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Monday, 19 January 2015

Mark Schalken polderlichaam

Mark Schalken's polderlichaam is a lovely, big book. It might be too big, but that's by the by. Polderlichaam tells the story of Schalken's experience of life around the northeastern polder; a polder is your Golden Netherlands landscape of reclaimed land surrounded by dykes. The land is flat, hostile and vulnerable to storms and floods.

Schalken left his polder home after telling his parents he was gay. But he was tempted back and began to explore the region around his old childhood home, a region he had ignored in his younger days. And as he explored, he photographed.

It's a beautiful book, an ambitious book that goes beyond the usual bounds of a stream-of-consciousness memory retrace. This is because Schalken connects his vision and his memory to the land in a very instinctive but resonant manner.

So we start with images of water. Water's everywhere, bubbling up and surging through pipes. It's not still or benign but has an energy that is mirrored by Schalken's visions of the land. It's flat but it's moving. He shoots the weather, the rain, the wind, the snow. He photographs the cyclists going along lanes that run over water and cut through fields. The flatness is punctuated by vertical lines - water spurting from an agricultural sprayer, a leaning branch, an upright body - and the land never seems boring or benign. It has a threat to it.        

It's a man-made environment so we see brutal lumps of concrete rising above the dikes and canals, we see a park bench submerged where the water has encroached. The land becomes domestic and merges into potato fields and the bustle of a polder town, polderlichaam - this is maybe where things go awry, where the energy and focus on the landscape is lost in the more urban setting where the groupings of people have a different feel to what came before. The book might be better without this.

But does it matter? Probably not, because soon we are back with water, a pool, a canal, the sea, and bubbles that mirror Schalken's childhood experiences of playing in the bath. So flat, bleak landscapes that run with the febrile energy of kids creating life. That's a good way to start the new year.

Buy the book here.

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