Vreugdevuur Scheveningen by Romke Hoogwaerts
OCTOBER 17 – NOVEMBER 15, 2020
Transmitter is pleased to present Romke Hoogwaerts’ Vreugdevuur Scheveningen, a solo exhibition of photographs and a short film that examines a tradition in The Hague in the Netherlands of building dangerously large bonfires. This tradition started after World War II, when Dutch youth found catharsis in echoing the traumas of being conscripted into the Nazi-War effort, by collecting discarded Christmas trees and lighting them on fire. In the last few decades of the 20th Century, this activity developed into street skirmishes between neighborhoods and mass confrontations with the police because of ever-escalating fires. In the 1990’s, the bonfires became so large and organized that the government designated the Scheveningen District Beach as a sanctioned area for building and burning these monumental fires. Wooden pallets became the dominant material used for construction, and a rivalry erupted between two neighborhoods in The Hague. Hoogwaerts documented the rivalry, the built structures and the fires over three years, beginning in 2016 until it ended in 2019. The last Vreugdevuur Scheveningen resulted in an eight-story bonfire dramatically raining ash and embers across the area, endangering a historic church and arousing outrage across the entire nation.
Hoogwaerts’ documentary photographs and short film provide captivating details about this regional story. The images feature hard-working people employing cherry pickers and cranes in a round-the-clock effort to construct staggering towers built of ordinary wooden pallets. Despite the specificity of the subject, Hoogwaerts endeavors to transgress typical documentary approaches and instead emphasizes the visual textures of this chaos, the way ash floats against a pitch black sky, a barren post-fire landscape, or a blurred naked figure sprinting by in the darkness.
In Hoogwaerts’ specific details, something universal arises, suggesting that in all these beautiful and bewildering flaming structures, the public’s turn to destruction as a response to desperation may be a more ingrained human response than expected. That collective, action-driven chaos can be understood as a relatable response to complex traumas which have no foreseeable end.
Romke Hoogwaerts (b. 1990) was born in Atlanta to Dutch parents and was raised in Hong Kong, Italy, Spain, Vietnam and Singapore before settling in New York City in 2009. While attending SVA for a degree in Visual & Critical Studies, he developed Mossless, a notable digital and print publishing project on photography. He went on to work as a photo editor in offices like Businessweek and the NYTimes before embarking on the documentary project exhibited in this show. His complementary 30-minute short film debuted at Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in 2020. He is creating new work from his studio in Brooklyn while he continues to develop independent publishing efforts such as The Reservoir, a digital webzine on the politics of image making, and Hekmor Books, which produces dummy projects and small edition photobooks.