In the summer of 2018 The Ravestijn Gallery presented Scheltens & Abbenes’ bright and colourful series ‘The Workers’. The Dutch artist duo, consisting of photographer Maurice Scheltens (1972) and visual artist Liesbeth Abbenes (1970), show their distinctive still lives: abstract yet compelling, and with a meticulous eye for detail. The works are a mix of studio photographs and images from the series ‘Trailer’, consisting of flowers painted on vans from floral transportation docks, which premiered at Unseen in 2016. From afar the advertisements look like appealing flowers, but up close the artificiality almost dissolutes the flowers - within the context of the artists’ newest show the images are now instilled with a new layer of meaning.
‘The Workers’ consists not only of these almost still lives of painted flowers - printed large scale as to make the texture and every trace of use on the vans discernible - but also shows very mundane objects: different tools for gardening, beehives in various colours, a garbage can with layers of chemical paint spilled over its edges. On the photographs, however, the objects are transformed into highly stylised and aesthetic compositions, drawing attention to the colours and shapes, up to the point the viewer would almost forget their original context, as the play of textures and layers is endlessly fascinating.
What is not shown in these images are the humans hands that use the tools for gardening, to grow and cut the flowers the vans transport, that built and painted the beehives and tended to the bees. The images the viewers are left with are third hand, so to say. There are no flowers, nor bees, only man-made objects, all painted over, then taken up by the artists to be extracted from their context and to be made into an image.
The artists have added an extra layer, as it were, over these objects, and elevated them to aesthetic and abstract images - though still very recognisable, especially in their relation to each other. This layer serves as an extra remove but to remind the viewer of the original context of these objects and the processes of human intervention: to render objects useful, or, once assembled by the artists, to make appealing yet not obvious new compositions, images within the realm of art.
It is up to the viewer then, to imagine the possible narratives that these images allude to, the relation between man and nature, and between nature and aesthetics. This inevitably also leads to considerations as to the perilous position bees are now in due to pesticides and the impact their demise has on our ecosystem. Nature provides us generously with amazing beauty, but we can either admire it from a distance, or, as the viewer realises looking at these images, contemplate the deeper connections and meaning the photographs of the painted beehives, the flowers, the tools and waste bins so subtly point at.
Scheltens & Abbenes have had work commissioned with brands such as Paco Rabanne, Balenciaga, Maison Martin Margiela, Chanel, Arper, COS, Hermès, and YSL as well as editorial work with Fantastic Man, The Plant, Mac Guffin, The Gentlewomen, Le Monde and New York Times Magazine. Their work has been shown among others, at Galliera Musee de la Mode Paris, Foam Amsterdam, Huis Marseille Amsterdam, The Kunsthal in Rotterdam and The Art Institute of Chicago. They live and work in Amsterdam.