Inge Meijer, Nothing is Something to be Seen, Akinci.
Conceptual photography is often described as distant and humorless. Two years ago, Inge Meijer proved that things can be done differently with The Plant Collection, an overview of the plants that were on display in the Stedelijk Museum between 1945 and 1983. A light-hearted subject, which conceals a tribute to the man who silently cared for this collection for years. For Nothing is Something to be Seen, Meijer chanced upon a similar story, touching on an essential theme that is rarely touched upon: class differences.
Nothing is Something to be Seen is the second solo exhibition by Inge Meijer (NL, 1986) at Akinci. She studied Fine Art at ArtEZ in Arnhem. In 2017 she completed her residency at the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam, where she stood out with her films and installations in which she pays a lot of attention to the uneasy relationship between man and his environment. Apparently Meijer focuses on the small things and the daily actions with which we express our worries, our dreams and desires and cherish our illusions. Her work has been exhibited at home and abroad and her publication, The Plant Collection, was selected for the Best Dutch Book Designs in 2020.
Inge Meijer, Plant Collection (2016 - ongoing), 2021, AKINCI.
The seeds for Nothing is Something to be Seenwere sown in 2018. During an artist-in-residency in Colombia, Meijer became acquainted with the phenomenon of vivero ambulante. Driving through the streets of Medellín was a man, Duván Antonio Ramírez, who covers his car on the outside with his merchandise, plants. "Such a moving mountain of plants made me happy and when I got home I watched interviews he gave to local media," says Inge Meijer on the phone. “Ramírez turned out to do this every day and he also grows his own plants on the roof of his house. His idea to use the exterior of his car was not only a practical find, but also produced a very nice image.”
Typical of Meijer’s methods is that she contacted Ramírez via email to ask him about his way of working. “You seek contact to better understand the work and to be able to relate to it. That was difficult because of the pandemic.” Earlier, Meijer met the daughter of the caretaker of The Plant Collection, Mr Van der Ham. The same would happen in Beetsterzwaag (province of Friesland), where she spent the summer at Kunsthuis SYB.
“The image of a garden car never left me, that is usually a good criterion for making a work about something.” The idea was translated into the Community Garden project for which Meijer stayed in Beetsterzwaag. She conducted research into the question of how we can use public space – which is now often reserved for cars – for gardens that everyone can use.
Meijer would also assist in the Tropical Greenhouse of the extinct noble family Lycklama à Nijeholt. The greenhouse is now run by local volunteers. Beforehand Meijer said about this: “By collaborating with the greenery group, baking team and water givers of the Tropical Greenhouse, I wanted to learn about the plants and the functioning of this community”. An experience that would contribute to the design of the Community Garden.
Inge Meijer, Car Garden, 2021, AKINCI.
The Tropical Greenhouse
Beetsterzwaag is a small village community within which noble families had a lot of say and whose farmers in the surrounding areas had been renting their land for generations. “There was a lot of nobility in the area, you can see and feel that,” says Meijer. The Tropical Greenhouse dates from 1869 and is an expression of those power relations. “When the members of the noble family went on their honeymoon, they took back seeds of exotic plants. Those seeds were really exclusive at the time; you couldn't just come by them, like today."
On her second day in the Tropical Greenhouse, Meijer struck up a conversation with a volunteer who was very modest. She turned out to be the daughter of Mr. Hemminga, the man who, as a twelve-year-old boy, was employed as a gardener by the noble family and who took care of the plants all his life. Because of his dedication, the plants grew and bloomed. “I was touched by it,” Meijer says. Like Mr Van der Ham in Amsterdam, Mr Hemminga was the silent force behind the success for which he received little recognition. Meijer sees a parallel here with plants themselves. They are very helpful but are in a lower rank so that they often go unnoticed, while we are so dependent on them.
The question that arose was: how do you tell this story? It reminded Meijer of a statement by the Lebanese artist Walid Raad, Nothing is something to be seen, from which the exhibition takes its name. What is nothing, she wondered, and who decides that anyway? “Class differences manifest themselves over generations. It is in everything, in your body and in the place you occupy in a community. Mr Hemminga's work is something you can ignore. Something not everyone will notice. As an artist you have the opportunity to assign value and do justice to something.” Meijer decided to screen-print archive photos of the plants Hemminga cared for on cotton handkerchiefs from his estate and hang them on clotheslines in the gallery.
Inge Meijer, AKINCI.
The exhibition Nothing is something to be seen by Inge Meijer can be seen until October 30 at Galerie Akinci, Amsterdam