2019

The Theatrical Space, Maarten Buser, Prix de Rome Catalogue

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2019

The Spirit of the Gift, Mees van Hulzen, talk at the National Gallery, Tirana

After visiting the major museums of Albania in the 1990's, the Dutch artist Jan Dibbets concluded that Albania was in need of high-end contemporary art. In an attempt to satisfy this presupposed need, he persuaded his fellow artists in Western Europe to collect some of their artworks and give it as a gift to the National Gallery of Arts in Tirana. How are we to understand such a gift? What happens to an artwork when it is given? Does it make a difference when an artwork is bought or received as a gift?

In order to shed some light on these questions it is helpful to distinguish between a gift and a commodity. My watch might for example have value for me because it keeps me informed about what time it is. It also has value for me because of its market value. But more importantly it is of value to me because it was given to me by my father. When something is given, the value of the thing is transformed, or at the very least a new value is attached to it. The fact that my father gave me this watch makes it that it is priceless to me. In the act of giving the giver attaches something of himself to the gift; in a sense he gives a part of himself. This is what Marcel Mauss called 'the spirit of the gift'. When we receive a gift, the spirit of the gift ensures us that we feel a certain obligation to treat the gift in a particular fashion, to show gratitude, and in time to give a gift in return. In comparison, if we buy something we feel free to do with it whatever we want: destroy it, sell it or give it away. Whereas with a gift we would probably feel guilty and ashamed if we would do so.

The spirit of the gift does not merely change the value of the object that is given but, in some cases, also amounts to the incorporation of a new identity. Obviously - and maybe luckily - there are numerous gifts that are less demanding. Take for example the most common gifts of all: flowers, fruits and food; the things people give to each other at occasions that mark all the stages of the life cycle: birthdays, weddings and funerals. It is for a reason that people, of all things, prefer to give these things to each other. According to Ralph Waldo Emerson, flowers make such an appropriate gift because flowers are 'a proud assertion that a ray of beauty outvalues all the utilities of the world'. And it is true, flowers are beautifully useless; no one will suspect that flowers are given with the intention to be put to use. The non-obligatory character of giving flowers can also be found in the fact that flowers only represent a brief moment of splendor, leaving after a few days nothing that reminds us of their beauty. The difference between giving flowers and art is evident: in their inevitable rapid death flowers free themselves of the spirit of the gift, but artworks tend to survive empires.

Now, what about giving away art? When art is bought the buyer has usually a particular purpose for the artwork in mind, maybe it has to keep alive a certain memory, heal a broken heart, or maybe it simply has to fill a big white wall with something beautiful. But when an artwork is given we are confronted with a 'present' which future remains uncertain. In contrast, when we buy something the present of a thing is always determined by its future. When a gift is presented to us, there is an element of surprise and we might first be startled as to what to do with it. This open-endedness of the gift makes it that gifts present us with new opportunities, but it also makes them dangerous at the same time. The potential danger of a gift consists in the fact that when we receive a gift we let the spirit of the gift take hold of us. It was Homer who already warned us that accepting a gift involves risk, because you never know what the horse of Troy might carry in its bowels.


2019

Interview with Valentijn Bijvanck

The interview takes place on a rainy Saturday in the artists’ studio in the Amsterdam Jordaan area. The artists constantly complete one another’s descriptions of their work. Sander will begin to speak and Witte is ready to offer additions, or Witte says something while Sander thinks. One talks fast and easily, the other pondering and with hesitations. I have presented the two artists as one voice here, as a team, just like they create their works. The artists are still in the middle of their working process. The exact form of the installations, how they will be installed and how they will be titled is to become clear over the course of the following six weeks. We talk about the collective experience of performance and the silence of sculpture.


Theater and sculpture

Theater is a thread that runs throughout our work and lives. Sander was trained as a composer and was involved in the stage arts and musical theater. Witte took up choreography alongside visual art at [the art academy of] Arnhem. We started out making dance performances, so in that sense theater has been a presence in our work from the very start. Those dance performances also included sculptures, but they were light architectonic forms and the dancers moved around them.

After years of making performances and films, we began creating sculptures as well. We wanted to do something with our hands. And because we like the stillness of sculptures. With performance and film, you’re always following the narrative. You need to invest time in order to follow it and identify with the performers. The stillness of a sculpture gives you the opportunity to walk around it and observe it from different sides. Your pace and course determine the experience of a work and exhibition. We found this experience lacking in our performances and videos. A performance exists only by grace of the audience and the actors. A sculpture is always there, even when you aren't.

