The Bonsai Project

The Bonsai Project was a beautiful collaboration between Dutch documentary photographers Sjoerd Knibbeler and Rob Wetzer. They started the project in 2009 out of fascination for the experience of nature and the cultivation of our natural environment and wrapped it up in 2013. Bonsai, man-made trees cultivated in pots, has been a Chinese tradition for more than two thousand years. Since then, it developed into an art form and has spread over the world. Many enthusiasts all over the world make and keep bonsai. Really understanding bonsai involves closely observing one’s natural environment and using it as inspiration. As photographers Knibbeler and Wetzer were fascinated by the condensed experience of nature these magical trees offer. Bonsai can be seen as the most unnatural nature that exists, cultivated for mere beauty, Knibbeler and Wetzer searched for a deeper understanding of what cultivating nature can offer us: a sense of time, respect, reflection and care for things around us. On a very small scale, this happens within the bonsai culture. But it happens in many different ways, everywhere in the world.

Despite all our desires for untamed wilderness, culture and nature are intrinsically connected. As an intervention in nature, bonsai is very artificial, but within it lies a deep knowledge of, and longing for nature. Precisely in this intervention the essence of the culture/nature relationship is being sought within our culture.

Rob Wetzer studied at the Utrecht School of Arts and the Royal Academy of The Hague. The photographer is known for his very extensive documentary projects. In his works Wetzer explores how culturally specified conventions define our vision. He examines our habits regarding the use, perception and design of ordinary spaces, from a historical and sociological perspective.

In his most recent project Nature, a Deconstruction, he links the virtual landscapes that are the scenery in computer games, to the representation of and theories about the ‘Lost World’. Wetzer states that our entire life seems increasingly malleable, even our natural environment is subjected to our manipulations. He also works as a curator / producer at FOTODOK and teacher at the Photography department at the Royal Academy of Arts and the School for Young Talent

Sjoerd Knibbeler also studied at the Utrecht School of Arts and the Royal Academy of The Hague. After his graduation his work was shown during Breda Photo, 2008. The following year, he expanded the series into the book ‘Ertussenuit’ met Sjoerd Knibbeler. In that book, his ‘image-essay’, which he photographed behind the scenes of the Dutch recreational landscape, is accompanied by a story of Dutch novelist Herman Koch.

With this publication, Knibbeler participated in group exhibitions in, amongst others, The Photographers’ Gallery, London, Foto Leggendo in Rome and the Flash Forward Festival in Toronto. In 2009 he started The Bonsai Project together with Rob Wetzel. Besides his personal projects, Knibbeler worked on various assignments for, amongst others, NRC Weekblad, NRC-NEXT, Volkskrant Magazine, Money Museum Utrecht and the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam.

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