Arja Hop & Peter Svenson / Distilled Landscapes – an allegory of four rivers
‘In the realization of our work we apply analogical photography, studying nature with natural physical and chemical processes. The images are determined by elements of the material itself rather than our perception of it.’
The residues projects of the artistic duo Arja Hop and Peter Svenson bring together photography and botanical alchemy in a remarkable way, by applying plant-derived dyes directly to photographic film and printing the results in an analogue way. As a visual artist Hop is inspired by natural processes: she is particularly interested in the development of human thought about hierarchies and interactions between people and nature in relation to the ingenious survival strategies employed by plants. Her fascination is shared by Svenson, a master printer who left New Zealand for Amsterdam in 1982 and who has specialized since then in large-format analogue printing.
In 2013 Arja Hop began her project Residue Amsterdam, an intensive study of vegetable dyes, to which she first gave visual expression in the form of drawings, watercolours and analogue photographs. In 2015 she extended this project as a joint photographic project with Peter Svenson. Within a well-defined geographical area they take samples of its indigenous plants and extract their juices. Svenson and Hop then use a unique, independently-developed method to transform these plant residues into photographic prints: they apply the residue to a transparent black-and-white sheet film, and then expose this against large-format colour sheet film in a camera that Svenson built specially for this process. The resulting exposure is then used to make a print. Each residue creates a unique monochrome print. In this way Hop and Svenson create a kind of sample card for a given environment, a colour chart in the form of a grid displaying a variety of tints from the colour spectrum. Each photo tells the biochromatic story of a specific plant and location.
The uniqueness of this project lies not only in the poetic results of the landscape explorations that Hop and Svenson document in this photo-alchemical way, but also in the autobiographical element of their choice of study area: New-Zealand, the country of Svenson’s birth, and the Netherlands, where both now live. Their work is based on an object-oriented philosophy, in which humans or human experience are not necessarily the main point of focus. During the making process, four rivers have come to play a connecting role, two in New Zealand and two in the Netherlands; Whanganui, Tamaki, the Amstel, and the Waal, form an analogy for identity, history and place.
In Amsterdam, a city on the Amstel river with a typically urban ecology in which people and nature live shoulder to shoulder and must constantly make way for one another, they did their fieldwork for Residue Amsterdam in roadside verges, along the city canals, and in parks and gardens. On the north island of New Zealand, with its dense jungles and protected natural parks, a prominent role was given to the Whanganui River – the only river in the world, so far, to have been awarded the same legal rights as people. Along the banks of the Tamaki River, an intensive industry, recreation and residential area in New Zealand’s largest city, Hop and Svenson investigate mangroves in relation to pollution with their residues method. The Waaloever near Nijmegen is a transition area. Here they show the difference between the same plants that occur both outside and inside the dikes. Referring to archaeology, they pick up objects dragged along by the river and make photographic images of them that are in a constant state of change.
Arja Hop (Hierden 1968) trained in fine art at the Academy for Art and Design St. Joost in Breda. She also studied philosophy for a year at the University of Amsterdam; here she encountered, and was inspired by, Wittgenstein’s ideas about colour and Heidegger’s notion of landscape as a ‘witness’ of everything that occurs in it. In 2016 Hop was given a drawing assignment by the Amsterdam City Archives which resulted in Residu – Populus canescens – Jachthavenweg.
Peter Svenson (Palmerston North, New Zealand 1956) studied photographic technique at the Wellington Polytechnic in New Zealand. In 1982 he emigrated to the Netherlands, where he worked for many years as a colour printer for the photographic laboratory [S]color in Amsterdam. In 2005 he co-founded the AAP-lab (Amsterdam Analogical Photoprinting), where as a renowned master printer he has since prepared high-quality analogue prints for some of the country’s most prestigious artists.