Yet there are still many things in our sculptural works that are related to theater. One of them is the human size of our sculptures, nearly always human figures. The body is our frame of reference. When you’re looking at something, you’re always comparing it to your own proportions. If visitors are looking at human-sized sculptures, a sort of mirroring comes into play that makes them co-players or actors on an equal footing in the work. We wanted to utilize this insight. We view the sculptures as actors executing very slow performances. Apart from being modeled after people from our environment, and therefore in a sense portraits, they also refer to a more theatrical gesture or a particular expression.

The material defines the duration of a sculpture’s performance. We liked that idea: looking at sculptures as theatrical pieces that last for a very long time. The viewers always change, and the same applies to the role and significance of the sculptures. They may still be there in 300 years, as testaments of our time and ourselves. In contrast, when you see a performance you know this is happening now, in the moment, and that it will be over soon.

The Floor is Lava

When you enter Marres you will climb immediately onto the roof, and if you then go up the stairs you’ll arrive at the intimate inner world of the living room. The house has been turned inside out. The rooftops at the start of the exhibition function as a stage for a few isolated sculptures, as well as for visitors. It refers to the notion of the city as a theater, while also symbolizing flight. Sometimes you go out onto the roof to enjoy the view. In that case it’s about watching. But on a rooftop you can also put yourself above and beyond things. If you’re standing on a roof in Amsterdam you don’t hear the madness of all the locals, day-trip visitors and drunken tourists. For a moment you step away from all that, and this distance makes you see things differently. An exhibition works like that. It puts something between quotation marks.

From our studio we were once watching rooftop workers installing solar panels. One of them was working on a panel, another was making a phone call on the edge of the roof and then gazed into the distance. To our eyes this was already a scene from a theatrical play. Only later we realized that many artists have painted the view from their studios. This is typical of our work. We notice something that stands out to us both and it becomes an image. This can be someone staring at a screen for a long time, or someone walking through a station. Some of these images stick with us, without us knowing exactly why. We investigate them. That research is very associative, bringing us new images and insights that stick to the original image like snow to a snowball. Our work of art then concludes this process.

The work offers us a way of looking at the city with a theatrical gaze. For The Hour We Knew Nothing of Each Other (1992), Peter Handke sat down on a bench on a small square in Trieste and described everything and everyone passing by. He turned this into a theater play. A woman walks by and then a hearse shows up, driving behind her. This changes your perception of that woman, although she doesn’t have a clue.

In a Flickering Light

Our work always flows from one medium to the next. A film can become a performance, a performance a sculpture or a script. The performance How Can We Know the Dancer from the Dance (2016) consists of a choreography spanning six months in the main hall of Utrecht Central Station. By executing it over and over, that work obtained the character of a sculptural installation. Our sculptures, sometimes wearing the same clothes as the actors in that piece, arose from this.

The installation In a Flickering Light is in a way the documentation of the eponymous performance. For this performance, we made hidden camera recordings on the Loop video fair in Barcelona, where art videos are shown in hotel rooms. Looking at those recordings, we were struck by the flickering light of the screen illuminating the bodies draped across beds and chairs. You’ll see that while they’re watching, only the face and the head are activated. The body is dormant, or paralyzed. It reminded us of people hunched over their phones, as if they want to fall into it head first. A symptom of the addiction to the screen. The desire to disappear. That observation was central to the performance, in which you only see the faces of people watching a movie.

While we developed the performance we were already thinking about a series of sculptures on the same theme. We had made sculptures before, for which we created the heads separately from the bodies. Effectively, they became masks. Masks are very dual things. They hide the face while also expressing something. In the theater masks are used to indicate specific roles: a farmer, a priest, a ghost. The 17th-century German-Austrian sculptor Franz Xaver Messerschmidt created busts that you could also consider masks. He isolated himself in his studio, making nothing but self-portraits with contorted expressions in front of the mirror. He then placed them in front of his windows in order to ward off evil spirits. Sometimes we think of Messerschmidt's grimaces as selfies. In a way, screen addiction is also an addiction to the self-image.

