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Being a Londoner living abroad, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to promote two exhibitions currently on in the Netherlands. The first one celebrates the work of Hussein Chalayan, twice-crowned British Designer Of The Year and the second, Made In Britain, features the work of twelve contemporary British photographers.

I’ve always wondered how you could explain Britain and Britishness? As a kid coming back to England after a summer in Warsaw (I’m half-Polish), I would always try and identify the things that made my home country so different from the continent. I think in the end I decided it was the road signs, the dampness in everything (which somehow made colours moodier), the London accent (which I will always love with all my heart), the mix of different cultures and old people (who always seemed very different to their continental versions). Maybe these exhibitions will go some way in helping you decide your own essential ingredients that make up ‘British’?

Groningen may be a bit of a trek from Amsterdam but it’s definitely worth the effort, especially if it’s to visit the Groninger Museum which has a great reputation.
The Museum’s retrospective of Hussein Chalayan’s first ten year’s of work also happens to be his first solo exhibition, and focuses on the British/Cypriot fashion designer’s intriguing cross between fashion and art. I don’t think many designers manage that cross-over convincingly but Chalayan has always drawn deeply from both his own multi-cultural background and from a wide circle of disciplines such as architecture, philosophy and anthropology. The result is deeply intriguing work, often comprising outfits, installations, photography and video work.

Since his graduation from Central St Martin’s in 1993, he has developed a name for his innovative, unusual fabrics with unorthodox techniques and in April 2004, he finally opened his flagship store in Tokyo, which has received acclaim worldwide. The exhibition runs until 4th September so you really have no excuse to miss it. Check below for opening times.

My second choice is closer to home, this time at Huis Marseilles loacted on Amsterdam’s Keizersgracht. Made in Britain is a collaboration with Addie Vassie of HUG gallery and presents a selection of recent work by twelve British photographers, most of whom are exhibiting in the Netherlands for the first time. It’s an interesting combination of established photographers (considered key figures in contemporary photography in England) and that of young, up-and-coming photographers.

I’m particularly excited that works by Antoni+Alison, Craig Ames, Chino Otsuka, Mathew Murray, Michelle Sank and the very excellent, Elaine Constantine are included. Many of these photographers have followed in the tradition and observational style of the brilliant Martin Parr, especially Mathew Murray who shares that special gift of being able to capture the humour in everyday life. Antoni+Alison’s work has become as iconic as the fashion they became famous for and it’s interesting to see their development in photography. Craig Ames’ observations of squaddie (British Army) life ring are captured by someone who was part of that world and understands it completely. I can’t help wishing I could ask what the squaddie trick is for keeping their sneakers so clean…… Chino Otsuka’s images are subtly beautiful, captured with a cinematic eye and containing deep emotional responses to the culture shock of moving to England as a child.

Michelle Shank’s work shares the awkwardness of adolescence and presents it with an incredible starkness. It’s hard not to be challenged by the statements her images present. Finally, Elaine Constantine, whose work I love especially her brilliantly cheery ‘Girls on bike’ (1997). Her fashion images for iconic magazines such as The Face and i-D, drew upon the great traditions of English photodocumentary and captured a generation at play in the 1990’s. Elaine’s recent project, Tea Dance, sees her work develop in a reassuringly interesting direction and I would strongly recommend you check it out.
Made In Britain runs until 29th May and there will also be a magazine available to accompany the exhibition.

Hussein Chalayan
Date: Until 4th September 2005
Opening times: Tuesday till Sunday 10.00 until 17.00
Place: Groninger Museum
Address: Museumeiland 1, 9711 ME Groningen

Made In Britain
Date: Until 29th May 2005
Opening times: Tuesday till Sunday 11.00 until 17.00
Place: Huis Marseille, Foundation for Photography
Address: Keizersgracht 401, 1016 EK Amsterdam

Chino Atsuka – High Street
Date: 14th May – 4th June 2005
Place: HUG, Gallery for International Photography
Address: Eerste Tuindwarsstraat 16, 1015 RV Amsterdam

Text: Ania Markham from Post Panic
Photos: Courtesy of Chino Otsuku (Huis Marseilles), Hussein Chalayan (Groninger Museum), Antoni and Alison (Huis Marseilles), Michelle Sank (Huis Marseilles)

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Ricky Powell