Video installations at Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (1999)

Review of exhibition in conjunction with the 1999 Worldwide Video Festival in Amsterdam.

R. J. Preece
artdesigncafé - art | 15 September 2009
This review first appeared in Sculpture magazine, 19(6), pp. 71-2 in 2000.

Video installations at Stedelijk Museum

As part of the 17th World Wide Video Festival “representing more than 25 countries,” the Stedelijk Museum exhibited 14 video installations, 19 CD-ROM works, and a video library display offering viewers a selection of 31 videos. Installations included those by Michal Rovner (USA/ Israel), Suzan Oudshorm (Netherlands), Ursula Hodel (USA/ Switzerland), Paolo Ravalico Scerri (Italy), Zeina Maasri (Lebanon/ Netherlands), A. P. Konen and Karen Murphy (Netherlands/ Ireland), and Lena Mattson (Sweden). A historical piece by Andy Warhol was included as well, acting as a reference and starting point.

Distributed on two floors, Michal Rovner’s Outhanging (1999; 8 minutes) occupied a prime position and the most space and was a popular crowd-pleaser. In a darkened 40-by-13-meter room, the environment consisted of 10 projections on 18 frames, which created a monumental abstract narrative of the life cycle, progress, time, and a play on stability and instability. Images of tadpoles, a kestrel, and ghost-like forms (black on white, and then white on black) progressed across the screens, suggesting an endless pilgrimage to an unspecified place. Abstract patterns were interspersed, contrasting and blending into the representational forms.

Meanwhile on the second floor, Andy Warhol’s Outer and Inner Space (1965) served as an introductory umbrella for the other video installations. According to Callie Angell’s reprinted essay from a Whitney Museum of American Art exhibition brochure (1998), “Warhol combined experimental technology and multi-screen structure with the rigors of the traditional portrait sitting to create a multiple film-and-video portrait of Edie Sedgwick.” The piece, which predates Nam June Paik’s video work, was a point of reference for the other installations on view: the treatment of the figure, the video as a mirror, a medium for portraits and narratives, and the layers of truthful representation within a video context.

Ursula Hodel exhibited five videos on monitors and three projections in a contemplative salon with an exhibition design encouraging traffic flow chaos; her installation encapsulated sex, money, and freakiness. Works included Nine Thousand (1999; 45 minutes) with the artist dressed up as a bank thief/ dominatrix counting currency on a Philippe Starck-esque white bed in a white room. In Gap (1997; 8 minutes), she poses in ridiculously ripped clothing trying to look fashionably seductive. Freckles (1998; 23 minutes) shows the artist naked and covering herself in red lipstick dots. The most impressive work was Godiva (1997; 5 minutes), in which the sexual, the twisted, and her video-as-mirror/exhibitionist-platform collide. Here, the artist/ actress appears like a Toulouse-Lautrec figure come to life, the Starck-esque white background repeats back and forth across her whitened chest, and eating Godiva chocolates becomes a frenzied, sexualized fetish. In the privacy of her video camera, Hodel not only eats Godiva, but passionately and playfully licks the edible prop as well. She manipulates her movements against the playing speed and includes magnified industrial sounds.

Lena Mattsson exhibited The Secret Room (1999; 15 minutes), which recalled a low-budget psycho-killer film. In a darkened environment composed of two opposite projections set in “nature,” Mattsson dispersed wood chips and placed a log in the middle of the floor for performing some sort of twisted ritual— Ken and Barbie get buried alive and sprinkled with rose water. The Secret Room plays upon layers of perception; from a distance everything looks fairytale-like and grand, yet the closeup reveals a disturbing, private inner world.

The installations and festival offered a worldwide selection of artistic concerns and experimentation with new media. In this city-wide festival, other participating organizations included Melkweg, De Vleemvloer gallery, the Gate Foundation, Montevideo/Time-Based Arts, and W139 gallery.