Seven Addresses

BAK and the Centraal Museum in Utrecht asked us to create a work in response to the performance What Is The City, But The People? (2018), in which the artist Jeremy Deller created a portrait of that city. In the work, 200 Utrecht residents walked across a runway on the central Jaarbeursplein square. We visited the rehearsals and the runway, where a group of people was representing the city of Utrecht. We wanted to create a more detailed portrait of several people and decided to film a series of still lifes at their homes. Thus we created portraits of them through the objects they surround themselves with.

All homes look somewhat alike: everyone has a coffee maker and a television and many people have cats. But in this work you also see scenes in which someone bashes two bottles or crawls across the kitchen wearing a mask. Those scenes are based on the protagonists’ memories. It is something that does exist, but is not usually visible. It reminds us of an earlier piece, Het familieportret (The family portrait), in which we had the ambition of portraying an average Dutch family. If you then come closer, however, these families turn out to consist of unique people, each with a story of their own. We realized that there isn’t really such a thing as an average family.

We are not artists who create works about ourselves. The portrait takes up a central position in our work. That requires a sense of transportation into sometime or someone beyond yourself. The core of making a portrait is that you, as an artist, are no longer the only one capable of judging whether something is good. You must do justice to the reality beyond yourself. We engage with people, meaning that we also have to take them into account. You don’t want to create a caricature or stereotype. It has to be more than a projection of ourselves. It needs to show that we’ve really listened.

The Thief

In The Thief we create for the first time a series of sculptures inspired by a concrete event. The event took place some years ago in Oldenzaal [a city in the east of the Netherlands]. An elderly woman stole a wallet while she was in a store. The images of the theft were put online. They went viral and caused many hateful reactions. As a consequence the woman committed suicide. We find this course of events exemplary for the way images tend to live lives of their own on the internet. The justice system is based on carefully weighed sentencing, but public judgment is not bound by these conventions. No one can control it.

We start by dissecting such a story and then shape it in terms of dramaturgy. We first identify the players. There is the protagonist, her family, the woman whose wallet got stolen. The police is involved, the Public Prosecution Service decides what should be done with those images. There are the people who manage the website on which the footage is published, the advertisers who keep the website in the air and have a financial interest in content going viral. Then there are the people consuming the images and responding to them. We give a dramaturgic shape to these various positions. One question, of course, is how to present the people commenting on the footage. We have put together a cast of people from our direct environment who modeled for the sculptures in the story. They function as the actors of this new narration. So on the one hand you’re watching portraits of people, and on the other you are experiencing a collective story.

Physical narration

We have spent much thought on the relations between story and image. You might think that if you want to tell a story it’s better to work in a linear medium, such as sound, film or a book. But there is also a tradition of stained glass windows and genre pieces, for example, that tell a story in a different way. The visitors are situated in the middle of a story, and can experience all events and characters at the same time. This affects the manner in which you perceive the story. Of course there are different levels of interpretation. The perspective of a child, for example, in a direct and physical response to size, color or sound. But there is also the possibility of giving it more thought and finding other conceptual layers. When visitors see so many figurative sculptures placed together, they will probably assume that a story is being depicted. But they might only find out later which story that is.

We leave traces of the making process in the sculptures. Those traces are the result of the working process, which has the character of a performance that can only be executed a single time. This way the work keeps a certain openness that suggests this outcome is only one of many possibilities. Godard stated in an interview that he wanted to make films that constantly make you feel as if someone could be hit by a car. To us, an artwork is not locked into a world in which things are ordered and definitive, but in an environment in which coincidence exists.

In any case you need to aim for a certain incompleteness and fragmentation when you are portraying people, because a person can never be fully captured in a fixed material. We create a beginning, and it’s up to the viewer to finish it. The work of art only comes into existence in the mind of the viewer.

The exhibition

The screen plays a role in each work, but we didn’t plan it that way. All works were created in the same period and have influenced one another. When you analyze our society, you can’t ignore that it is dominated by screens. In The Thief they are not only witness, but also a medium of transmission and an instrument of penalization. In Seven Addresses you see televisions on which you see living rooms that, in their turn, also have screens in them. For us this is not so much about what can be seen on the screen, but rather, as In a Flickering Light suggests, about the persons watching it. The work The Floor is Lava acts as a sort of counterpoint, offering the possibility of a brief escape from the world of screens.

The Floor is Lava is a children’s game, but people also know it as an online hype in which you must get your feet off the ground within 5 seconds. To us, the title also suggests danger: liquid (hot) earth. Choosing such a title before the work is finished becomes a benchmark. We feel that this title has influenced our work without being able to directly explain it. The artist John Baldessari has a photograph with a man in front of a palm tree. He’s put wrong underneath it. Of course that makes you wonder exactly what is wrong. A good title is at odds with the image: it keeps you wondering what the work is really trying to say.


