Back to the Future – The 19th Century in the 21st Century


  • 19.01.2018. - 28.03.2018

Back to the Future - the 19th Century in the 21st Century is an exhibition presenting the work of contemporary artists who use photographic techniques, methods and processes that trace back to those used by nineteenth Century photographers. These artists not only draw inspiration from those pioneering years, but also find surprising new ways to continue in that same tradition. In the exhibition curated by Foam the works of over twenty five selected artists from the 21st and 19th Century are presented simultaneously.


Today, photography’s current state is reminiscent of the early years of the medium, when the discipline had not yet found a definitive, standardised form, and the air was full of experiment. Photography was mostly seen as a practical application. It would only be used in a totally free and artistic way in the 20th Century. But the new medium opened up a playground for astronomers, mathematicians, doctors and chemists who worked as alchemists, trying to catch light and time, mapping the world and leaving traces behind. The potential of photography was explored with great curiosity and the new medium was used with enthusiasm for all sorts of purposes and applications.


Photography nowadays is likewise characterised by an open-minded mentality that invites all sorts of disciplinary cross-overs and experiments. There is also an interest in the physical production process and the material qualities of the work. The artists featured in the exhibition use the original principles of photography – light, a photosensitive carrier, emulsion and chemical processes – but they also make use of modern tools such as computers and 3D printers. Their deliberate experimentation results in radical new works of art, in which photography merges with other disciplines such as sculpture and painting. These works echo the techniques and processes discovered by nineteenth-century pioneers and enter into a surprising dialogue. The parallels and connections between the works are no hard science but relevant associations. The openness in their methods reflects the spirit of visual freedom that characterises both the pioneers from the 19th Century as the contemporary artists in this exhibition. The exhibition includes work by: Anna Atkins (GB), Sylvia Ballhause (DE), Karl Blossfeldt (DE), Bownik (PL),l Matthew Brandt (US), Alfred Brothers (GB), Henry Frères (FR), S.W. Burham (US), William England (SCT), Sam Falls (US), Spiros Hadjidjanos (GR), Thomas Hauser (FR), Nicolai Howalt (DK), Adam Jeppesen (DK), Thomas Mailaender (FR), James Nasmyth (SCT), Taiyo Onorato & Nico Krebs (CH), Johan Österholm (CH), Jaya Pelupessy & Felix van Dam (NL), Warren de la Rue (GB), Lewis M. Rutherford (US), Stephen Thompson (GB), Simon van Til (NL) and several anonymous makers.


The exhibition Back to the Future is initiated by Foam in collaboration with C/O Berlin. After Foam the exhibition will travel to C/O Berlin, Germany, where it will be on show from 29 September to 2 December, in in an adapted version. The next issue of Foam Magazine with the same name and theme #49: Back to the Future will be published this month.


  1. Polystichum munitum, 2015 (detail) © Spiros Hadjidjanos
  2. Ferns I, Working collage, before1928 © © Karl Blossfeldt Archiv / Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Pinakothek der Moderne, München
  3. Disassembly 23, 2012 (detail) © Bownik / courtesy The Ravestijn Gallery

(press release)