Mounted on series of 18 large panels, Willem de Rooij has selected images of protests cut from newspapers to create an installation entitled ‘Index: Riots, Protests, Mourning and Commemoration (as represented in newspapers January 2000 – July 2002)’. The images provide a visual enquiry into how protests are represented in global news media, varying from the individual to wider protest scenes. They capture poignant moments of protest, showing human suffering and resilience to power. The work not only asks questions about how people are presented in the act of protest, but also how these images are distributed across the globe.
Shown without captions, the images become more abstract, with the reasons for the protest or riots often unclear. This allows for more focus to be placed upon the formal qualities of the photography, and the observation that many of the images are visually similar and repetitive in composition, promoting an enquiry into the representation of these worldwide events. Gathered over a period of 2 years, the source images show the enduring subject matter of riots, protests and mourning. The white, negative space between the works also becomes loaded with meaning, representing the myriad of other images not present within the installation.
As the work builds into a large index throughout the 18 panels, a sense of image fatigue can ensue. As a society we have become desensitised to this kind of imagery, seeing it as part of the tapestry of everyday life, and the works may struggle to hold viewers attention despite their arresting content and large wall coverage. The world exists in a state of flux, between peace and protest. With de Rooij’s selection of images we are presented with one side of this equation, counterbalanced through the experience of the peaceful gallery space.
Amongst this large-scale installation is a vase of flowers presented on a plinth. This artwork entitled ‘Bouquet V’ consists of 95 different flowers arranged in a cylindrical vase. It offers the satisfaction of immediate sensory pleasure, but the careful selection and grouping of the arrangement also means that each flower only occurs once in the bouquet, symbolising the individual in the collective.
Next to the previous ‘Index’s system of classification ‘Bouquet V’ offers a counterpoint both conceptually and by way of visual contrast with the brightly coloured flowers set against the monochromatic and muted colours of the protest imagery. Both works question the idea of individuality within the system, while the flowers add a poignant reference to commemoration, through their association with sites of mourning.
Willem de Rooij’s works at Arnolfini combine to offer a politically charged response to global protests. They ask the viewer to see the installation as part of a wider system, be that of protest, oppression or human behaviour. At times the repetitive nature of the ‘Index’ images begin to wear thin, but balanced against the bouquet, the collective presentation offers a fresh new meaning to this substantial body of work.