2019

The Floor is Lava, Hanne Hagenaars (Dutch)

'It needs to show that we have real­ly lis­tened.'

Wim Wen­ders antwo­ordde op de vraag waarom hij films maakt: ​‘ever since this ter­ri­ble ques­tion was put to me, I ​‘ve done noth­ing but to think of how to answer it.’ Eigen­lijk weet hij het antwo­ord wel maar dat lijkt hem aan­vanke­lijk niet diep­gaand genoeg en te weinig betrokken. Toen hij 12 jaar was kreeg hij een 8 mm cam­era, plaat­ste die in de ven­ster­bank en filmde de straat, de auto’s en de pas­san­ten. En via de woor­den van Bela Balasz verk­laart hij. ​‘The abil­i­ty of the cam­era to show things as they are’.

Ik moest er aan denken bij de ten­toon­stelling 'The Floor is Lava' van Witte van Hulzen en Sander Breure bij Mar­res in Maas­tricht. Ook het werk van Sander en Witte begint bij het observeren, bijvoor­beeld een alledaagse scene tij­dens een werkpe­ri­ode in Dordt­yard.
Op een dak werkt een man aan een zon­nepa­neel, zijn com­pagnon is even aan het bellen. Een obser­vatie, zo gewoon dat het weer bij­zon­der wordt. Een scene. En als je de exposi­tie bin­nen wan­delt beland je in een ver­bi­jsterende omk­er­ing van de werke­lijkheid, het dak is naar bene­den gehaald. Je loopt er over het teer, langs de dakrand. Bizar maar ergens accepteer je het ook weer met gemak. Als ik door een dakraam tuur zie ik een tele­visi­escherm waarop per­son­ages gezicht­en trekken. Een tong uit de mond.

Deze kun­ste­naars observeren en hun oog is vooral gericht op de mens, hun werk is als een net dat om het genre van het portret heen wordt gegooid. Hoe drukt de mens zich uit, mid­dels welke uit­drukkin­gen en gebaren en hoe zetten die zich vast als clichés, als vaste uit­drukking van een emotie, of miss­chien wel van sta­tus. Wan­neer wordt het een masker? Wie of wat is dat wezen, de mens? De kun­ste­naar observeert, denkt er het zijne van, maakt er een film over, een sculp­tu­ur van, een per​for​mance​. De trans­for­maties van hun obser­vaties wor­den gedreven door deze nieuws­gierigheid, en alti­jd met respect, miss­chien mag je het zelfs met liefde noe­men. Het werk moet ook tonen dat ze werke­lijk goed geluis­terd hebben, dat ze de ander goed begrepen hebben.

De grote zaal van Mar­res wordt bevolkt door een bont gezelschap aan per­son­ages. Een soort olifan­ten­paad­je lei­dt je er snel doorheen maar nu is dat onmo­gelijk. Op het moment dat je bin­nen­stapt ben je onderdeel van het tafer­eel vol mensfig­uren. De sculp­turen, als acteurs, als per­son­ages zijn gemod­elleerd naar vrien­den , fam­i­lie, bek­enden. Xan­der, Lau­rie en Piet­je maar ook min­is­ter Grap­pen­huis valt te herken­nen in de expressieve keramis­che kop­pen. Er is geen wij en hen. Hun lichaam is een in gips gegoten afdruk van de kleren, soms zie je de rest­jes spijk­er­stof nog zit­ten. Mid­den in de zaal ligt een hoop­je mens met een porte­mon­nee in haar hand. Het ref­er­eert aan een tragis­che gebeurte­nis in Olden­za­al. In de Xenos vergeet een bejaarde vrouw om haar porte­mon­nee mee te nemen, de vol­gende klant, een 67 jarige vrouw, ziet het en steekt de porte­mon­nee stil­let­jes in haar eigen tas. Ver­vol­gens laat justi­tie de beelden van de bewakingscamera’s zien op RTV oost waar­bij de vrouw herken­baar in beeld komt. De vrouw geeft zich vri­jwillig aan maar dan zijn de beelden zijn al ein­de­loos gedeeld. De vol­gende dag pleegt de vrouw zelf­mo­ord. Het open­baar min­is­terie voelt zich niet ver­ant­wo­ordelijk voor de esca­latie op het inter­net. Deze kilte is hartver­scheurend. Alles lijkt totaal uit pro­por­tie getrokken. De kun­ste­naars geven hun eigen inschat­ting mid­dels de weer­gave van de gebeurte­nis. Een lood­zware porte­mon­nee. Mat­en en ver­houdin­gen zijn natu­urlijk de instru­menten van kun­ste­naars. De dig­i­tale media, de screens en hun effecten zijn het lei­d­motief in deze pre­sen­tatie, als een muzikaal the­ma dat steeds weer opduikt.

