After snaking along Lake Geneva, the train pulls into the Vevey train station. Out in the hall, we look up toward the floor where L’Appartement is located. This former residence of Swiss railroad employees is now managed by the team of Images Vevey, a visual arts festival.
As a biennial event, it must find ways of staying visible in off-seasons. L’Appartement thus now offers a permanent exhibition space that the festival needed. Until May 14, it hosts Katalog by the Belgian photographer Barbara Iweins.
A divorce in 12,795 objects
Faced with a divorce a few years ago, and, consequently, a house move, Iweins decided to methodically photograph every single object in her possession according to a set protocol. This allowed her both not to forget anything and to trivialize the ordeal she was going through.
She would place, for example, the items in her wardrobe on a white background and frame one after another in her camera’s viewer. It would take her a few seconds to release the shutter, turn to her computer, and validate the image, before moving on to the next object. Once she had photographed every fragment of her life in one room, she would lock it and move on to the next.
This archival labor classified 12,795 objects, a total that may seem as dizzying as it is ludicrous. Umbrellas, kitchen utensils, shoes, sex toys, bald Playmobil dolls: is that all that remains of the life of a couple and their mutual promises? A haphazard inventory reminiscent of Jacques Prévert’s list poems and as rigorous as a damage assessment, Iweins’s catalog lays things down flat in more ways than one. Speaking of her former companion, she said: “He decided not to take anything with him.”
A housewarming party
L’Appartment has retained its partitions and structure: there is a living room, bedrooms, a terrace, bathrooms… Iweins gives us a tour of the place where she had just set down her luggage as if this were her new home. “I have the keys to the apartment, I don’t go out anymore, I’m settling in,” she jokes.
Stefano Stoll, director of Images Vevey, gave her the keys: “I met him in Arles. He came up to me and told me plain and simple that he had the ideal place to host my exhibition.” This is no longer an exhibition opening; it’s a housewarming party. She tells us of her fear of being misunderstood, that her Katalog might be seen only as a way to talk about herself and elicit sympathy.
Iweins’s work is much more subtle than that. It starts out with an intimate gesture, but this intimacy speaks to something universal: separation, uprooting… The fact that once-insignificant everyday objects had become the sole remnants of an evaporated life is sadly all too common.
We know instantly what she is talking about, and her pain almost stirs up our own. She prefers to smile about it even as she constructs theories about the modern scourge of disappearing socks and scrunchies, draws up statistics as precise as they are useless about the colors of the inventoried items or about the incompatibility between wearing heels and owning (and walking) a dog.
We are amused by the pie charts that she displays as if they purported to address some fundamental questions. But then we are caught off guard by a surge of emotion as we read the account of the exact moment the couple split up. By displaying her frontal photographs (she thinks of herself as a portrait painter), her Excel documents, and her writings, Barbara Iweins wants to convey the complexity and the paradoxical nature of her feelings. Katalog is a work about modesty and sharing, about forgiveness despite the scars, about the importance of mockery, about the need to archive the past in order to move forward.
Barbara Iweins, « Katalog », L’Appartement, Vevey (Switzerland), until May 14, 2023