Marijke van Warmerdam

In terms of scale, the most prominent work in Marijke van Warmerdam’s exhibition was It’s a sunny day, 1999, a makeshift pool in which floated ten brightly colored plastic garbage bags. The water was kept in constant motion and the sacks, filled with a lightweight transparent plastic, were forever forming new constellations. This work, originally made for another exhibition (“à vent” at the FRAC Langue-doc-Roussillon, 1999), was a bit out of proportion with the small gallery space and seemed superfluous. Its weakness was fortunately more than compensated for by a film loop in the gallery's back room. It crossed my mind, 2000, shows a woman slowly moving one raised finger toward her nose in order to look cross-eyed; as the finger approaches her nose, her face comes into focus, only to go out of focus again as the camera pans away to a purple SUV. The vehicle’s hood opens mysteriously, without any visible human intervention. It shuts again, and the camera pans back to the woman. And so on, ad infinitum.

Not much less bewildering was the first work one encountered when entering the gallery: Former, 2000, a large photograph of a woman in a bridal gown standing beneath a tree in a rural setting. Her head is obscured by the tree’s leaves. Next to this headless bride there is an oddly shaped pile of tissue packages labeled YES. It could be an extremely simplistic allegory, were it not for the fact that somehow it refuses to make even a modicum of sense. There is an obvious link between a bride and the word “yes,” and perhaps also tissues, and yet nothing in this tableau really fits. Why is the head obscured? Why does the mountain of tissues have this strange shape? Perhaps one day van Warmerdam will publish her own Green Box to go along with it, like that other artist preoccupied by a bride’s “allegorical appearance.” In fact, there was a Duchampian flavor to the whole show. The ten sacks in their pool—abstracted bodies moving in repetitive patterns—could be seen as a variation on Duchamp’s nine malic molds, while It crossed my mind is a kind of Bachelorette Machine: A contemporary female take on the Duchampian universe, a vicious circle between a woman who seems preoccupied with staring at her finger and a self-activating car.

Most of the remaining works in the exhibition were photographic diptychs of mountains. Fake lake, 2000, shows a mountain with some snow on it, topped by an image of the same mountain, but upside down and with far less snow. In a larger work, Walk-through landscape, 2000, about eleven feet in length, van Warmerdam employed what Duchamp called the “Wilson-Lincoln effect” in his notes for the Large Glass: Two images are combined in a relief of transverse vertical bars, so that the viewer sees one image (in the case of the Large Glass, Abraham Lincoln) when looking from the left, and another one (Woodrow Wilson) when looking from the right. Instead of two presidents, van Warmerdam shows two versions of a mountain landscape; in one version the mountains are covered by virgin snow, in the other they are as bare as a stripped bride. In the final analysis, the show’s most Duchampian touch was van Warmerdam’s refusal to turn out more work along the lines of her well-known film loops of a girl doing a handstand or a man taking a shower. Refreshingly, she wants to move on rather than repeat herself for the sake of creating a signature style.

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