Als een pro­tag­o­nist staat een Messer­schmidt-achtig beeld aan het begin van de zaal opgesteld. Beeld­houw­er Messer­schmidt lei­d­de een teruggetrokken lev­en en werd vooral beroemd door de serie van 55 karak­terkop­pen, alle­maal zelf­portret­ten waarin steeds een bevroren emoties wordt uit­ge­beeld: de geërg­erde man, het top­punt van onnozel­heid. Messer­schmidt werk­te er aan in de nacht als hij werd voortge­dreven door door een geest die hem bezocht​. In zijn biografie staat dat ​"rea­son occa­sion­al­ly seemed sub­ject to mad­ness, ​‘it was said, caus­ing ​’men­tal con­fu­sion’ and ​’unhealthy imag­i­na­tion.” Na een cri­sis was zijn sociale masker verdwenen.

De zalen die vol­gen staan vol tele­visie scher­men op tafels. Zeven adressen in Utrecht zijn grondig bekeken en geportret­teerd. Hoe lev­en deze mensen? De mens, die armza­lige figu­ur die meestal zelf niet zo goed weet wat hij met zichzelf aan moet. Zijn hun­ker­ing naar gezel­ligheid, zijn hob­by’s, de behoefte aan gezelschap. Een knus prik­bord waarop tekeninget­jes met rode krassen hangen waarop weer met pleis­ters kruis­jes zijn gemaak. Een kussen­t­je op de bank. Een para­sol stan­daard van een koni­jn met kleine koni­jn­t­jes. Een Senseo, een planten­spuit een asbak: alles komt voor­bij. En ook hier is de schei­d­ing tussen zij en wij niet te mak­en. Wie herkent niet iets van het ver­lan­gen in het cheesy num­mer ​‘Take me home’ van John Den­ver, pre­cies het sen­ti­ment wat hier wordt opgeroepen in deze rake obser­vaties. Waar ben je thuis? Hoe is het mogelijk dat al die intrigerende details op zeven adressen zijn gevonden.

Het scherm keert op de vol­gende verdieping terug in ​’In a Flick­er­ing Light’. Op een leren banks­tel‚ mogelijk skai, hangt een wezen­loze figu­ur. Het is een ver­volg op de per­for­mance die ik zag in het Veem the­ater. Vier acteurs lat­en zien wat het staren naar een scherm met ons mensen doet. Een onbe­weeglijk lichaam, als een brok gegoten gips, alle uit­drukking con­cen­treert zich in het gezicht. Alle expressie komen voor­bij, angst afgri­jzen, bewon­der­ing. Een waanzin­nige tussen­wereld. De per­for­mance eindigt met de vier acteurs die recht voor het pub­liek staan, met hun tong ver uit hun mond, dat duurt en duurt, ein­de­loos. Onver­draaglijk lang. Zo oncom­fort­a­bel. Een stil­gezette expressie, als in een beeld.
​‘Kijken kan een kwelling zijn’, schreef Wim Wen­ders en dat was het zeker.

In een gri­jze zold­erkamer ernaast staan bustes van klei van met deze expressies. Een kille koude zold­erkamer vol gri­jze zwarte beelden.

Als een Nar­cis­sus lijkt de mens geob­sedeerd door zichzelf. De self­ie is er de heden­daagse uit­drukking van. In de mytholo­gie liet Apol­lo Nar­cis­sus ver­liefd wor­den op zijn eigen spiegel­beeld als straf omdat hij de liefde van bergn­imf Echo niet beant­wo­ordde. Nar­cis­sus kwi­jnt weg want de liefde voor zichzelf houdt hem als een loop gevangen.

