Marijke van Warmerdam at the Ikon Gallery
Writing about web page http://www.ikon-gallery.co.uk/index.htm
Today I went to the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham where I saw an exhibition by Marijke van Warmerdam called First Drop. This artist works mainly in photography and film although there are also some conceptual art pieces, but in general the feeling generated by her work is strangely uncanny. In her art, van Warmerdam works with the strange and the familiar recasting them in new and innovative ways.
One of the first pieces that you encounter on the first floor of the Ikon Gallery consists of two large photographs featuring a cup and saucer which are suspended from the ceiling and which are turned by a fan. The piece is titled Take a long break I and II and it gives an idea of how van Warmerdam wants to recast familiar objects in unfamiliar guises. The suspended photographs pirouette alongside one another and it is no coincidence that the teacup and saucer go round in a circle as tea does when stirred.
Take a long break I and II is a rather whimsical piece yet sometimes van Warmerdam’s mingling of the familiar and strange can be revelatory and inspiring. Pancake is a photograph dominated by the great white circle of a pancake thrown from half glimpsed pan held by a hand in the corner of the frame. Yet the pancake appears in the photograph to be a round orb, pitted and rough, like the face of the moon and it seems that despite the background of shelves and kitchen condiments, the moon has suddenly transported itself to appear like an apparition in the everyday kitchen.
The tea-cup appears again in Stirring in the Distance , a film of intensity and beauty that considers binaries of inside and outside, the familiar and strange. In the film, a cup and saucer sit on the edge of a table in the right hand bottom corner of the frame and behind it is a closed window and beyond the window is a landscape obliterated by snow. The silent falling of snow is beautiful in itself, yet the black horizontal shape of the horizon can be made out in ominous detail through the white flakes. Something is ‘stirring in the distance’, but the link to the teacup in the motif of stirring may suggest that it the creature stirring emanates from or is already present in the familiar interior.
Nature can be very ominous in van Warmerdam’s photographs even though it is unmoving and static. Catch features a pair of outstretched hands and a brightly coloured ball suspended mid-air. On the index finger of the right hand is a ring, which initially seems to be a sign of maturity and wealth, yet there is no stone in the ring, but instead a child-like ladybird motif. Behind the hands and ball are winter trees drooping in a ghostly mist and behind the trees is the white orb of the moon that echoes the ball’s shape. The childishness of the game seems out of place in the ominous landscape and a feeling of tension is created by the suspended moment.
Throw is a kind of companion piece to Catch which features a length of lead pipe suspended mid-air and behind it are autumnal trees, a red tiled roof and one can just make out stacked logs in the dark space under the roof. The title is Throw rather than ‘thrown’; the lead pipe is still in the process of arcing through space and one wonders where it will hit the ground and what damage it will cause.
Underwater I and II presents a variation on the themes of Catch and Throw. The concept of the piece is like that of Take a long break I and II as it features two photographs again suspended the ceiling and turned by fans. The two photographs are not identical and unlike Take a long break I and II, there are different compositions on the front and back of the turning pictures. The photographs on one side of the turning pictures present different angled shots of a similar photograph. The composition is quite simple; a tree branches around one corner of the frame with a bird box on its trunk. At the bottom of the frame is bed of autumnal leaves, above it a green stream before fields stretch out and the eye moves to sparse trees on the horizon. In the second version of the pictures, water has been thrown in the air and it twists and bends across the frame like an apparition. The swoop and swirl of it suggests violent movement, interruption of the passive scene and an expression of powerful human emotion as it has been thrown by a human hand. As in Stirring in the Distance, sentinel trees look on from the horizon as an ominous presence almost like that of Birnam Wood in Shakespeare’s Macbeth .
The culmination of the installation is a film entitled Wake Up! which again features water being thrown across a landscape. This time the screen shows a bed of yellow flowers freckled by occasional red poppies and further away a bed of paler flowers before one comes to rolling mountains and the blue sky. Butterflies fly across the screen yet like the water that swoops across the camera’s view, the landscape is immutable, reactionary and emotionless. It does not wake up, but rather like Thomas Hardy’s Egdon Heath in The Return of the Native it is ‘like man, slighted and enduring’.
Above all in this exhibition, there is a sense of uncanniness as tea-cups, trees and mountains seem to become animated and alive. First Drop after which the exhibition is named, features a cotton-wool cloud with a transparent orb embedded in it like an eye. The orb suggests the emergence of water from the nebulous obscurity, yet it also the emergence of existence itself as the cloud takes on a life of its own.