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THE NEXT 7 DAYS:     EVENTS (10)     +     OPENINGS (10)     +     DEADLINES (2)     +     CLOSINGS (14)
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Milena Placentile
Amsterdam, Rotterdam
February 20, 2008

I love the Netherlands and any opportunity to return is one I welcome. My latest reason for hopping the big pond was to attend Art Rotterdam and I turned a two-day invitation into a weeklong excursion by spending the balance of my time in Amsterdam. My first stop was SMART Project Space. There I witnessed two exhibitions: I Know the World, guest curated by Lise Nelleman of Sparwasser HQ, Berlin and voicesoverheard, organized by artists Achim Lengerer and Dani Gal.

J&K (
Janne Schäfer and Kristine Agergaard), Egyptomaniacs, 2006-2007, installation detail

I Know the World explores the impact of travel on the production of art, focusing on the cultural exchanges that result from international residency programs. It featured work by several artists and collectives including Fucking Good Art, Tamar Guimarães, J&K, Søren Lose, Tanja Nellemann Poulsen & Grete Aagaard, and Daniëlle van Zuijlen. J&K’s Egyptomaniacs struck me in particular because it so effectively disoriented my sense of history, time, and place by intentionally scrambling naive touristic assumptions about Egypt with the reality of a diverse, living culture facing the consumerist tendencies of globalization. Their photo-based installation featured 2D cutouts, dioramas, and photographs in a manner mimicking (if not mocking) traditional anthropological displays.

Casper Cordes, Axes, 2005-2006, installation detail

Lengerer and Gal are interested in audio recording and storage devices. voiceoverheard offers a curator-free approach to exhibition making in that the artists present their own work alongside that of others, such as Casper Cordes, Harun Farocki, William Furlong, and Sharon Hayes, in an effort to contextualize their independent and collaborative practices. Truth be told, I was drawn much more to Lengerer and Gal’s guests. Cordes specializes in compositions derived from human speech. His Axes is a layered work that joins George W. Bush’s 2002 State of The Union address (the speech responsible for unleashing the notorious phrase, “Axis of Evil”) with an Iranian documentary, Zananeh (The Ladies) by Mahnaz Afzali, that features interviews with women from all areas of society conducted in the public toilets at Laleh Park in Tehran. Using software called Praat, Cordes transposed the voices into musical notation which was subsequently performed by The Oslo Sinfonetta and a pianist named Ellen Ugelvik.

Hayes’ work also fascinated me, despite being something I have yet to experience. Her project involves four VHS cassettes labeled with the note, “play and pass on.” I took one of each and am now actively seeking a PAL VCR. From what I’ve read, the videos feature a performance by Hayes where she recites, in front of a participating audience, partially memorized material from the tapes Patty Hearst and her kidnappers released in the spring of 1974.

The Stedelijk Museum also offered two exhibitions. The first, Eyes Wide Open, presents a large selection of recent acquisitions paired with various commentaries including the institution’s acknowledgement of the “trend” of socially and politically engaged artwork. My initial reaction to the patronizing tone of the panel in question was calmed upon reading elsewhere about the Stedelijk’s commitment to acquiring such work.

Atelier van Lieshout, Female Slave University, 2006, mixed media

I generally appreciate Atelier van Lieshout for their audacious willingness to call out issues typically left unspoken in Dutch society. Female Slave University is one of two education centres/labour camps in a larger project called SlaveCity, which is a self-sustaining, zero-carbon city, every detail of which, including a social and economic history, has been designed by the Atelier. It is utopian and rational and uses a relatively small patch of land to achieve astronomical profitability (7.8 billion euro net profit per year, to be precise). Home and office to 1896 telemarketers, customer service reps, and computer programmers, it is a microcosmic metaphor for a planet taken over entirely by corporatism.

Lisa Yuskavage, Dutch Girl, 2006, oil on linen

I also found some works terribly overrated. For example, Maaike Schoorel’s painting, The Cyclists, is lauded for its capacity to cultivate patient observation, but I’m unsure how long viewers are expected to stare at her white canvas before something appears from the mute and scattered stains. One would think that we’re past such gimmicks. And the hullabaloo over Lisa Yuskavage’s paintings (especially Dutch Girl) is also difficult to reconcile. Who knew the intentional contravention of good taste was enough to warrant induction into a major international collection of art? I fail to understand how essentially repeating art history can be enough to create it.

Ulla von Brandenburg, top: La Maison, 2007,
installation detail; middle and bottom: 8, 2007, film stills

The Stedelijk’s second exhibition was a film installation titled La Maison by German artist Ulla von Brandenburg. After traveling through a hall curtained in colours prevalent in Bauhaus design (and a psychological test developed by Dr. Max Lüsche in the 1950s), visitors arrive at an enclosed space screening 8, a silent film featuring a series of noir-ish tableaux vivants. Referring to a möbius strip, 8 is a film loop with no discernable beginning or end. The camera travels adroitly from one room to the next, pausing only briefly at each scene. The solitary hint at life arises through the movement of breath rising and falling from beneath the handkerchief covering a figure’s head as he sleeps in an unexpected locale. An ominous feeling pervades the silent work; it is somber, yet delightfully haunting.

