feel that you are able to show and share what you want to with the world. I remember being in second year at Sint Lukas Brussels and being so frustrated that I couldn’t recreate the images I had in my head in the studio just out of lack of experience and technique. This is something that takes time and over the years as you master techniques better and are able to say what you want to with your images, the shifts in your work start to become clearer subject-wise rather then technically. But I think it’s obvious that your work is always in a constant flux.
‘Over the years my work has developed itself into a very pure, clinical way of seeing things.’
As a human being your sense of self is very fluid, it constantly evolves and adjusts itself to the situation it finds itself in. Art works are an extension of yourself and are thus in constant motion themselves. A work is never really finished, and the day your work stops evolving is the day you should stop working, as you’d have nothing to say anymore. Over the years my work has developed itself into a very pure, clinical way of seeing things – an evolution that comes forth out of my love for minimalism and clarity. But being a very paradoxical person, my fascination with everything concerning the human body and obsession with objects gives the work a different dimension. These clashing parts of myself has made the work what it is now and I am curious to see where it will lead me in the future.
What or who influences and inspires you?
Most of my inspiration and influences come from daily life, things I see around me, action I see on the street like a young girl being fascinated by a newspaper page flying in the wind, or the way two people interact with each other. Next to that I’m a book freak, so I read a lot, which is a very inspiring activity. I also love art books and spend hours in libraries and bookshops just going trough them. While rummaging in libraries I get fascinated by a certain artist I stumbled upon, and then have to see every work and book that is out there by them. I am more attracted to fine arts than to photography (though I could talk for hours about how there shouldn’t be such a big separation between the two worlds) in general, but of course there are exceptions.
‘I’m an Internet addict, and I spend hours doing research online.’
An example of artists I love and find very inspiring are : Erwin Rum for his fine arts and Koen Hauser for his photographic work. Also the world of Fashion and advertising has always had a big influence on my work. Being a photographer you get confronted with these kinds of images easily. I am fascinated by the clever ways in which good advertising works, and how clothing – something practical that we need in order not to get cold – can turn into something we want. This of course is why I also love shooting commercial work and fashion photography alongside my artistic practice. I’m also an Internet addict, and I spend hours doing research online. But everything can be a source of inspiration.
What are you currently working on? What’s next for you?
I’m working on several assignments while preparing for another solo exhibition in SEAS in Knokke which opens this November. For more information about me and updates on my work you can follow me on Tumblr: juliescheurweghs.tumblr.com