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Some invest years in a psychoanalysis. Belgian photographer Barbara Iweins chose a different kind of therapy. After a painful separation and an umpteenth move, the woman who defines herself as a “neurotic collector” embarked on the crazy project of photographing each and every object in her home: “from my daughter’s sock with a hole in it to my son’s Lego, not to mention my vibrator, my anti-anxiety drugs, everything, absolutely everything.” Four years and 12,795 photographs later, she publishes Katalog with Delpire.
For this work of introspection, Barbara Iweins followed a quasi-scientific protocol, photographing each object piece by piece and on a gray background. She uses the serial and typological approach well known in the history of photography, but here she makes an autobiographical use of it. A frantic succession of multicolored squares scrolls before our eyes, sometimes slowing down the tempo to devote a page to a particular object – a red trench coat, a fire extinguisher, a hot water bottle cut into pieces – each one associated with an anecdote, often comical, bringing her back to her OCDs and neuroses, her past, her relationship with her children or her daily life.
Short sentences describe some of the plates, the very serious results of a zany statistical study she made with an Excel spreadsheet: “The amount spent on all the objects in the kitchen (€3,620.60) is less than the amount invested in my collection of Blythe dolls.” Or “55% of the items in my room are clothes. Every year, this number decreases by 20%, I’m on the right track.” Self-deprecation as a source of healing.
As the pages go by, the number of objects, all numbered, increases at an alarming rate, leaving us stunned by the magnitude of the project: a life saving approach or the ultimate neurosis? For this inveterate homebody, confining herself to her objects in order to index them one by one has been a real bulwark against the chaos of the world. “The inertia of objects gives me a deep sense of calm.
Beyond the therapeutic path that it constitutes, Katalog inevitably brings us back to our own possessions and functions as a “visual anthropology of our contemporary society”. This very intimate work finally evokes the neuroses of our own society, of which overconsumption is a symptom.
A project as astonishing as it is titanic, Katalog is a self-true portrait of 12,795 objects, in which OCD and humor walk hand in hand, providing an unexpected cure to the photographer and her readers.
Barbara Iweins – Katalog
368 pages, French
Delpire & Co, 2022
Available in bookstores and online