– Difference on Display
Friday 13th July to Sunday 2nd September 2012
AGREEMENT AND DIFFICULTY - A Review by
This exhibition is part of , and brings together work from 24 artists.
The show is designed to make us question the everyday superficial judgements
we make about other people and does succeed in this, despite not achieving
the perfection of its declared vision.
One of Niet Normaal’s first features is a film. Javier Téllez’s
27.7 minute Caligari und der Schlafwandler
(Caligari and the Sleepwalker) pays homage to Robert Wiene’s famous
expressionist film Das Kabinet des Dr Caligari
from 1919. However, in Téllez’s version actual psychiatric
patients play the characters and in some scenes they are the general public.
The film is framed as being inclusive and human with the actors revealing
what they like to do in their own lives, and the patient who has written
the script introduces the film by telling viewers that the drama has deliberately
increased the distance that already separates us and therefore won’t
worm its way into people’s minds. In the absurd and theatrical scenes
that follow, poignant questions about our attitude towards mental illness
and learning difficulties are raised: Are we always
categorising people as normal or abnormal? Are we all the prisoners of
‘voices’? ‘Why should communication be so difficult?
Deft, wry and bright-eyed, this is a successful art film that entertains
whilst holding up a mirror to our outlook on difference.
The next room is dominated by a vast glass-covered table showing a collection
of 14,000 colourful pills. Cradle to Grave II
by Pharmacopoeia, is based on a study into the use of medicines by the
average Dutch person. Around the edge of this hard-to-take medical hegemony
is a border of photographs from family albums with snapshots of people
living ordinary everyday lives. Children frolic on the beach, people slice
wedding and anniversary cakes while holding the camera’s gaze and
a woman stares out with a budgie perched on her shoulder. It’s frightening
to think that even relatively healthy lives can be a clinical progression
mitigated by medication, and Cradle to Grave II
makes you question how authenticity is affected by this growing harness
on human behaviour.
A video nearby slows down scenes and repeats them as rhythmic sequences
in Douglas Gordon’s 10.37 minute 10ms-1.
According to the exhibition plaque, this technique is meant to “shift
our attention from a perverse voyeurism to a more neutral, respectful
observation of the complexity of the human body and mind”. But I
couldn’t get over the humiliation of a semi-naked man who is unable
to stand, being presented as art and stuck in a film on public display
attempting to get up again and again with nowhere to hide from an eternity
of eyes. The ‘found’ footage is of unknown origin and dates
back to World War 1.
Similarly – though more recent and therefore subject to consent
– across the room Imogen Stidworthy’s I
Hate, veers towards controversy with its cold presentation but
makes you think about the struggle with difficulty. It explores the relationship
between thought and language with a man painfully trying to recover his
voice via speech therapy. The strain of producing words is also accessible
as vibrations via transducers.
In a DaDaFest brochure, a stated aim of Niet Normaal
is to make us question a world that is “not always as inclusive
and democratic as we would wish for”, and perhaps the art of not
treating people with respect is evident in Christian Bastiaans’
reflections on the gaping wounds of raging civil war in Sudan, Uganda,
Chad and Sierra Leone. Made out of gauze, shiny pink and white silk, and
mosquito nets, his “hurt models” for Microbe
Mutilate Messiah and Körper sur Beobachtungsstation
are far too flimsy and ephemeral to foreground the suffering that real
people are enduring. Even the text of one of their harrowing stories printed
on such slight fabric is difficult to read and easy to miss. As an example
of a medium not delivering a message it replicates the scant media coverage
this subject is given.
If we’re meant to review our perspective on people in Niet Normaal,
they are strangely absent from some of it. A deliberate distance is created
in the spartan, unpeopled, cell-like rooms of Ricarda Roggan’s Das
Zimmer. There’s a disappearing man in Floris Kaayck’s
pseudo-documentary Metalosis Maligna, which
is too far out and comical to play on “the collective fear of foreign
bodies and standard responses”. Jana Sterbak’s Monumental
shows an oversized replica of two crutches without an owner and leaning
against a wall, which are of no use to anyone but do start you thinking
about the pointless and myriad props we can all turn to.
Niet Normaal’s textual signposts, through which we’re meant
to look at this exhibition, can be at odds with the work. The 81 parts
in Amsee Perera’s Screen are labelled
as “pods that call to mind foetuses or forms of natural growth and
suggest issues concerning genetic screening and the identification of
disease genes”, yet on first sight could be said to look more like
a variety of decorated biscuits. Birgit Dieker’s limbless sculpture
Bad Mummy is meant to make us question provocative
sexual fantasies and motherhood. It’s a powerful piece, but without
this explanation the premise wasn’t obvious to me.
Playing with language and the presentation of meaning is an overall focus
of Niet Normaal, where normality shifts in a spectrum of perspectives.
Ben Cove’s clichéd words in the central room saying “EVERYTHING
IS GOING TO BE ALRIGHT” appear to have fallen down and lie at odd
angles in a crash of communication. Christine Borland’s Cast
from Nature has a hollowed out plaster and metal figure looking
like it’s pulled a ripcord on its own body and become a parachute
of descent with a strange, exhilarated face.
The final exhibit cleverly puts humanity back together, with Karin Sander’s
Body Scan. The artist scanned visitors to
a previous exhibition in Amsterdam and reproduced exact, small replicas
in a 3-D printer. Albeit it virtually produced, this display shows us
ourselves. Painted in warm colours and with exquisitely precise and detailed
expressions, smiles and stances – whether in wheelchairs, on sticks,
healthy, sick or without impairment – we are all here!