US Video Art in Amsterdam’s Oude Kerk

The last place I would have expected to find the advanced video art of San Francisco’s Tony Oursler would be the oldest building in Amsterdam, the Oude Kerk, built in the 13th century.  But maybe that’s the point, and it’s a juxtaposition Amsterdam is famous for, the antique and the utterly contemporary.   I’d gone over to hear the magnificent weekly carillon concert (Tuesdays at 4:00) and noticed the sign.

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Soon, I was in the midst of commissioned work in that spectacular setting, projected right onto the walls.  This piece involved two characters talking, a very straightforward man who was blunt and clear, and this ghostlike figure who clearly wanted to hide.  According to the supporting materials (in Dutch and English), the point of all this is questioning the way technology and especially internet connectivity pervades many people’s lives.  I’m not sure I would have looked at the works as intelligently without that hint, but no matter.  

 

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Older pieces from elsewhere were shown in two side rooms, which were beautiful in themselves, and which I don’t remember being open to the public before.  The contrast with the ultra-modern imagery (not shown here because it didn’t photograph well) was delicious:  two dolls talking glumly to each other, with faces projected onto their stuffed faces.

 

 

My personal favorite of the whole show was a talking worm whose discourse was uproarious, while what I interpreted as wounds appeared and disappeared on its body.  It reminded me of the dreaded internet worm.

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Nearby, two large faces were projected on the stained glass of another time.  For me this was the most enigmatic of the works, but the history of the glass made sense to me.  It was removed during the Nazi Occupation and hidden in Zandvoort in the dunes (how or where the label did not say).  Unfortunately, some pieces were broken anyway, and the shards were all placed in this window, which Oursler uses as a screen.  That part I understand:  the present and its complexities and discourse are always projected onto the shattered remnants of the past, even and especially whatever we have tried to protect.

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By the way:  Saskia, Rembrandt’s wife, is buried here, her grave in the floor of the Oude Kerk marked only with her name.  Her husband died a pauper and is interred in an unknown grave in the Westerkerk.

Be prepared:  The women of the world’s oldest profession are on display in windows right by the church.  However you feel about it, don’t be surprised.  And don’t take a photograph.

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