TEXT ME Leeuwarden 2021

Madelief van de Beek: NOT TO BE IGNORED

On Madelief van de Beek’s “Fuck. Volgens mij doe Ik feminisme verkeerd”

Written by Amin Gharbi. Published on …

We were traveling in a group of young curators to visit the exhibition of the YOUNG MASTERS of the MEDIA ART FESTIVAL in Leeuwarden. With some of them, we did know each other, some were new but we were all really excited to meet and share an experience. I am overwhelmed with all the impressions, the personal encounter with the collective after having seen each other on-screen only for months. “Amin…” _ Irene, the host and curator of the project, is calling me.

Arriving at the exhibition space is equally thrilling. “Which artist/artwork would you like to work/write about, Amin?” _ we only have a week onsite to meet, to see the exhibition, to meet the artists. I understand that we need to decide on how to distribute the writing focus within the collective. But I am confused… I have been touched by so many of them, and they are all different… and, as usual, I find myself indecisive and wanting to have everything at the same time! “Yes, but try to focus on yourself, and choose one artwork …” _ ok, ok, I choose to write on Madelief van de Beek’s artwork! I have no idea where that came from and why I decide that.

Probably because it is about feminism, and I like this kind of discussion. The fact that it deals with a political cause, triggers my attention. But the set-up, the approach, there is also a lot I don’t understand about it. Maybe that’s why I found myself intuitively choosing it? “Fuck, I am doing something wrong about feminism” is the title of the work. What does she mean? What is it saying? What’s the point of having different videos in this weird setting? But wait… is it really dealing with feminism?

The first time I saw this artwork, I was very intrigued by the setting. Is it just about the colors? Or the big letters ‘fuck’ that catch-all visual attention when entering the exhibition space? Or maybe it is because I have been working coincidently with artists and artwork that choose to work with TVs throughout this year?

Madelief van de Beek. MAF Leeuwarden 2021. PHOTO Xanne Vera
Photo: MEDIA ART FRIESLAND Leeuwarden 2021. Photo: Xane Vera

Right in between the main hall of the exhibition, and the education space, I find myself in a considerably large space. A combination of sounds seems to be both, weird and intriguing. A first look shows five small TVs distributed randomly on the floor, without a specific pattern, alongside a relatively big painted sign on the background that says ‘fuck’. Each of the TVs is oriented in a different direction. When seeing the audience walking through the installation, I start to understand that what first seemed to be random follows an idea.

When asked about the overall set-up, the artist explains that her reflection comes from her background in scenography but was also influenced by what she wanted to put the audience through. “I like the fact that people have to physically do something to see the artwork,” she says, “you can choose to sit down and really watch it, or to look at it with more of a distance… and then the big ‘fuck’-sign already gives people the sense of _ oh! There is something political about it. And if you want to you can choose to know more about it, or you are just fine with it”.

I am thinking of text messages. Using capital letters in texts or email is to show that this is not to be ignored. It means as well that the other is serious, and it comes with a demand to respond. And, yes, it is also used to express emphatic reactions when used in single show words like YEAH or WOW or – as here in the artwork – FUCK. Got it, it is about addressing me as a viewer and triggering a response. That coincides with the fact that I really like how swearwords communicate a spirit or emotion faster and better than any formal language. It seems, that I chose an open artwork designed to be in contact with me as a viewer.

As the technology used in this installation, Madelief chose small TV screens. A choice that seems to be unique compared to the rest of the artworks that were showcased in the MAF, many of them prefer to work with projection. “I chose the TVs because I like to work with video, but I also like to work with sculpture… and somehow when I make a video, I feel like it’s almost a pity if I just project it with a beamer… I always want to have something physical to work with and play with a bit. I felt like these TVs are already a great medium because I can stack them off, or I can move them around, and I can paint them …”, Madelief explains. Yes, that sounds good, and they also have this vintage look that is present in the videos. Very much zeitgeist.

One of them is recorded in a tiny working space, squeezed in an attic _ a spatial situation that we have seen so often in the days of online performances from home. Anyway, it is very appealing and very present-day as it plays with the visual spirit of the Corona times.

We see her as a singer-songwriter in a color dotted dress with a guitar. She is singing, talking about something. It seems to be dear to her, maybe she is a fan of Francoise Hardy in her early years? Or more like Dusty Springfield? In some parts, she splits herself into three to have accompaniment. Another of the TV screens depicts two women – again in colorful polka dot dresses – collaged into a sexually connoted position on a table, clearly playing with stereotypes.

Another of the video works refers to the Dutch-American painter Willem de Kooning, best known for a series on women he worked on in the 1950s. He is staged as an example of the ‘old, white, vulgar man in the arts’ in the video ‘I Guess It’s Because I’m Not a Woman’. OK, let me summarize, it is about gender casts, anchored in the 1950s and 1960s, embedded in a sweet and playful irony, pop colors, and beautified-advertising esthetics, produced in the fashionable DIY retro style. It seems to be a self-portray of the artist, reflecting on different stereotypes that impact her gender biography, can that be right? At least it makes me ask what would happen if I would look at my ‘photo book’ with this perspective.

Well, I am happy with my choice: I like the guiding idea asking how to navigate systems of stereotypes. I am a fan of the choice of technology, which imposes its own esthetics, and its set-up that seems both intriguing and inviting to go through the installation. And I like the approach behind the artwork, to find a way of staging a set of questions reflecting on gender identity that I as the audience can immerse in. I can promise, NOT TO BE IGNORED. Let me talk to the curator _ Irene, where are you?


mediaartfestival.nl: Madelief van de Beek


instagram.com: Madelief van de Beek