Witte en Sander vertellen hun ver­halen die begin­nen bij obser­vaties in de werke­lijke wereld en lat­en ver­vol­gens de beeld­scher­men steeds opnieuw opduiken.
Wim Wen­ders laat zijn epos ​‘Until the end of the world’, een lange magis­che tocht over de wereld, eindi­gen met de beangsti­gende voor­spel­lende scene waarin mensen ver­slaafd zijn aan hun scherm. ​’The end of the world won’t come from a nuclear blast, but from an abun­dance of self­ies’ schreef The Guardian. Een blik in de toekomst waar­van veel is uit­gekomen. De mensen rak­en het con­tact met elka­ar kwi­jt door het staren naar het licht van het scherm, daar zijn hun herin­ner­in­gen en dromen opges­la­gen en terug te zien. Allen ver­slaafd ger­aakt aan de beelddrug.

’In a Flick­er­ing Light’ geeft een totaal nieuwe inter­pre­tatie van de Couch-pota­to, een begrip uit de jaren ​‘80, dat een ondraaglijke dimen­sie heeft gekre­gen. Wie is die mens, dat wezen met zijn obsessie voor zijn eigen beel­te­nis en voor de flikker­ing van het beeld­scherm. Witte en Sander nemen het stok­je van Wim Wen­ders over. De films van Wen­ders tonen het lev­en tussen de vervreemd­ing door de afbeeldin­gen van de realiteit (réclame, tele­visie, film) en het ver­lan­gen naar een hernieuwd, betekenisvol kijken. Wen­ders komt vanu­it de obser­vatie tot para­bels waarin hij zijn eigen kri­tis­che kijk op de werke­lijkheid geeft.
Witte en Sander komen vanu­it hun obser­vaties tot een getrans­formeerde werke­lijkheid waarin je als kijk­er je behoor­lijk huis voelt tot het onge­mak begint te kriebe­len. De beeld­scher­men zijn zicht­baar en onzicht­baar aan­wezig, de invloed op ons lev­en onmisken­baar. En de vra­gen over de werke­lijkheid van het lev­en zijn niet meer te ont­lopen. Schaamte is een beknel­lende maar hele menselijke emotie. Je han­den in onschuld wassen kun je alleen doen in een gesimuleerde ver­sie van een werke­lijk gevoelde wereld.


2019

Trigger, Machteld Leij, H Art magazine (Dutch)

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2018

Blinking. Thoughts on / Thoughts off, Marta Ramos-Yzquierdo

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2018

Impressions, Moikom Zeqo, unpublished


Impressions from the work of Sander Breure and Witte van Hulzen

June 2018, Tirana

To write about the work of the artist duo, Sander Breure and Witte van Hulzen, means to translate into words the structure of the materialisation of an idea; i.e. the presentation of an artwork. I will focus on two of their latest exhibitions: “The Waiting Room”, and the performance “How can we know the dancer from the dance?”.

In both these works, the conceptualisation of the existential presence of the human being is moulded into the narrative of a sculptural pattern. The forms and characters seem to be in a panic, at unnamed stations, without an address. They await to flee somewhere, to migrate, not so much in a physical manner but rather in an inner, spiritual one.

At first glance, the sculptures appear to portray formally the existence of a community, but in a deeper understanding of these symbols, we see tired and exhausted refugees escaping reality and hoping for another utopia of existence.

The duo, the work of which I have followed for many years, are artists who do not negate, but actively seek out the public sphere. At this point they intensify, compress and reveal the eternal concept of humanity. They present a characteristic of the era we live in, a time where refugees pose both a problem to the economic and political situation in Europe and simultaneously raise a philosophical dilemma concerning the ability of the human kind to know and understand the other.

The work of these artists is as cemented as it is kinetic. It touches upon the absence, and ultimately the advancement, of the humanistic ideals.

From a general, visual perspective, the sculptures appear to be based on a scenography. The theatrical presence of their work presupposes the bitter taste of drama as well as the presence of paradox. And let me briefly remind you here, to complement this idea of paradox, of the verse that serves as the title of their performance “How can we know the dancer from the dance?”.

To create a contrast to the movements, or the lack thereof, the artists present in the background of a group of figurative sculptures a golden wall, which in a religious as well as an aesthetic sense reminds us of an iconostasis.* The wall is there to be worshiped, as the materialisation of an altered hope, but it also has a unmovable aspect of a checkpoint site that receives and delivers tickets for a voyage, or a number of endless voyages.

