Arnoud Holleman

Stedelijk Museum/Bureau Amsterdam

Arnoud Holleman’s recent show “Being There” began with drawings, but in a rather special form. The book Sperm Drawings, 2003, contains the results of five years of ejaculations on paper, with a neatly traced black background around the white blobs. This work seems like the ultimate result of the “classic” modern artist’s seclusion in his studio, and it introduced the friction between the public and the private as a motif for the show.

For Museum, 1998, Holleman acted like a latter-day Hays Office, eliminating all sex scenes from a gay porn film and showing the remaining footage as a weird ballet of brooding glances and gestures. The film is set in a (fake) museum of antiquities, with young male visitors studying the muscular bodies on display and uniformed guards eyeing the boys. There is a constant sexual tension that never really erupts; all looks and postures point toward what has been left out, though nothing explicit is being shown, as if the museum set were acting as a censor. But the work is hardly “about” censorship. Its procedure and its result could be compared to Joseph Cornell’s Rose Hobart, 1936, which consists mainly of scenes from the Hollywood film East of Borneo, minus the dialogue and most of the action.

In a hallwaylike back space one could watch Interieurs, 1995–96, a collaboration with Pieter Kramer, in which couples and individuals talk about their homes, evincing wide differences in class background and taste. Whereas the Sperm Drawings indirectly show us the artist in his studio, Interieurs shows other people in their habitats, portrayed by an artist who goes out into the world to study—and sometimes to mess with—social and cultural codes. The only example of Holleman’s work for television included in the show, Interieurs was broadcast in Holland by VPRO TV, which also aired Holleman’s soap opera Driving Miss Palmen, 2001 (cowritten with Lernert Engelberts). Set in the merging worlds of Dutch culture and showbiz, Driving Miss Palmen includes among its cast of characters former Stedelijk director Rudi Fuchs, novelist Connie Palmen, former model Daphne Deckers, and Tracey Emin; all were played by visibly nonplussed Bollywood actors. Focusing on Palmen, Deckers, and Emin as women who turn their lives into a kind of reality TV, Driving Miss Palmen uses the displaced mannerisms of Bollywood acting and staging rather like strategies of Brechtian alienation.

Untitled/Staphorst, 2003, consists of archival film footage of the village of Staphorst, one of the ultra-Protestant backwaters of the Netherlands, in 1959. The sequence of shots shows people (mainly women and children) fleeing the camera. While this may evoke an archaic fear, it also echoes the future iconoclastic turn Holleman has predicted in an issue of the magazine he coedits, Re-Magazine: the profusion of images leading to a complete devaluation of the visual, and so finally doing away with the desire for images. Sometimes it seems as if “Being There” begins to realize this fiction. My Dad Playing Piano, 2002, is an audio installation consisting of a CD of the same name being played in a cubicle built in the middle of Bureau Amsterdam’s main space. This empty white room contained no images of any kind. While it is clearly a memorial of sorts, it is not a visual memorial but an acoustic space. Both private and public, it never pretends to “reveal all” in the manner of reality-TV shows and some forms of contemporary art. Rather, it hints at what cannot be shown or said—the gaps and voids in representations.

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