Johan van der Keuken
From March 30 till June 9 2013 EYE presented the exhibition Johan van der Keuken / Up to the light. Filmmaker and photographer. The exhibition’s line of approach is the extraordinary way in which Van der Keuken brought together contrasting images in his films and observed a world in constant transition.
Johan van der Keuken (1938-2001) was a man with a remarkable double talent, who filmed with a photographer’s eye and shot photographs with the eye of a filmmaker. EYE showed his films and a large number of photographic works and offered insight into how Van der Keuken made his films. Van der Keuken built up an artistically interesting and socially engaged body of work, which demonstrates a clear consistency in form and content. Always on his travels but also close to home, Van der Keuken intercut his observations in Africa, Asia or Latin America with similar or indeed diametrically opposed images or situations. On large freestanding screens, the exhibition showed how Van der Keuken combined different sequences into a single film and how he allows different images to contrast with each other.
His method, which is already apparent in the cinematic portraits he made of artists such as Lucebert and Tajiri in the early sixties, has a visually powerful and artistically provocative character. Johan van der Keuken/ Up to the light also shows that Van der Keuken was one of the first filmmakers to attempt a cinematic translation of time into space. The simultaneity of images was one of the exhibition’s points of departure.
Van der Keuken presented important or indeed trivial everyday events from various angles, aware of the fact that a single image of reality doesn’t exist. Towards the end of his life he became increasingly interested in how his films and photographs relate to the space in which they are shown. In his photographic books he already began animating his images by showing them as a series, in order to thus create a comic strip/visual story. The spatial exhibition in EYE is a continuation of this.
EYE has nearly the entire film oeuvre of Van der Keuken in the collection, from the classics Blind Kind (Blind Child, 1964) and Beppie (1965) to the later work, including the now internationally celebrated documentaries, such as Amsterdam Global Village (1996) and De grote vakantie (The long holiday, 2000).
Johan van der Keuken (Amsterdam, 1938-2001) studied at the Parisian film academy, the IDHEC (Institut des Hauts Etudes Cinématographiques) from 1956-1958, after which he worked concurrently and alternately as photographer and filmmaker. He published his first photographic book at the age of 17. Van der Keuken made about 1 or 2 films per year since the nineteen fifties, which ultimately resulted in an oeuvre of more than 50 films. After the political engagement of the seventies, in the nineties Van der Keuken became increasingly interested in form, but his films have also always remained an analysis of society. With grand, but also small cinematic gestures, he was able to link a city such as Amsterdam to the fate of the entire world, as in his best-known film Amsterdam, Global Village (1996).
His innovative work has always been held in high esteem, particularly in France, Germany and Italy, but he also eventually received recognition in the Netherlands. His entire film oeuvre is included in the EYE archive and his photographic collection was acquired by the Parisian museum of photography, the Maison Européenne de la Photographie. In 1988 he received the Dutch Culture Award for his lifetime work, and in 2000 he was presented the Bert Haanstra Oeuvre Prize, the highest award for a Dutch filmmaker.
films, talks, events
The exhibition on Johan van der Keuken, the first solo exhibition of a Dutch filmmaker in EYE, is accompanied by the screening of Van der Keuken’s most important films. The opening film Bewogen Koper (Brass Unbound, 1993, new copy) features brass bands with local percussionists in exotic landscapes, filmed in a poetic, associative style.
In recent years, EYE has restored forty Van der Keuken films in their original format, the majority of which have never been shown on the big screen. The selection included in the programme illustrates Van der Keuken’s development as a filmmaker: from the humanistic early years to the overtly political engagement of the nineteen seventies, as is evident in De weg naar het zuiden (The way south, 1981) and I Love Dollars (1986). A number of films from his final, freer period are also showing, including Het oog boven de put (The eye above the well, 1988), Face Value (1991) and Bewogen koper (Brass Unbound, 1993). The screenings of the short films are also quite exceptional (from the earliest Paris à l’aube, 1960 to Onvoltooid tegenwoordig (The present, 2001), which was completed after Van der Keuken’s death.