Appetite for the Magnificent: meet the amateur collections of Swiss aquarists
Fishkeeping is a consuming passion for recreating marine biotopes in a limited space: the aquarium. This hobby is photographed by the duo of Tania and David Willen, from Studio Willen. Together, they met Swiss aquarists and their high-end aquaria. The series of images Appetite for the Magnificent focuses on the aesthetics of these domesticated marine worlds, transformed into colorful 2D paintings, filled with plants and marine inhabitants.
“Our declared passion is object, landscape and architectural photography” says the creative duo. Along with their branding work, Studio Willen is also a think tank where Tania and David Willen realize independent projects like Appetite for the Magnificent, “which are a particular pleasure for us” they say.
“We met people who breed their own plankton for their private aquariums and invest three hours a day in taking care of the fishes and their habitat” reveals Studio Willen. Aquarists have to act like scientists at each stage of the creation and the maintenance of this domesticated biotope. It’s all about chemistry, the correct PH-value and the right water climate.
So what are the winning elements of a successful aquarium photo? “The saltwater tanks are more colourful than the freshwater tanks. For us it was important to have the whole spectrum of different aquariums. We were mostly interested in the landscapes and the design of the aquariums, the fish are just supplementary” Tania and David Willen explain and then add. “The difficulty of this project was to work with ‘magnificent’ scenarios without falling into ‘kitsch’. It was almost like doing a book about sunsets…”
The joyful visual exploration of these strange and underwater worlds, published as a picture and essayistic book by Patrick Frey editions, also serves a more theoretical study. Co-authored with art historian Dr. Jörg Scheller of the Zurich University of the Arts, the book explores the luscious aesthetic of these aquatic flowers and their gilled inhabitants through a philosophical lens. “Concentrating on the flat front surface of the tanks, the photography hides their spatial context, thus creating an intensified, staged representation. The resulting colourful aquascapes are tableaus, in which the dichotomies of reality and virtuality, presence and absence, the animate and inanimate are played out and nature is turned into culture.” Aquariums become contemporary cabinets of curiosities, in which sophisticated arrangements of mineral, floral and wildlife tell a little more about the human conception of the world.
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