When Barbara Iweins decided in 2017 to make an inventory of the objects concealed in her house in Uccle, in the suburbs of Brussels, “it was above all to take stock of [her] life”, says- she. “A neurotic collector, I had been aware of compulsively hoarding things since my teenage years. I realized this during my successive moves (eleven to date). Each time, the days of packing up everything I own felt like hell. The day after a divorce which led me to leave Amsterdam to return to my native country, I decided that I really had to confront this problem by scrutinizing, one by one, the objects that I have been carrying around since so many years”, explains the Belgian photographer.
Five years later, at the end of whole days (“I sometimes spent more than fifteen hours on this task at a stretch”, she admits), the artist has finally completed this inventory. It can be summed up in one figure: 12,795. That is the number of objects that she has listed and photographed in the logic of a catalog raisonné. “Katalog” is also both the title of the exhibition* that she is presenting until September 25 at the Photosynthèses gallery as part of the Rencontres Photographiques d’Arles and that of the book** that she is publishing at the Delpire editions
“It’s a bit crazy to think that a life can be summed up statistically, but that’s the way it is,” smiles this tall blonde born in 1974. She explains her approach candidly. “I thought at the start that this work would lead me to a reflection on the phenomenon of overconsumption that affects us all. At the end, I rather realize that I conducted a form of therapy, a bit like the one recommended by Marie Kondo in her books inviting us to tidy up our interior. »
Its second series responds to the same binary rhythm. Entitled “7AM-7PM”, it is made up of a set of portraits of strangers working in pairs: two shots taken twelve hours apart from each other. “I wanted to delve into a simple question: are we really the same person in the morning and in the evening? she justifies. In view of the sometimes very different faces displayed, upon waking and later in the day, his models… it is doubtful.
With the “Katalog” project, Barbara Iweins sets herself a new challenge: to create her self-portrait through the objects that accompany her on a daily basis. She had originally planned to ask the journalist Sophie Fontanel to open her dressing room for her to take inventory. She quickly gave it up, on the advice of Emmanuelle Kouchner, who accompanied her in this project. The photographer ended up turning the lens over to her own wardrobe, but also her library and, soon, her kitchen drawers. “I obsessively went on to photograph each of the toys belonging to my three children: Julia, 16, June, 13, and Pieter, 11,” she breathes.
Staging and image, without filter or prior selection, all the things that fill his home allows him to revisit his personal history. Short biographical notes thus evoke a succession of memories as precise as they are decisive in his career: childhood images that suddenly spring up as nested in a fetish object, traumatic experiences of separation or mourning that are irremediably associated with others, preserved like relics.
Barbara Iweins’ approach is irresistibly reminiscent of that of Sophie Calle, but also of Christian Boltanski, two artists to whom she feels very close. His project is also part of a revisited form of “attempt to exhaust a place”, led by the writer Georges Perec. Which, in an article published in 1982 in the journal Le Genre Humain, mentioned the need to carry out this kind of assessment, at regular intervals in one’s life.
*Exhibition at the Photosynthèses gallery, until September 25, from 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Address: 12, rue de Vernon (Arles).