Fireworks at De Appel, Amsterdam (2000)

Review of exhibition including artwork by Ann-Sofi Sidén, Johan Grimonprez, Gerald van der Kaap, Simon Starling, Ayse Erkmen, and Katarzyna Kozyra.

R.J. Preece
artdesigncafé - art | 1 February 2010
This review first appeared in Sculpture magazine, 19(5), pp. 81-2 in June 2000.

Fireworks at De Appel, Amsterdam

What do you get with a recipe consisting of the Queen of Mud, a bunch of unsuspecting nude men, delicious-looking, hip-hopping land mines, and a dash of terrorism? “Fireworks,” of course! To mark the millennium, De Appel offered a European group show “containing works which in some way relate to explosions of energy.” Participating artists included Ann-Sofi Sidén (Stockholm / New York), Johan Grimonprez (Ghent / New York), Gerald van der Kaap (Amsterdam), Simon Starling (Glasgow), Ayse Erkmen (Istanbul / Berlin), and Katarzyna Kozyra (Warsaw).

“This mud’s for you” could be the slogan for Ann-Sofi Sidén’s video installation and film. Queen of Mud Visits the Perfume Counter at NK (1989; Stockholm) presents a department store-based narrative of the naked, mud-covered artist out to shock. Onlookers observing the artist-exhibitionist and her accompanying video documenter responded across a predictable range: mudqueen as center of attention, ignored by some, and considered repulsive to others. In QM, I Think I Call Her QM (1997), Sidén co-stars in a 28-minute film reangling mudqueen as the alien lab-rat in the home-office-laboratory of a psychotic, shut-in psychiatrist. Highlights include the suspense of “will mudqueen mate with the giant green lizard?” and the cheers when mudqueen finally escapes her academic-captor, who is hell-bent on a landmark journal publication.

Johan Grimonprez’s Niemandsland (No Man’s Land, 1999) consists of eight cibachrome stills from his controversial film Dial H-I-ST-O-R-Y (1997), exhibited at Documenta X. The artist has taken his provocative airplane-hijacking subject matter and humanized the demonized by selecting closeups of the terrorists. Organized into an abstracted “triptych,” the stills create a tension between the aggressors’ personal circumstance and their actions, between their societal position and their old- and new-media representation. Energies can be interpreted as contained within the subject matter, the form and its associations, the imagination of the context, and the viewer’s experience of this difficult work.

Other works included Simon Starling’s Quicksilver Dryfit Museumbrug (1999), a motorboat cut in half with attached motor, which hangs suspended by a cable and balanced by a dryfit solar battery. Starling took solar power from Surinam and used it to fuel the boat on an Amsterdam canal, highlighting the cultural and economic relationship between the Netherlands and its former colony. Gerald van der Kaap exhibited a yellow-carpeted environment with large-scale projection and three monitors, which combines clichéd images with viewer-selected soundtracks— heard via headphones— which alter the film’s meaning. Ayse Erkmen’s four quiet video interventions, PFM-1 and Others (1997), dispersed throughout the gallery, are based on a Red Cross book which describes land mines and provides pictures. Erkmen fed the forms into a software package, geometrically abstracted them, and produced luscious green land mines that dance across the screen, playfully pitting their form against their horrifying reference.

Katarzyna Kozyra’s voyeuristic video installation bypasses even mudqueen to win the prize for most sensational artwork on view. The Men’s Bathhouse (1999), fresh out of the 1999 Venice Biennale, consists of an octagonal “interior” with four projections of unsuspecting male bathers in a Budapest bathhouse. Kozyra and two male accomplices entered the space with two secret cameras— the female Kozyra was disguised with facial and body hair, and applied genitalia. A video documenting the transformation introduces the installation. Kozyra contends, “I simply wanted to know what men did in the bath, whether they talk, read the paper— what they actually do there.” While the work initiates a discussion about gender roles and the history of bathers, it also raises questions about the subjects’ right to privacy and the act of violation.

Overall, “Fireworks” embraced not only “energy” within a late ’90s European context, it showed a continued preoccupation in the quest for viewer- and media-sensation-oriented artworks. And just as one walks out of the exhibition, another insertion of Erkmen’s cute-looking land mines dance across the screen, ready to create catastrophe with the slightest touch.