Erwin Olaf
19 September - 19 October, 2019

After solo shows at Kunstmuseum Den Haag, Fotomuseum Den Haag and Rijksmuseum, Olaf will focus in his gallery about his most recent series Palm Springs. During an artist talk at the gallery on Saturday 21st of September, Olaf will speak about the third episode of his extraordinary trilogy that started with Berlin and Shanghai. Palm Springs includes photographic works, carbon prints and a series of video-portraits, exhibited for the first time worldwide. Complicated, and more introspective than before, Olaf shows the increasingly difficulties to adapt to the globalised world.

The exhibition can be seen from Thursday September 19th until Saturday 19th October, 2019.

Artist Talk: Saturday 21 September 2019.
The artist talk with Erwin Olaf at Flatland is by invitation only. The event is fully booked.

Erwin “The films exhibited are part of a growing project that I started with the series Shanghai. Each of these five young women turn towards the viewer in a short film with a question or a demand on a very personal level. They ask for attention, love or simply to be seen. It was inspired by the short films in outdoor advertising that we see nowadays more and more in the streets all over the world, to attract our attention for products.

In today’s world with a vastly growing population, it seems that we are getting more and more lonely, despite the huge amount of possibilities to communicate with each other. Simultaneously most of the people are getting more articulate and demanding in their needs towards others and representatives of their governments.

Since this phenomenon is worldwide, it is my goal to extend my work from Berlin, Shanghai and Palm Springs to a collection of around 50-70 films, spoken in different languages, to form one big installation of women, men and children that all cry out for attention and needs, as I observe this more and more in our world today.”

Extracts from the PRESS:
From I AM, Erwin Olaf in conversation with curator Wim van Sinderen:
The three series Berlin, Shanghai and Palm Springs exude a ‘Decline of the West’-like atmosphere.
“Do you think the world is doing so brilliantly? “I’m afraid to read the newspaper nowadays. The Berlin series is situated in buildings that were already there in the interwar years. The thundercloud that exploded over Europe back then is rolling in once again. Europe is not in such a good shape, just think about the attacks in Brussels, Berlin, Madrid, Barcelona, Nice, London and Paris – Bataclan and Charlie Hebdo. People are silenced, more divided and frightened than before, and artists also seem to be paralysed.

We may have had 75 years of peace in the western world, an unprecedented period, but how long will it last? Look at China, it’s an unstoppable monster, a super-state, a dictatorship that knows how to get things done quickly. It may be the nightmare of many democracies. Our western democracy is so inefficient, it’s a joke, really. But so delicate and valuable at the same time.
Freedom is very inefficient, it’s not profitable, it only costs time and effort, so I do have the feeling we’re on a vulnerable, valuable island that is crumbling at the edges. At the School of Journalism, I was already writing articles about what happens after the bomb drops. Meanwhile, I’m on top of the wave myself, but all my life I’ve been afraid of the end of our vulnerable, beautiful democratic system we’re so damn lucky to live in.”

Uit het interview met Mischa Cohen, Vrij Nederland, januari 2019,
Als de cast eenmaal op locatie bij elkaar komt, gaat zo’n project een eigen leven leiden, zegt Erwin Olaf. ‘Bijvoorbeeld de houding die deze jongen (American Dream, Portrait of Alex red.) aannam. Die refereert aan de klassieke beeldhouwkunst, maar ook aan de protesthouding van Colin Kaepernick tijdens het spelen van het Amerikaanse volkslied.’
En die twee jongens in die villa uit de jaren vijftig (p. 100), de een in zwembroek en de ander in legerkleding uit de tijd van de Korea-oorlog, hadden nooit van plaats kunnen wisselen, merkte hij (Erwin Olaf, red.) tijdens het fotograferen. ‘Toen ik de schetsen maakte, dacht ik: ik zie straks wel wie wat aantrekt. Maar een donkere jongen kon destijds hoogstwaarschijnlijk niet geloofwaardig zijn als bewoner van dat riante villacomplex. De zoon des huizes was zonder twijfel wit en de donkere jongen stond op het punt om in Korea te sneuvelen in de strijd tegen het communistische gevaar. Fictioneel geouwehoer, iedereen moet er zelf maar iets van vinden.’
Het was voor het eerst sinds jaren dat hij weer zo’n typische mannenfoto maakte, nadat hij jarenlang met vrouwelijke modellen had gewerkt. Hij liet de jongens liefdevol met de voorhoofden tegen elkaar staan als ‘een teken van liefde, maar wel typisch mannelijk, niet iets tussen man en vrouw.’

From the interview with Nina Siegal, A Photographer Who Makes You Ask, ‘What Has Happened Here?’ - The New York Times, 13 February 2019.

In his most recent series, Palm Springs, Mr. Olaf outfits his models in 1960s clothing and hairstyles and then sets them in contexts that didn’t exist at that time. A mother and daughter picnic in the California desert (The Kite, ed.), for example, gazing out across a vast field of wind turbines first built in the 1980s.

“A perfect world with a crack, that’s what I like,” said Mr. Olaf. “That has to do with what’s in here,” he added, pointing to his head. “I think we all have a big crack inside and and yet we dress up in our best Sunday suits. I always thought that when I express myself in my personal portfolio I have to be more than 100 percent honest, toward the viewer and toward myself.”
He describes his work now as much more “subdued,” but it could be said that the shock value of the early photographs has only been replaced by a stronger submerged tension. The images have an intense surface placidity or stillness, but underneath, they roil.

His own sense of vulnerability, or as he describes it, “knowing you’re one of the weak animals in the herd,” is something that drives his focus on his work these days. “It’s a huge advantage that you are aware that you have to live now and not tomorrow,” he said. His health also factored into his decision to donate a large part of his photography archive to the Rijksmuseum.

“It is getting into a different chapter now,” he said. “I have a harsh-sounding voice, walking up the stairs is getting less easy and long-haul flights are harder. It also gives a lot of inspiration. You think about your future, you’re fed up with what you made in the past. It’s automatically combined with some sadness, but you go deeper inside and then you explore new subjects.”

Selected Works

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