NOWHERE – Imagining The Global City focuses on the past 25 years work of Dutch artist/photographer Frank van der Salm and consists of a large-scale exhibition featuring a video wall driven by Artificial Intelligence, a collection presentation, a public program and a book.
The central theme of Frank van der Salm’s work is urban development as an expression of our time. Over the last 25 years, Van der Salm has travelled the world, focusing on urban landscape in its broadest sense. Aestheticism plays a major role in his work. It is the means by which he criticizes the urban world we now inhabit. NOWHERE, bringing together Frank van der Salm’s body of work from the past 25 years, is composed of two radically different parts. The Artificial Intelligence-driven installation, featuring all of his 241 images, is overwhelming and dynamic. It visualises the links between the works, based on their underlying meanings. The images themselves are immaterial. Behind the video wall lies the traditional, quiet museum world: the sphere of the ‘authentic’ works, each with it’s specific size and appearance. They are displayed in isolation from each other. Profusion is replaced by austerity and concentration, with no more than fourteen physical photographs and video works on show at any time. Here, Frank van der Salm’s aesthetic acts as a vehicle for his critical attitude towards the built environment.
In the 1990s Frank van der Salm aimed his lens at the landscape in order to record the human influence on it. Initially he followed in the tradition of the New Topographics, a movement that gained prevalence in the 1970s. Soon, however, he felt that the self-imposed restrictions – black and white, restricted format, the subject depicted sharply in focus and descriptively – was too limiting; Van der Salm started experimenting with colour, format, depth of field and scale. Until the mid-2000s the latter aspect was a distinguishing element of his visual language. The resulting alienation made the observer doubt whether this was an image or a scale model – an idealized model of reality, or an image of reality itself. In various guises, this has remained a characteristic of his work to this day. The central question always remains: which is the ideal image being pursued and what are the underlying values of it? Van der Salm himself indicates that his work – with the urban environment as its main subject matter – is a search for ‘who we are’. In other words: Frank van der Salm’s often impressive, aesthetic images are based on a critical cultural engagement.
We are currently living in a media society in which the image is omnipresent: experiences are guided by images we have seen before in the (social) media. In architecture this is taken a step further: buildings are increasingly designed (or cloned) with the eventual resulting image in mind. The traditional relationship between (physical) original and (digital) copy is reversed.
The main exhibition NOWHERE was presented on the ground floor of the Nederlands Fotomuseum, the space divided in half by a 18x3m wall. While the front felt like an open urban space, on a long facade an AI-driven montage of the work was projected. Behind the wall, physical works were on display. The AI that RNDR developed shed a new light on the works and their social relevance. The visualization of verbal concepts, the images, the values they represent and the underlying machine language was translated into a monumental projection. The second part of the main exhibition is an extreme contrast to the urban environment and dynamic projection; ultimate white cubes with a restricted selection of physical works.
The Collection Illuminated by Artificial Intelligence
For the last few years, the NFM has invited contemporary writers, photographers and curators to – from their specific perspective – curate exhibitions from the museum collection in The Collection Illuminated by…. In the context of NOWHERE the unique occasion presented itself to have an algorithm perform this task.
In the centre screen in this installation, we travel through the work of Frank van der Salm on the basis of the terms that he assigned to his works. The screen on the left shows images from the Collection of het Nederlands Fotomuseum, while the screen on the right shows pictures from one of the fastest-growing image collections in the world: Instagram. More than 100 million photos are uploaded to the online platform each day. Of these, 41,000 can be seen here – one minute of uploads from the countless billions now on Instagram.
The presentation with the computer as a descriptor of the images as well as a guest curator is a unique opportunity to address the phenomenon of AI for the general audience and encourage a debate amongst professionals working in the archive and museum world. Are we dealing with AI as a ‘helper’ of the artist or AI as the ultimate curator?
NOWHERE – Imagining the Global City is a Paradox production created in collaboration with the Nederlands Fotomuseum. NOWHERE is sponsored by the Creative Industries Fund NL, the Mondriaan Fund, Fonds 21, Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds (Breeman Talle Fund) and Stichting Zabawas.
The exhibition was on show at the Nederlands Fotomuseum in Rotterdam from 2 July – 3 October 2021. The Collection Illuminated by Artificial Intelligence will be open until July 2022.
Nederlands Fotomuseum, Rotterdam