BY Anke Bangma in Reviews | 11 SEP 95
Featured in
Issue 25

Stedelijk Museum

BY Anke Bangma in Reviews | 11 SEP 95

'Wild Walls' refers to the movable walls that are used on film sets; walls which allow the easy transformation of a set into an entirely new configuration. With a compilation of individual presentations, Leontine Coelewij and Martijn van Nieuwenhuyzen have focused on the flexible character of current European art. It is no coincidence that the title is taken from film terminology: most of the artists in the exhibition have been informed by the mass media ­ film, video and television ­ and have appropriated their images as well as their techniques. Using the effects of popular media, these works have a hypnotic power, absorbing the viewer in the experience they offer.

Search WOLKEN/SUCH Clouds (electronic offer of marriage) (1995), by the Swiss artist Pipilotti Rist is a video-clip in which drifting clouds and a colourful submarine scene are projected on three walls. On the sound-track, Rist sings Chris Isaak's Wicked Game in a melancholic tone that gradually changes to a scream. The installation completely encompasses the viewer, carrying them away with the rocking movement of the underwater camera. Mat Collishaw's Cinderella (1995), is an intriguing slide-projection on three walls, of stills from the films Salome, Bitter Moon and The Silence of the Lambs, representing three different ways of looking at women. The self-conscious presence of two of the women contrasts sharply with the dark suspense surrounding the third, who is unaware she is being watched through an infra-red spy-glass. The viewer is implicated in this setting in disturbingly conflicting perspectives.

Suspense is an important ingredient in many of the works in the exhibition: both Jane and Louise Wilson and Douglas Gordon use the conventions of the thriller in their video works. In a room painted blood red, Gordon installed a huge screen showing an abandoned rowing boat. The title of the work, Remote Viewing (Horror Movie), 13.05.94 (1995), refers to a pseudo-psychic exercise carried out by the US military during the Cold War, in which telepathic viewers were asked to tune into a set of co-ordinates and describe what they felt and saw. Gordon's piece offers a similar experience of unusual communication ­ the image is strong in feeling, but its meaning remains obscure. The accompanying sound of a radio, not tuned in properly but still trying to send a message, intensifies the sense of horror. '13.05.94' is, of course, a Friday the 13th. Jane and Louise Wilson's Crawl Space (1995) is shot as a thrilling chase, but without ever revealing what the camera is trying to capture. Yet, we are still kept in suspense, remaining as gripped as we would be by a TV thriller.

The spatial installations in the exhibition absorb the viewer in other ways too. Georgina Starr's Scenes from The Hungry Brain (1995) consists of a video, shot on the set of a nightclub that has been installed in one of the museum's spaces. In the video, the place is crowded with people drinking and talking, but the set in the museum is deserted, half-empty glasses left on the tables. Realities shift and the distance between the work and the viewer is shattered. Starr explicitly refers to a hypnotic vision: on the tables are all kinds of glasses and books on magic, dreams and self-hypnosis.

Keeping a safe distance from the installation Blue Sinkhole (1995) by the Dutch artist Aernout Mik is impossible. He has built a maquette of a series of rooms at a child's scale. In these spatial settings, and in the real museum space, are scattered child-sized dummies of museum guards and parts of uniforms. One of the headless dummies is a gorilla, attached to sticks that control it like a puppet. The situation seems to be completely out of control and the place shows evidence of violence. Two live museum guards are hanging around in the room, reading the paper, or taking a nap on the floor. The manipulation of scale and multiple realities, involves the viewer in this awkward situation in a very unsettling way ­ and there's no escape.

Mik's staging of the museum guards strikes an interesting contrast with the way in which they were incorporated in the conceptual work of the 70s. Daniel Buren dressed museum guards in stripes to emphasise their function as part of the art 'system'. Mik's intervention has the opposite effect: his guards are not there to preserve the museum institution; they have taken it over, sullying works and their clinical surroundings. The critical attitude towards art and its institutionalised context has been replaced by an uncomplicated use of all manner of visual materials and surroundings. Both Starr and Mik, by building such environments, create their own context.

Gary Hume, one of the few painters in the exhibition, has formulated this relaxed attitude most explicitly. Contrasting his visually attractive works with Joseph Beuys' idealism, he states: 'They give entertainment before reflection, like when you turn the TV on... When I look at [Beuys's] Fat Corner, as well as being disgusted, it straight away offers me reflection'. The religious, social and political potential of art, of which Beuys is a symbol, is only rarely found in the work of these artists of the television generation. The work of Multiple Autorenschaft Lienz, a co-operation between Christine and Irene Hohenbüchler and the mentally and physically handicapped, is an effort to revive the social function of art. Their therapeutic project involves the mobilising of collective creativity to restore a natural social order, which is reflected in the title of the project, Herbar (1995). Using traditional methods, the group has created a symbol for their mission: plaits of hemp that represent the interweaving of a diversity of creative forces. However, this critique of individual artistic expression appears naive in the context of an exhibition in which the collective imagery of our media culture appears so dominant.