Featured Artist

Heleen Peeters & Masayo Matsuda

Interview by Floor Kortman, Pictures by Heleen Peeters & Masayo Matsuda

Featured artists Heleen Peeters (Belgium, 1988) and Masayo Matsuda (Japan, 1980) present their collaborative series The Atlas of Peter Schlemihl. It’s based on an 1814 story about a man who strikes a deal with the devil, selling his shadow in exchange for a bottomless wallet. The series is a hypothetical rendition that travels from real to imaginary spaces guided by memory, an intricate narrative in which autobiography and fiction overlap effortlessly. In this, photography is not just a technical apparatus that produces fixed images, but a method to imprint light on to an unstable support, giving way to a brief manifestation of ephemeral phenomena.

heleen peeters masayo matsuda

Who are you?

This is possibly the most difficult question one could ask. We thought about it for a long time yet still don’t know the answer. Perhaps that’s why we decided to make a series about Peter Schlemihl, a man who was undergoing an identity crisis…

What’s your story?

We met in 2006 while studying photography at the University of the Arts in London. From the start, both of us were intrigued by questions such as: What is photography? What makes a photograph a photograph? It was a little bit later, during the Shadow Catchers exhibition at the V&A, that we became inspired to make a project together. Seeing how some of these artists challenged the notion of photography triggered us to create something of our own.

web Peeters & Masayo

What about the story of Peter Schlemihl attracted you?

Albert von Chamisso wrote the story of Peter Schlemihl based on his own biography. Chamisso was a traveller, he had no fixed home as he was forced to continuously move during the French Revolution. When we were foreign students in London we learned a lot about our own origins and culture. Being far away from home for such a long time made us question where we belonged. Was home the place we grew up, or the place we live now? We thought the story of Peter Schlemihl would therefore be a good starting point for a collaborative piece.

Considering you both live on opposite sides of the planet, how does your collaboration work?

The exhibition on the story of Peter Schlemihl is something we have been developing for over a year. The discussions usually took place via Skype, talking for hours to share different ideas and possibilities. In that way our work began to grown together, we inspired each other but still remained individual. This is something we really enjoyed; as an artist you usually work by yourself, we never had this feeling because we worked closely together. If one of us has an idea, we are talking about it an hour later


What is your interest in photography?

We are interested in photography that addresses global topics and simultaneously questions the function of the image and the construction of subjectivity in contemporary culture. The camera is a tool that stands in relationship to the eye. The eye stands in connection with the viewer’s intellectual experience. The result is that every perceived optical phenomenon by means of intellectual association transforms into a personal conceptual image. Essentially this describes ‘vision’ in the broadest sense of the word. We like the kind of photography that takes this stand into consideration when making a body of work. That is why in our own practice we address photography from a more abstract angle; we hope to expand the medium’s dynamic.

Any plans for the future, more collaborations/exhibitions?

The exhibition at Subbacultcha was our first collaborative show. We are still in an experimental phase, exploring all sorts of possibilities. We hope to develop the Peter Schlemihl exhibition, as well as some other projects, further. For the future there is nothing concrete just yet, though we are working on the possibility of bringing out a small book. When and how it will be published is something we hope to announce soon.

web Peeters & Masayo web waterfall_color

web Peeters & Masayo