Video installation at Montevideo/TBA, Amsterdam (1999)

Review of exhibition featuring work by Kirsten Geisler, Marnix de Nijs, Tobias Schalken and Stefan van Dinther in Amsterdam.

R. J. Preece
artdesigncafé - art | 15 September 2009
This review first appeared in World Sculpture News, 5(4), page 75 in 1999.

Video installation at Montevideo/TBA

As part of the World Wide Video Festival in Amsterdam in September 1999, Montevideo/ Time-Based Arts presented video installations by Kirsten Geisler, Marnix de Nijs, and a collaborative work by Tobias Schalken and Stefan van Dinther. The artist encouraged viewers visually, spiritually, and physically interact with the artworks. Yet while the works stressed viewer interactivity, they also demonstrated the limitations of technology by setting up spatial and technological distance, and having the viewers experience a futile attempt at becoming “one” with the technology.

Kirsten Geisler’s installations, entitled The Virtual Beauty – Dream of Beauty 2.0 (1999), was an introductory crowd pleaser. In a 15 x 8 meter space, a large-scale video projections (2.5 x 3.5 meters)— framed on the wall— showed a portrait of a shaved-headed woman, which actively played upon the tension between photography and video with its stretches of stillness. Upon closer inspection, it becomes unclear whether the portrait is taken from an actual human or is computer-generated. “Talk to me,” she says longingly. Opposite the portrait, a steel column supports a telephone with the following instructions: “Ask her short questions (maximum ten words). Speak English…. She will react with a non-verbal emotion.”

With the stage set, viewers asked an assortment of questions, including: “Who are you?” and “Do you love me?” Within seconds, it becomes clear that the portrait isn’t interactive at all. She says, “I am a virtual” and gives stock gestures—a winking eye, a kiss. The viewer discovers that the virtual woman is in fact trapped in the video format, reflecting the tension of the employed technology. The crowd-pleasing will continue, as Kirstin Geisler’s “Beauties” will be touring several museums in Germany this year— including the Kunsthalle in Dusseldorf and the Ludwig Museum in Cologne— and then at the Tate Gallery in Liverpool, England.

From the failed interactions, Tobias Schalken and Stefan van Dinther offered spiritual contemplation with Peary (1999) which “centers around the encounter with the unknown other.” Entering the dark space, ghost-like apparitions appear, set on perpendicularly placed screens and forming a point into the room. The work takes its name from Robert Edwin Peary, an explorer who took a legendary North Pole expedition in 1909. According to the press release, “When the visitor approaches the installation, he/she will be confronted with the projected figure coming towards him out of a misty background. With the mysteries of voyage of discovery at the back of their minds, the audience can wonder at what an adventurer like Peary might have encountered on his journey.” Despite these Artic intentions, the work more universally suggested interacting with the dead, the paranormal, and the unknown and situated a confrontation with spatial and spiritual exclusion— and did so brilliantly. Like Geisler’s work, Peary played on stillness versus action as the white apparitions appeared to approach the screen’s surface— and then lightly faded into darkness.

Meanwhile, Marnix de Nijs’s Panoramic Accelerator (1999) recalled a video arcade game, and created an interplay between art and science through video, machinery, and viewer performance. Sitting on a racing seat between a video screen and a projector, the viewer is instructed to “find the right speed and position to match the layers, push the green button to start, slide handel [sic] forward to accelerate, use the black button to change direction.” The work is intended to combine two image layers, and with the right speed, provide a visual and calming sensation. Unfortunately, at the time of my viewing, the accelerator wasn’t functioning properly with viewers on a futile attempt at combining the layers. Whether functioning properly or not, the Accelerator achieved the task—raising questions about “progress” and “desire” in relation to technology.