At first glance, all is pink. Like a doll’s house, carefree and relaxed. Except for a small, metallic structure in one corner. The toilet bowl amidst the pink clouds reveals the
actual purpose: a cell. A prison. Hidden here is the rage, the outburst, the act of violence that may have led to this place.
Two glances further: wrinkled clods of earth on metal trays. An abandoned storeroom? Who could really have any use for such drab objects? The whole of Europe, in fact! The mushroom substrate of the premium mushroom culture in Kerns, Switzerland, is highly sought-after, since it comes from the only company to have successfully established a fully automatic production – and that in organic produce quality.
Hidden stories within fascinating, strikingly detailed pictures. 25 places that hardly anyone has been allowed to throw a glance at so far. The art project “HIDDEN” by the curator Catherine Iselin and the photographer Kostas Maros has made these places accessible without taking away any of their magic, touching and sometimes disquieting attributes. A view of Switzerland which goes effortlessly beyond national borders thanks to its complexity and great thematic diversity.
“Kostas Maros and I met each other 15 years ago at the University of Basel and soon found out that we were fascinated by similar topics. The invisible, the weird and the forbidden. We found ourselves in these again and again”, explains curator Catherine Iselin. With “HIDDEN”, their common interests have been combined in a joint project.
PREMIUM MUSHROOMS FROM KERNS
Shiitake substrate in an air-conditioned
and CO2-controlled mushroom production room
Numerous positive answers
“At a very early stage, we asked ourselves: What is the actual meaning of hidden? We then jointly developed the decisive criteria for selecting suitable places.” Over two years, they both collected ideas, researched and asked for admission again and again – and with success. “We were overwhelmed by the number of people who said ‘yes’”, the curator tells. Their obvious enthusiasm for their project and their intelligent, sensitive approach to portraying must doubtless have played a major part here.
„We did not intend to hand out anything on a silver platter.“
One of the most important questions at the beginning of the project was the choice of a medium. “For me, the only suitable medium was photography – due to its character of authenticity. Had the hidden places been drawn or painted, the pictures would not have had the same effect”, Iselin emphasizes. Photography is seen as a form of documentation. It presents plausible images which inspire confidence in the viewer – an important prerequisite for recording hidden things. The project also deliberately works without text; it is not a report. “We did not intend to hand out anything on a silver platter. By doing so, all viewers can experience that fascinating, intimate moment of discovering something previously hidden to them.”
Structure and perspective
“HIDDEN” transcends the abilities of the human eye. Angles and details of the photos are larger and more varied than can be taken in at a single glance. This level of detail, however, is not inconsistent with what is hidden, since hidden things are often only materialised through precise observation and the pursuit of detail.
This depends primarily on the perspective and professional expertise of the photographer. “Architecture and aesthetics are inseparable from the work of Kostas Maros. Whoever looks at his works can see how intensely he works with structure, ornaments and perspective.” Certainly one reason why he won the renowned Swiss Photo Award 2018 in the category of architecture with eight pictures from the series.
„The people who live and work there belong to this place; they complete the story.“
From the beginning, Iselin and Maros were in agreement that the rooms should be photographed without people. “But once on site, we quickly realised that people and rooms are ultimately inseparable. The people who live and work there belong to this place; they complete the story. So we also took portraits of the people as an additional project”, says Iselin. Every person was photographed in front of a neutral background together with an object of their own choice. Establishing the context falls to the viewers of the exhibition and readers of the accompanying book – often with an element of surprise.
Showing diversity without prejudice was a major goal of this project. “We have tried to include as many places as possible, not only geographically, but also in terms of different subjects. Places of research, agriculture, defence or culture. Places that polarize society are also included, such as a halal abattoir or a darkroom. We made a special point of not leaving them out but giving them a place entirely without any ethical judgement instead”, the curator emphasizes. The photographs also serve as contemporary witnesses. For example, the radio play studio of the Swiss radio and television network lost its purpose due to digitisation and was demolished some time after the photos were taken.
A continuation of the project is already planned, but in a different context. This context will not yet be disclosed, in contrast to the fundamental insight which Iselin and Maros have gained from the current project: “Regardless of how fascinating and well hidden a place or a trade may be, it is still a part of daily life for someone.”
Portrait of Catherine Iselin and Kostas Maros
The Swiss art historian Catherine Iselin worked as a digital curator and research assistant for the Beyeler Foundation in Riehen / Basel from 2012 to 2017, before she took up her present position as Head of the Forum Würth Arlesheim in 2018. Privately, she has been organising art exhibitions as a freelance curator since 2011, and she writes as an author for various (online) magazines.
The Swiss photographer Kostas Maros graduated from university with a degree in law and worked in the legal profession for a number of years, before switching to professional photography in 2013 after autodidactic training. Since then, he has been working in Switzerland and abroad. For his work, he has won prizes such as the Prix de la Photographie, Paris, the VFG Young Talent Award and the Swiss Press Award.
Art, photography and project at a glance
HIDDEN – SecretPlaces in Switzerland is currently on display as a visiting exhibition at the Forum Würth Arlesheim until 26 January 2020. www.forum-wuerth.ch
Published by Catherine Iselin with photographs by Kostas Maros
The interview with Catherine Iselin and Kostas Maros was conducted by Lena Petzold