Through his work, documentary photographer Daan Paans seeks to find answers to intriguing questions. His photographs will be on show in gallery dudokdegroot, until 1 August. They treat subjects like time, timelessness and different (visual) interpretations throughout time. Paans: “We live in a melting pot of cultural influences, resulting in visual forms that we cannot always always trace back to an original source. That leaves an opening for misunderstandings. I wanted to do something with that and actually started looking for stories that gain, through reproduction, a new value in a certain way." Paans wonders how people have been making and interpreting images over time. He starts long-term research projects to gain more knowledge about these subjects: historical research into the origin of objects, but also anthropological research into the traditions of certain groups of people.
For his Artefact research project he became fascinated by the object most people will be familiar with because of the opening scene of 'Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark' (1981). The pre-Columbian statue of the Aztec goddess Tlazolteotl that is mid-labour is part of the collection of the Dumbarton Oaks Museum in Washington. However, research - carried out down to the microscopic level - indicates that this iconic statue was made much later, in the nineteenth century. And not even in South America but in Europe or Asia. Despite that now well-known fact, the statue, which is still immensely popular with visitors of the museum, is still on show. And that confusion between copy and original, combined with the lasting value of this proven ‘false' object, fascinated Paans. He considered it the starting point for the project and continued this 'cultural mutation'. What happens when you let people from different times, with different tastes, geographical locations and cultural backgrounds, interpret a certain work — in a situation where nobody gets to see the full picture? These people also have varying techniques and materials at their disposal.
Paans captured a replica of the statue on photo and forwarded that same photo - his personal visual and scaleless interpretation of the work, viewed from one side - to a craftsman who gave a 3D shape to the work once again. That reinterpreted replica was then again photographed by Paans to be presented to another craftsman in yet another country. The end result is reminiscent of the circular whisper game in which a sentence is whispered person-to-person, but after the sentence has been passed around for a few times, the end result has little to do with the original sentence. Paan’s project ends with a stately, Roman-looking statue. Where the ‘original' was in the middle of having a baby, here we see a woman in a calm, almost meditative state. The project is part of a broader investigation, for which Paans also looked at various codex drawings of this goddess in ancient sources. What conclusions does this research offer in terms of the ever-changing transcultural changes of meaning over centuries? Which interpretation processes are behind this? And how consciously do we register these changes over time?
And that is just one of the research projects to which Paans has devoted himself in recent years. For the project Letters from Utopia, he investigated five groups of people that aspire to mortality: they want to extend the human lifespan to an extreme degree. In the Rhinoceros project, Paans wonders how the increasingly tangible representations of the past and the future influence our contemporary reality. He looks at how prehistory was represented in the nineteenth century, how fragments of history are brought to life today and how the future is represented in science fiction. For example, in the exhibition in gallery dudokdegroot, we see the result of a 3D research into the shape of a meteorite, presented as an artifact and based interpretations of these objects from science fiction. The photo series 'Le monde avant la creation de l’homme' depicts a series of seemingly untouched landscapes, supposedly taken before humans were present. He based these images partly on a book by Camille Fammarion from the 19th century, which describes (and visually shows us in the form of engravings) the landscape from an almost Biblical background. He contrasts his own 21st-century perception of truth, effectively questioning the truth behind both interpretations.