Korrie Besems

Landscape of Plenty

18 May - 14 July 2013

A visit to Batavia Stad gave rise to the initial impulse for the recent photographic project of Korrie Besems (Den Hout, 1961). This outlet shopping center in Lelystad has the appearance of an ‘age-old’ fortified town. Even cannons were incorporated into the theme: not to scare off the enemy, but to attract potential shoppers. Intrigued by this ‘leisure architecture’, Besems made it her subject and broadened the scope of her research to include all of the Netherlands. The photographs that she produced between June 2010 and October 2011—vacation resorts, golf courses, modern-day castles, shopping malls and retail parks—have now been compiled in the publication Landscape of Plenty. Her exhibition in the project space of Museum De Pont marks this occasion.

On her website Korrie Besems sums up the demand for Landscape of Plenty in a terse manner: ‘Leisure time is no longer time in which you can opt to do “nothing”; it’s time for experiencing “something”.’ In her series of photographs she then shows just how eager the leisure industry is to capitalize on that desire. Thematic leisure landscapes can be found throughout the Netherlands and range from playful wigwam parks, picturesque vacation villages in the ‘old Dutch’ style, to rolling green golf courses on landfill sites.

Besems has long been concerned with the transformation of the Netherlands, a densely populated country, and has also dealt with the issue of how those changes relate to the character and the specific qualities of the original landscape. Landscape of Plenty can be seen as a sequel to her 2009 publication, A Contrived Past. Here she focused on neo-traditionalism in urban development, which has spread like wildfire since the 1990s and has given many new neighborhoods ‘the atmosphere of then with the comfort of now’.

In the photographic project now on view, she lets us see how this trend also manifests itself – perhaps in an even more extreme way – in recreational places. This is done with the sobriety of a documentary. Nowhere do emphatic stagings or formal interventions distract us from the content of the image. The razor-sharp photographs come across as meticulous registrations of landscape-related situations at specific moments. In these leisure landscapes, created by and for people, man himself plays a strikingly subordinate role. With Besems you won’t see tourists enjoying themselves, as in folders and on websites that visually promote the attractiveness of such places; nor, for that matter, their bored opposites who figure so shockingly in the photographs of Martin Parr. Korrie Besems concentrates on the situation contained in the landscape and, in doing this, often opts for a distant view. Rather than zooming in and focusing, she literally takes a step back in her photographs. This is how she reveals that which, for the sake of the credibility of the place, could best have been left out. Not only are we looking at nostalgic facades, but also at the off-key bench and the waste bin with its blousing liner, standing in the flowerbed in front of the vacation homes. Not only at the little Saxon farmhouses, but also at the bouncy pink plastic dinosaur standing on a worn patch of grass.

Visual rhyme and humor prove to be another effective means for making the friction between different realities palpable. In the photograph of the Inntel hotel in Zaandam, the bicycle racks in the foreground take on a surprising relationship with the hotel’s form of stacked Zaandam houses. Her photograph of beach resort Makkum shows a deserted traffic circle. Two lone joggers are the only vacationers to be found on the road. They’re doing their lap around the obstacle erected with basalt blocks and crowned with three boulders. In Besems’s photographs, reality is constantly undermining the illusion. The unemphatic way in which this happens is, oddly enough, the visual strength of the series. Landscape of Plenty holds a great deal to discover which surprises us visually, but provokes thought as well.