Virtual Walls | Real Walls is the first solo exhibition by pioneering visual artist, Madelon Hooykaas. Born in the Netherlands in 1942, Hooykaas has devoted her artistic life to working with photography, film and video. She makes documentary films and short film installations, but she also “works with” film in a literal sense, interacting and intervening with her visuals to create performance art which both intrigues and mystifies.
As a Buddhist Hooykaas is interested in nature and mindfulness, and her films Light and Haiku, The Art of the Present Moment reflect that interest through long camera takes and repeating visuals which combine to create space for reflection and mediation. The lingering images are familiar yet captivating: the bokeh of glancing sunlight on water, leaves bobbing on the surface of a stream.
In Daydreaming, the viewer is invited to participate in the installation by reclining in a macramé hammock while watching a video projection of a serene landscape. The opening scene has been filmed from the identical reclining position in the hammock and includes a shot of the artist’s feet, thereby echoing the viewer’s point of view. The artist’s feet provide a visual anchor between the “real” experience of lying in the hammock and the “filtered” experience of watching the film, drawing attention to the virtual wall that exists between them.
The performative pieces, Grid and Virtual Walls | Real Walls I are displayed on twenty-two screens which run the length of the mezzanine level. Both pieces show the artist interacting with a video projection on a white screen, and I was particularly drawn to the piece, Virtual Walls | Real Walls I in which Hooykaas makes a statement about the environmental impact of tourism on the city of Venice.
In this piece we see Venice, filmed through the black mesh sun screen on the window of the vaporetto (water bus) as it navigates the Grand Canal. The soundtrack begins with the noise of wheeled suitcases rolling over cobbles, subtly making the point that Venice, like the artist’s home city of Amsterdam, is overrun with tourists. They are the pervasive layer or virtual wall through which these cities must increasingly be viewed. From inside the vaporetto, the camera angle shifts so that occasionally the long view is lost altogether, and we see only the protective sun screen through a flash of sunlight. In front of a projection of the film, Hooykaas uses charcoal to trace the circles of the mesh onto the paper projector screen. The sun shade, not the view, has become the focus of piece; it is the filter obscuring reality. At the end of the performance, the artist tears the paper screen to reveal a window which she opens to show the city.
The act of tearing down the virtual wall indicates Hooykaas’s desire to redress the balance between the host and the hosted and although the artist insists that she is not political, the piece did cause me to reflect on my own experience of visiting Amsterdam – crammed streets, the sound of suitcases rolling.
Sound also forms a significant part of Underground, a video installation which can be viewed on screens above the hand-driers in the toilets. Underground takes the viewer on a ride through the Paris metro, but its focus is on texture and sound. It’s a surreal journey.
If the viewer is prompted to question the purpose of Hooykaa’s work, then the work has fulfilled its purpose. Art should invite questions and challenge perceptions and this exhibition certainly ticks those boxes. Within the space of this review it’s impossible to cover all of the works on display, but for the artistically curious, there is a curator tour, and a free downloadable publication called Read More. Both are highly recommended.