Here the spectator can add to and strengthen the possibility of contemplation and meditation . In the end, our emotions and reflections on art are nothing more than multifaceted meditations.

Moikom Zeqo

Writer, Academic at the Albanian Academy of Art and Science, Tirana, Albania


* In Orthodox churches, the iconostasis is a wall of icons and religious paintings, seperating the nave from the sanctuary. The icons are often painted on a golden background.


2016

Interview with Alix de Massiac, MetropolisM magazine (Dutch)

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2016

The Shores of an Island I Only Skirted, Jack Sebars, unpublished

By juxtaposing two harrowing narratives that by themselves already contain loads of elements for contemplation, Sander Breure en Witte van Hulzen recombine these separate narratives into one powerful issue: that of perspective of image-politics within the artistic realm.

Our highly mediated condition produces imagery that puts a constant appeal on our emotions and sense of ethics, that more than often get frustrated and emptied by the sheer volume of these, and the subsequent inability to act accordingly. Facts may be known, they may be perceived but they are not the natural causes for our actions. Cause and effect are short-circuited. It produces a sense of inertia.

The artists in this work address two pertinent cases of our historic times that are intimately connected: mass-emigration and a (warped) nationalistic terrorism (Utoya and Breivik) as a response to that. Both were and are highly mediated.

We could follow the events in Norway almost real-time as they happened in time. Live accounts from the scene were given by telephone and by photo and film-imagery that were immediately broadcasted. The viewpoint from the island was complemented by that from the shore and from the air. We were there with the camera and our media-apparatus in between as mediator. The subsequent reconstructions the following days, offered an even more detailed and immediate account of these horrific events.

The imagery that accompanies the plight of refugees that travel over sea and land to Europe produces the same kind of impotence in the minds of the spectator. Real-time accounts of crossings by boats are mixed with accounts of their disastrous effects, as well as the conditions at border-crossings and refugee-camps.

Our over-mediated cosmology has shortened our sense of time and representation, we are represented before we can asses the situation or alter it, time has become short in our mediated cosmology, we are –so to speak- immediate. So we collectively fall through the gap that mediation and representation constitutes, leaving the historic agency of our narratives empty.

We are under a permanence, a regime of distanced perspective. We are within self-observance.

Walter Benjamin introduced and familiarized us with the concept of the dialectical image. It is this powerful idea of the recovery of what is kept from vision, to disclose that what is obscure, in order to retrieve the oppressed narrative that is kept under by power. It thus not only produces an awareness of what is oppressed, but at the same time shows the mechanisms op the oppressive powers. Thus the potential of resistance arises. This image can only pop up in a moment of danger for we must recognize our own implication in it.

Now this method and means of the dialectical may be our most familiar image.

We are trained aestheticists, we know of the image that we are to retrieve from lost histories and narratives for which we look, that present themselves upon us.

That are from the world but that were kept from sight.

Now in our condition of the ever present image, and the transparency of history, the potential of this method has become difficult, maybe even depleted. There arguably is no space left to ‘rediscover’ and to disclose.

It’ s not only the ‘guilty landscape’ that pushes upon us, that pushes our sense of responsibility and our sense of ethics. We are also confronted with a structural emptiness of agency by transparency. The acknowledgment of this depleted status –an assessment of our condition- must be the new departure point. Now how to act with this?

In this work the artists adopt a strategy of indirectness. Apart from the openings-shot in which we witness a direct account of a victim in Utoya at the time of the event, we are taken along the scene by the artists ‘skirting’ the location. In an almost detached and registering fashion the island is mapped as the locus of the events that have passed. The site is scanned with an almost alien and unfamiliar perspective, maybe to verify what has been mediated earlier, and to check the validity of this account.

With the same tension between detachment and attachment we are presented, on the reverse side of the screening, with accounts of refugees and of immigration, of travel as such, on the internet. But these are not the dramatic and spectacular accounts we usually receive from news-media. These are subdued and poetic images. The materiality of the imagery produced by the media-apparatus itself, that is quite often necessarily of low-quality, is kept intact as witness to the conditions in which they are produced.

The choice of material generates is a mix of of the ‘real’ –as witness tot situations, and of abstractions of migration as a generic theme.

The effect of the combination of ‘real’ ánd of aesthetization almost acts as a symbolic expression of the artistic gaze. And maybe as an acknowledgment of its relative inadequacy and as a herald to future action.

In total it presents a discomforting mix of awareness of the limits of our apparatus of consideration.


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