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A Closer Look -- Happy Birthday To You

Happy Birthday To You
Happy Birthday To You is the product of photographer and multimedia artist Anouk Kruithof's residency at Het Vijfde Seizoen in the Netherlands. Located on the site of a psychiatric institution, artists are encouraged to work or interact with the patients over their three month stay. Considering this, the organization has some understandable reservations about photography -- a straight forward documentary project could easily fall into the realm of something exploitative, creating space between patient and artist. But Kruithof approached the residency with an altogether different idea.  Over the course of her three months, Kruithof photographed and interviewed ten patients at the facility through the celebration of their birthdays. What resulted is a special kind of document, one that is unexpected, unconventional in the cut-and-paste design, yet intimate and complex.

The book is split up into ten sections, one for each person. On the left page is a cut-out photograph of the person's face, presented life-sized or bigger, with their name, birthday and age on the facing green-newsprint page. In the center of the page is a small colored sheet of paper, affixed within the book with a single piece of clear tape. When the paper is lifted a small color photograph is revealed of the birthday cake presented by Kruithof to that person, the cake bearing a photograph of the recipient reproduced on the frosting. The color of these cover-up sheets represent the favorite color of the person.

from Happy Birthday To You
 Photographs from the party are presented in a subtly three-dimensional collage. Because of the print quality and over-all green hue of the pages, this is a detail that is easy to miss. The photographs have not simply been cut and arranged on a flat surface, but they overlap and occupy different spaces in the collage photo's frame. The effect is playful and creates a dynamic flow of images, but it does not mask the darkness lurking in many of these snapshots. Nestled within the images of birthdays is bound a smaller white sheet of paper with a series of quotations from each person, printed in Dutch on one side, English on the other. The sentences are presented almost like a ransom note -- typewriter written phrases cut from their original sheet and pasted in a collage on the blank white page. The text size and boldness varies, though it is unclear whether the emphasis is Kruithof's or that of the speaker. Reading through the text, a range of emotion and traces of mental instability come through. Some are sweet and hopeful, others are tinged with anger and some mention internal voices and hallucinations. The complexity of the residents situations come through even in the simple scenario of a birthday celebration.

from Happy Birthday To You
from Happy Birthday To You
 The book is dedicated to Kruithof's grandmother who was admitted to a similar institution during Kruithof's childhood. These early experiences seem to have created a certain amount of ease in Kruithof when interacting with people with severe mental disorders, and it comes through in both the images and her choices in creating this document, both sensitive and intimate. While it's easy to call the book's design child-like with its text and photo collages, the scissors, paper and glue tactile quality may be more reminiscent of craft time in an institution like this. Presented in this manner, the photographer further breaks down the wall between her and the patients. The introductory essay, presented on a small white page in front of the book and written by psychiatrist and  founder of Het Vijfde Seizoen Armand Höppener, just begins to touch on the complexity this book, though it is also complicated to unravel. -- Sarah Bradley

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1 comment:

  1. Great, great book! Young and very talented artist. After The Black Hole (and some other books) another superb photobook.

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