What is the status of new video and film art in the Netherlands? And which young artists should we be looking out for? The Eye Film Institute, Amsterdam, shows a new generation of filmmakers with ‘Close-up’ - an overview of twenty-two works by seventeen emerging artists.
EYE Film Institute’s mandate is to “research the barrier between film and video art and visual art”. Their approach to the medium of film is in “a natural way, going from multiple screens to large-scale spacious installations”. Indeed, upon entering the gallery we stumble into an immersive, decorated installation - ‘Night Soil – Economy of Love’ (2015) by Melanie Bonajo, where the viewer is ushered into cosy chairs and a colourful environment. The screen is placed close to the viewer – and is pretty small – providing an intimacy not felt in other works in the show. ‘Night Soil’s subject is sex workers, all women, who are being interviewed, their challenging stories accompanied by graphic images.
Regarding biographical narratives, we also find the large-scale, cinematic projection of ‘Full Contact’ (2016) by David Verbeek. Contrary to close proximity of Bonajo’s work, here we feel the distance of the cinematic camera. Through Verbeek’s narrative we follow a drone pilot who is torn-up by guilt after accidentally blowing up a school instead of his target terrorists, a thorough examination of the psychological state of the main character ensues, and suffice to say he eventually loses his mind.
‘Jianjian’ by Lichun Tseng (Taipei, 1979) offers a further variation on filmic experience. It consists of three looped 16mm film projections, moving side by side and beamed onto the wall by analogue projectors, which inherently provide a typically vintage sound. All is black and white. The interaction between the images acts as a reminder of the fragile film strips, conjuring thoughts about the materiality of the film medium itself. The installation ‘Cinechine’ by Mariska de Groot similarly takes the very nature of film as its subject, its core principle being to turn film into optical sound. Film generates sound and visuals, driven by the rhythm and movement of the turning film reels. This technique, phenomenally explained as optical sound, was invented in the 1920s and draws similarity between light and sound.
From cinematic video works, avant-garde pieces and intimate, installation-like settings. French artists Florian and Michael Quistrebert then show us, in turn, a strange combination of painting and video, displaying a genuine cross-over between the two. Wooden panels with modelling paste and car paint on them are set next to confusing, strictly visual projections. This formal approach can also be found in the psychedelic op art piece ‘U-AV’ by Joris Strijbos and Matthijs Munnik. Warned upon entering about the strobic nature of the piece, we find ourselves in a chaotic universe of flashing lights and colours.
Close-up is a group exhibition that fully lives up to EYE Film Institute’s exploratory questioning of the nature of video art and its contexts within a wider visual art spectrum. By turns, the artists involved invite self-reflection, humour, but also criticism and on leaving the exhibition, there is the overarching feeling that these artists are pursuing some kind of change, a breakthrough in video and film art, with its ‘weird’ place within the art world. Weird because it’s popular, but also worn out. Challenging because as it still seeks to find its own place, it risks becoming a cliché of itself. What else is there to do for these young artists but to question themselves and challenge their medium?