Wendelien van Oldenborgh

daadgalerie, Berlin, Germany

Can individuals from differing generations and backgrounds share in political and social progress? Can the medium of film be employed to construct social space? These are questions examined by Dutch filmmaker Wendelien van Oldenborgh in her exhibition ‘.As for the Future.’. Comprising two video installations, the exhibition includes one new work that is part of Van Oldenborgh’s project for her representation of the Netherlands at the 2017 Venice Biennale.

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Wendelien van Oldenborgh, Prologue: Squat / Anti-Squat, 2016, film installation in two parts. Courtesy: the artist 

Wendelien van Oldenborgh, Prologue: Squat / Anti-Squat, 2016, film installation in two parts. Courtesy: the artist and Wilfried Lentz, Rotterdam 

For both works, Van Oldenborgh filmed the encounters she initiated between groups of people who attempt to reckon with loaded generational or social differences. Prologue: Squat / Anti-Squat (2016) was filmed within Amsterdam’s Tripolis office complex, designed by socially-minded structuralist architect Aldo van Eyck. In early 2016 the mostly-vacant building was partly occupied by squatters amid a protest action by the refugee advocacy organization We Are Here. On Van Oldenborgh’s invitation, activists, students, writers and filmmakers gathered in the building that year to share experiences of social struggle. In the film, a storyline emerges out of a polyphony of voices discussing the under-acknowledged participation of immigrants, mostly from the former Dutch colony of Suriname, in the squatting movements during the 1970s.

The empty building in which they stand, initially designed under the sweep of social progressivism, is today partially managed by an ‘anti-squat’ company: in the Netherlands, where squatters’ rights were once well-established, landlords offer inexpensive short-term occupancy of unrented buildings to prevent habitation by squatters. Asylum seekers, meanwhile, often find themselves in a legal gridlock: most don’t qualify for social housing, yet are not allowed to work, so many end up homeless. Made amid a surge of right-wing activity in the Netherlands (and a tense forthcoming national election), Van Oldenborgh’s film points to a troubling reality: in spite of a socially progressive self-image in the Netherlands, recent events have reinforced the injustice and xenophobia of the country’s colonial legacy. Social progress is hard won and easily lost, and many battles need to be fought anew.

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Wendelien van Oldenborgh, Prologue: Squat/Anti-Squat, 2016, film installation in two parts. Courtesy: the artist. 

Wendelien van Oldenborgh, Prologue: Squat / Anti-Squat, 2016, film installation in two parts. Courtesy: the artist and Wilfried Lentz, Rotterdam 

The second film on view, Bete & Deise (2012) also documents a politically-loaded encounter initiated by Van Oldenborgh: here, between two Brazilian stage performers, Bete Mendes and Deize Tigrona. The light-skinned Mendes, a well-known actress and political activist, was twice arrested and tortured for her engagement in anti-dictatorship actions in the 1970s. After the military dictatorship in Brazil imploded in 1985, Mendes was elected as an MP, becoming the Secretary of State for Culture in the state of São Paulo. Tigrona, on the other hand, is a funk carioca musician whose song Injeção (2004) was sampled by M.I.A in her track Bucky Done Gun (2004). In the film, Tigrona raps about her mother’s kitchen appliances rumbling from the din of a nearby discotheque, alludes to her struggle with depression and fighting for custody of the child her drug-addicted sister wanted to give away. Her profanity-fuelled rhymes exorcise the social, sexual and racial violence she has experienced. Mendes  the cultural secretary dutifully explains intellectual property rights to Tigrona, who remains poor despite authoring a song sampled by an international pop star. But Tigrona feels incapable of improving her situation: she keeps her day-job as a housecleaner.

As in Prologue: Squat / Anti-Squat, here architecture becomes loaded with political meaning: Mendes and Tigrona stand within an unfinished building, engaging not in real dialogue but in unresolved monologues. Unlike the participants in the new film, they do not reach consensus. Yet what divides them are not distinct worldviews, nor varying experiences of class or ethnicity, but their distinct experiences of socialization – and the two irreconcilable lives that have resulted. Common to both works is Van Oldenborgh’s suggestion that recognition of personal and historical narratives is tied not always to merit or integrity but to power.

Main image: Wendelien van Oldenborgh, Prologue: Squat / Anti-Squat, 2016, film installation in two parts. Courtesy: the artist and Wilfried Lentz, Rotterdam

Ana Teixeira Pinto is a writer from Lisbon who lives in Berlin. She is currently finishing her PhD at Humboldt University, and is a regular contributor to frieze d/e, Art Agenda and Mousse, among other publications.

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