– Spring 2010

In Defence of Contemplation

Roger M. Buergel

Lidwien van de Ven, Isfahan, 14/10/2000, digital print on paper, 180 × 240cm. Courtesy the artist and Gallery Paul Andriesse

Lidwien van de Ven, Isfahan, 14/10/2000, digital print on paper, 180 × 240cm. Courtesy the artist and Gallery Paul Andriesse

The photographs wished not just to be looked at, but also perceived and remembered in a certain way. Perception and memory entertain twisted kinds of affiliation, and twisted was the space in which the images appeared in one of the side wings of the Museum Fridericianum in Kassel. Solid walls divided the space into three differently sized, interconnected parts: a corridor between the two entrances, a foyer and a picture gallery. The walls were white. A lot of light filtered in through the windows. The world outside was very much part of the experience of the viewer, who was the one single blind spot that kept moving in between the images. The display appeared as if it were a dynamic tool-kit for the fabrication of subjectivity as visual agency.

But fabrication is too instrumental a notion. Contingency was at the heart of the visual experience. The pictorial motifs were not substantial, although they conveyed a great deal of political, religious and, yes, aesthetic weight. The space both allowed and forced the images to contextualise themselves - in the mind of a viewer, of course, who was asked implicitly not only to look deep in time but also to come back, again and again. Over the course of the exhibition, the images changed. Different constellations of large-scale images were generated out of a repository of thirty smaller photographs displayed in one single row along the wall of the corridor. Like billboards, these images were pasted directly on the wall.

With two of the large images displayed in the foyer and five in the picture gallery, Lidwien van de Ven's installation was laid out in eighteen different episodes

  1. Almost all of van de Ven's photographs come with a history of artistic research. In this case, the artist was intrigued by the graffiti and started to inquire about it in the immediate neighbourhood in Nanterre. She was told that it had been preserved following a collective decision by the people living in the neighbourhood, in particular by the owners of the house, after the war was officially declared over in 1962.

  2. For centuries, the Marais has been the traditional quarter of the Jewish community. Rue Grenier sur l'Eau is the street on the north side of the Shoah Memorial that is dedicated to the 76,000 Jewish men, women and children who were deported from France between 1942 and 1944. Part of Rue Grenier sur l'Eau has been renamed Allée des Justes in order to acknowledge on a large wall the names of 2,693 people, either French or living in France at that time, who risked their lives by helping Jewish citizens during the occupation.

  3. On the graffiti, 'Vlam's blok' is spelt incorrectly or, rather, phonetically. Vlaams Blok was the name of an ethnocentric right-wing party in Flanders. Banned because of its racist politics, it has now renamed itself Vlaams Belang.

  4. The rabbi belongs to Neture Karta, an Orthodox Jewish organisation that does not recognise the state of Israel.

  5. Kaja Silverman, World Spectators, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000, p.89.

  6. This, of course, is a rhetorical question. It refers to a certain kind of critical writing and critical vision, which does not properly acknowledge the narcissistic thrill that accompanies a position of critical antagonism.