Featured People: Wendelien van Oldenborgh

Between 1-3 June 2016, ECF is partnering with DutchCulture and De Balie for the Forum on European Culture entitled Re:Creating Europe. The event will gather visionary artists and thinkers from all over Europe to recreate the perception of Europe in the months to come, focusing on the strength, influence and value of art and culture. Next to the public programme, ECF will join a series of expert sessions to discuss specific issues and themes with a number of experts in a variety of fields. One of the sessions will be on History and Identity: What is the contemporary European historical narrative? with among other guests, visual artist Wendelien van Oldenborgh.

This expert meeting will question our representation of history and cultural heritage which faces many challenges in a time of a rapidly changing population in Europe. Questions asked will include: “how can we reflect on our cultural heritage in times where Europe’s people is changing in a rapid pace?” and, “how can we better represent Europe’s diverse culture and population in European Museums?” These themes dealing with our past and present are also key in Wendelien van Oldenborgh’s work.

  Photo by Jussi Puikkonen/KNAW

Photo by Jussi Puikkonen/KNAW

 
Why I became an artist is because art is an area where you can work with emotion, where you can address various sensibilities, and not simply an intellect or a thing or just information. [...] My aim is to understand the present moment, the moment of now. That’s where I look for other moments and link them to what is happening now. I am not working on the moments that are past but on those moments of the past that can be reactivated and thus highlight the situations and the conditions in which we now are living. That’s what motivates me.

Wendelien van Oldenborgh lives and works in Rotterdam. When she was awarded the 2014 Dr A.H. Heineken Prize for Art, the Jury highlighted that Van Oldenborgh occupies a unique place in the Dutch artistic landscape because of the way in which she addresses modern-day social issues in exceptional, authoritative and multi-layered works. Her work accesses parts of our reality that remain in the background in other areas of public life, a world that is often hidden from view in the media.

As she explains in this short video interview (you can watch the video below), van Oldenborgh has a particular interest in creating a “space for compositions with other voices” and that is how she always tries to work. This is also why she is interested in the collaborative aspect of filmmaking because it allows to create together with those many voices. “Why I became an artist” she says, “is because art is an area where you can work with emotion, where you can address various sensibilities, and not simply an intellect or a thing or just information.” She also explains that her aim is “to understand the present moment, the moment of now. That’s where I look for other moments and link them to what is happening now. I am not working on the moments that are past but on those moments of the past that can be reactivated and thus highlight the situations and the conditions in which we now are living. That’s what motivates me.” You can watch the complete video interview here:

Some examples from her work highlight her unique ability to build a dialogue between a precisely selected social or historical theme, a space, and a film or photograph, such as Sound Track Stage from the series A Certain Brazilianness (2006), Après la reprise, la prise (2009), and From Left to Night (2015).

In Sound Track Stage, part of the series A Certain Brazilianness (2006), she set up the representatives of two subcultures, “Gabber” and “Hip Hop”, for a musical and verbal confrontation. This confrontation unfolded at the Boijmans van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam and was filmed and screened as it took place. Both during the public recording session and in the film, van Oldenborgh avoided a black-and-white depiction of these subcultures but rather showed their complexities in which similarities overlap subtly with differences.

  Wendelien van Oldenborgh, Après la reprise, la prise, 2009

Wendelien van Oldenborgh, Après la reprise, la prise, 2009

In Après la reprise, la prise (2009), she focuses on two employees of an old French jeans factory who are reinventing themselves as actors. The two women tell their life story to a group of vocational school students who are about to graduate. The work consists of slides with a dialogue sound track. After documenting their encounter the audio and still images have been composed into a structured 'script' and projected in a space, specifically developed for this work. The two generations of workers brought together in sound and image raise questions about industrial and demographic shifts. Van Oldenborgh compares and contrasts the ethnically mixed group of pupils with the older, white employees, whose work in the theatre has unexpectedly landed them in the “creative” industry. Their meeting unfolds into an interaction in which images and sound are not there to illustrate a story but to enter into dialogue with each other.

In From Left to Night (2015), an experimental film production, a number of seemingly unconnected players, places, events, subjects and histories meet. It involves five people, three locations, and the different subjects and forms of knowledge that they bring with them. These range from urban tensions – such as unresolved histories of the 2011 London riots – to new feminist and racial theories, music videos, 1960s idealist architecture and the personal ways in which each of the protagonists relate to these. Through carefully orchestrated scenarios van Oldenborgh creates situations where these elements collide and trigger new articulations and sparks of logic; generating the ‘script’ with the full involvement of the players, as filming unfolds.

As with the artist’s previous works, From Left to Night explores social dynamics and behaviours, the governing systems and architectures which provoke and reinforce these, and the voice and language of the individual amidst them. In so doing van Oldenborgh reveals a reality often hidden from view in the public realm. Images and sound assume an importance beyond the story. The challenge for the viewer is not only to comprehend the world (as narrative), but – by looking – to understand a familiar story in a new way. It is precisely this subtlety that reveals Wendelien van Oldenborgh’s unique artistry.

Wendelien van Oldenborgh (1962) studied at Goldsmiths College, London. Before settling in Rotterdam, she lived and worked in Germany and Belgium. In addition to her artistic work, she teaches various Master’s degree courses, including at the Dutch Art Institute / ArtEZ (Master of Fine Arts) and the Royal Academy of Art (Artistic Research Master’s programme). She received the Hendrik Chabot Prize for Fine Arts (2011), the Marian McMahon Award (2010) and the Dr A.H. Heineken Prize for Art (2014). She is currently developing a new work for the 2015 ECF Princess Margriet Award for Culture laureate Athens Biennale.  

Sources: KNAW  and Wilfried Lentz 

The Expert Meeting #4 will take place on 3  June 10:00 at Castrum Peregrini in Amsterdam.
With Charles Esche (Director Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven – NL), Bart de Baere (Director of Museum of Contemporary Art, Antwerp – BE), Feran Barenblit (Director of Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art – ES) and Wendelien van Oldenborgh (visual artist, NL).