Mijn Schatje, left: Colerette and Alice Chapter Two, 2007, giclée prints; right: The Good Times are Killing Me, 2004, print

Mijn Schatje (meaning My Little Treasure) is the pseudonym of the young French artist, Marie Blanco Hendrickx, who presented her first solo exhibition, The Day I Got Lost, at KochxBos Galerie. KochxBos claims to specialize in lowbrow art, but with a show like this, I can’t help but think “pop surrealism” fits better - if only to capture the sheer delicate charm of most works. Mijn Schatje has become extremely popular in recent months owing especially to a collaboration with the Italian design firm Fonaria. While I wouldn’t necessarily wear clothing emblazoned with her work, I found myself genuinely attracted to the pretty and glossy, yet slightly off-kilter and sometimes almost morbid, tone of her delicately rendered vector drawings.

Douglas White, Crows Stove, 2006, explored tire fragments

Having attended Art Rotterdam two years ago, I was pleased to notice the extent to which the event had matured. Not only did it feature a larger selection of galleries from beyond the Netherlands, but gallerists also appeared to represent a greater number of international artists. Most importantly, there was a great deal more challenging work available, including work by lesser-known artists.

Carlos Aries, "Wolf"
Kid, Mexico, 2007, lambda print on aluminum and mat protection layer

Highlights included Aeroplastics Contemporary’s presentation of Carlos Aires' sometimes foreboding and almost supernatural photography, Galerie Gabriel Rolt’s presentation of Douglas White’s found-materials sculpture Crows Stove, Upstream Gallery’s presentation of Marc Bijl’s witty headstone Gimme Shelter; Virgil de Voldère Gallery’s presentation of Markus Hansen’s smart photo and video-based performance project Other People’s Feelings are Also my Own - Soul Drawings, and Witzenhausen Gallery’s presentation of Hendrik Kerstens’ commentary on the golden age of Dutch portraiture.

Nadia Naveau, Le salon du plaisir, 2007, c

Ceramics were also well represented at the fair. Notable examples were Li Lihong’s assimilated symbols of corporate cultural colonialism, Carolein Smit’s momento mori, and Nadia Naveau’s erotic and playful Le salon du plaisir, for which she was recognized as an Illy Prize runner up.

Kop-Art, Art is Everything and Phantom of the Superwoman, 2006

Project(or) was organized by MAMA (Moving and Media Art, Rotterdam) as an alternative to the fair and featured over one hundred artists affiliated with twenty-eight art spaces and/or collectives from Europe, Africa, the UK, and the US. All manner of experimental work was on offer, including a great deal of media art as well as unexpected scenarios such as an edible salmon sculpture saloon. I was drawn to doual’art/iStrike, an organization that uses art and culture to foster equitable and participatory urban development in Douala, Cameroun. I was also very interested in Kop-Art, an Istanbul-based feminist collective and street brand that began its rebellion against elitism in the arts through a comic strip, but today blends clothing, graphics, installations, and party performances into a multi-faceted contemporary art lifestyle project with teeth.

As substantial as those events were, I wouldn’t want to leave the impression that they were the only buzz in town. Six local commercial galleries participated in a program titled Guess Who’s Coming... which involved the warm welcome of foreign galleries to present work in Rotterdam. Witte de With hosted the inaugural lecture in its Cornerstone series (a talk given by Dominic van den Boogerd about legendary Dutch painter René Daniëls) and offered a solo project by Liam Gillick titled Three perspectives and a short scenario. Among other things, TENT Centrum Beelsende Kunst presented 3Radicals, an exhibition featuring graphic and three-dimensional work by three filmmakers and media artists - Robert Breer, Paul Sharits, and Cameron Jaime - prefaced with historical work by experimental filmmaker Joseph Plateau.

Overall, it was a fantastic trip offering much more experience than can possibly be covered in this space. I’m already looking forward to my next visit.

Milena Placentile is an independent curator and writer based in Winnipeg where she is also the Programming Coordinator at Video Pool Media Arts Centre.

SMART Project Space:

I Know the World and voicesoverheard continue until March 1.

Stedelijk Museum:
La Maison continues until March 2.
Eyes Wide Open continues until June 1.

The Day I Got Lost continues until March 22.

Art Rotterdam 2008:

Projector Art Fair:



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Comments (newest first)      +click to add comment


Posted by Miklos, on 2008-02-21 13:22:19
" I fail to understand how essentially repeating art history can be enough to create it."

That's a worthwhile reflection.