The Blueprint Experiment
In this edition of Archive Explorations, we look at blueprint experiments past and present, focusing on interdisciplinary connections between design, art and photography. With contributions by Susanna Brown, Carolin Lange, Harm te Velde and Hetty Berens. The evening will be moderated by Ellen Smit.
The blueprint was once a widely used reproduction technique in architectural design. It made its appearance around 1870 in military engineering and water management, but was soon adopted by architecture offices. Its introduction into architectural design processes was not without struggles, as illustrated in the early blueprint experiments now kept in the archives at Het Nieuwe Instituut. These experiments illustrate an exciting search for new ways to visualise and communicate.
Today, the blueprint is an inspiring technique in artistic practices and visual design culture. Artists, for example, have investigated how to use the blueprint process to visualise invisible qualities of architectural space, while designers use white lines on a blue background to visualise both the past and the future. Others have looked at how the blueprint process could be used to investigate invisible processes in nature, such as botanist and photographer Anna Atkins (1799-1871).
This evening explores blueprint experiments then and now, focusing on interdisciplinary connections between design, art and photography, based on examples from the institute's archive. What new visualisation and communication possibilities did the blueprint offer? What did blueprints provide that was not possible before? We look for examples in Het Nieuwe Instituut's archive and place them in the context of contemporary artistic and visual practices.
Susanna Brown is a specialist in historic and contemporary photography and Associate Lecturer at The Courtauld Institute of Art in London. From 2008 to 2021, she was Curator of Photography at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), where she cared for a collection of 800,000 photographs spanning the entire history of the medium from the 1830s to today. Brown has explored the work of English botanist Anna Atkins (1799-1871), considered the first female photographer and the first person to publish a photographically illustrated book. The V&A collection includes examples from Atkins' 1854 book, British and Foreign Flowering Plants and Ferns.
Harm te Velde
Harm te Velde is a virtual botanist and 3D animator with a passion for virtual nature and for seeing trees as sculptures in which form is more relevant than type. As well as using commercial collections of 3D trees and plants, he also models and draws them himself. Te Velde studied sculpture at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy and the St Joost School of Art & Design before starting work as a 3D visual artist at Maxwan, then at West 8 (urban design and landscape architecture office) since 2013.
Carolin Lange is an artist and researcher based in Rotterdam. She is currently working on a PhD project recreating the early plant-based photographic experiments of English scientist John FW Herschel (1792-1871) at the Photographic History Research Centre at De Montfort University in Leicester. Together with artist Dico Kruijsse, Lange initiated the project Under the Same Sun, researching early photographic blueprint techniques, light, and the perception of space in order to turn a building into an analogue recording device.
Hetty Berens is an architectural historian and senior curator at Het Nieuwe Instituut, responsible for acquisitions, collection research, and Sonneveld House, the museum home adjacent to the institute. As a researcher for Invented from Copy, she conducts research in Het Nieuwe Insituut's archive around the introduction, use and appreciation of the blueprint in the architectural design process. Berens' PhD was obtained under Auke van der Woud at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.
Ellen Smit is an architectural historian and senior curator at Het Nieuwe Instituut, responsible for acquisitions, collection research, exhibitions, and publications. With a 2016 grant from the Dutch Research Council, she researched the drawing and design methods of Dutch structuralism, resulting in a publication and exhibition. Smit is the initiator and project leader for Invented from Copies, an investigation into the cultural value and significance of architectural reproductions in the design process, based on Het Nieuwe Instituut's archives. Smit studied art and architectural history at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.