Gerald Van Der Kaap

Gerald Van Der Kaap’s show “Passing the Information (II)” consisted of glossy, often large-scale photographs, along with some videos, all of which reflected his stay as artist-in-residence on the campus of the university of Xiamen, China, where the first part of “Passing the Information” took place. With Van Der Kaap there is always a tension between the traditional photographic imperative to select a “decisive moment” and the inclination to amass such quantities of them that the individual image loses its value. He took some four thousand digital photographs in Xiamen, which he considers material for a book, but in this show Van Der Kaap presented staged photographs that are carefully rendered variations on some of his snapshots. For these pictures he has costumed three female students in red-and-white waitress outfits—uniforms for a new age. Apparently the pictures follow a written script, but it is hardly a simple or linear one. Not all of the photographs are successful. Fang & Limei (Steps), Xiamen 2002 (all works 2002) depicts two girls sitting on steps in the open air; one is apparently comforting the other, who seems to be crying, and the effect is altogether too rhetorical, too self-consciously kitschy. Fang (Beach), Xiamen 2002 could easily have gone wrong in a similar way, but this picture of a girl looking out over the sea in her red-and-white uniform—a post-Communist pioneer eyeing her future—has a certain bizarre grandeur.

Some of the best works focus on the campus architecture rather than on the students. Xiada (Mensa), Xiamen 2002, shows a cluster of buildings; one of them, the university restaurant, is indicated by red lanterns—a bit of generic chinoiserie in surroundings that are otherwise hard to place geographically. The diminutive girl on the pavement in front of the buildings looks trapped in a Truman Show–type universe of facades, which Van Der Kaap has recorded in great detail. Two other images show the girls’ dorms, in one instance with blossoming fruit trees in the foreground (how very oriental). Clothes are hung on the balconies of the girls’ dorms in surprising quantities, as if everyone were drying their clothes at the same time, or the balconies served as wardrobes. A video, Weiwei (track), Xiamen 2002, shows a part of the city that looks older and poorer than the campus, with a railroad track apparently used by locals (especially winos) as a footpath or hangout. Then, like a model on a catwalk, Weiwei comes walking across in her uniform. Just as the girls in the photographs appear to be trapped in the alien surroundings of the campus, here the girl herself appears as an alien element among the less privileged.

The photograph Passing the Information, Xiamen 2002 documents one of the ways Van Der Kaap presented his works in Xiamen: A classroom is being used as an exhibition space, and in place of a blackboard there is a projection of a video that combined older footage by Van Der Kaap with images of Chinese students from the university. As the video material contained a girl miming to the arousing music of “Je t’aime . . . moi non plus,” this was hardly the usual pedagogical situation. Van Der Kaap’s activities also included the organization of the First Xiamen Video Dance Night. In Holland, his belief in the liberating powers of the carnivalesque has been absorbed into a culture industry of which dance events—where Van Der Kaap often performs as a VJ—have become an integral part. Perhaps in China his multimedia carnival can really be subversive—for the time being.

—Sven Lütticken