Bottling Local: Oh, the Smell of Amsterdam in the Spring...
by Edo Dijksterhuis
Posted by Edo Dijksterhuis
| tags: perfume local ArtSlant Editions springsnow amsterdam elm blossoms elm trees Eau d'Amsterdam
First comes a wave of chlorophyll: a fresh and forward odor, the smell of tender green. Then, when the first vapors thin in the air and the nose digs deeper, the wood follows. It’s darker, heavier, earthier—soothing and more serious after the initial playfulness.
The French have Yves Saint-Laurent’s eau de toilette, Paris, in its compact pink bottle. New York is well taken care of with Bond 9 having designed a different smell for every borough—and I’m not even mentioning Donna Karan’s entire line of perfumes carrying the city’s name. But it was probably Gishlain that took the idea of city-themed perfumes to its extreme with its The Scent of Departure line: seventeen perfumes dedicated to cities worldwide, from Munich to Miami. However, none of these olfactory homages to great cities are as literal as Eau d’Amsterdam, which was launched in 2014. Most perfumes try to summon up an idea, an abstract notion like romance, energy, or mystery, but Eau d’Amsterdam truly duplicates the city’s smell. Or at least one of its most dominant ones. During spring.
From Elm to Perfume. Illustration: Monique Wijbrands
The most important ingredient of Eau d’Amsterdam is the elm. It’s not the official city tree, but with over 75,000 specimens within the municipal borders it might as well be. Amsterdam is the city with the highest elm density in the world. In the twentieth century the elm population in Europe and the US was decimated by two waves of the Dutch elm disease, caused by a microfungus dispersed by dark beetles. The disease was first described by two Dutch biologists, Bea Schwarz and Christina Johanna Buisman, hence the name. But the Dutch also took to breeding resistant cultivars and rapidly replacing ailing trees. So, while elsewhere more than ninety percent of elms died, Amsterdam has kept its signature tree.
The history of the elm in Amsterdam dates back to the seventeenth century. The city was flourishing and growing, new canals were being dug that needed landscaping. The elm turned out to be the ideal city tree: a fast grower (a centimeter in diameter every year), sturdy, and quite elegant with its V-shaped branches. The elm is easily the most popular tree in the city center: number two on the list, the plane (Platanus), is outnumbered 894 to 5,271. The Amsterdam canals having been granted the status of Unesco World Heritage Site kind of promotes the elm to a more official status as well.
This is all really interesting information, but you could be living in Amsterdam your entire life and not be familiar with the elm. As trees go, the elm is a bit plain. It’s not as robust as the chestnut, not as eccentric as the oak, not as regal as the beech. But there is one moment during the year when the elm makes itself known to city dwellers. In spring, usually between the second week of April and the third week of May, the elm blossoms and spreads its seeds like fluffy light green snow. It was during one of those spring afternoons in 2011 that artists Lieuwe Martijn Wijnands and Saskia Hoogendoorn found themselves on a terrace, wondering about this wonderful natural confetti. Then and there, they decided that the elm deserved its own festival, comparable with the cherry blossom parades in Tokyo and Washington DC.
This became Springsnow and it’s growing every year. Elm-inspired artworks are on display; documentaries are made about the tree; Reinier Sijpkens, who has been floating on the city’s canals with his one-man orchestra for 25 years, composed an homage to the elm together with theremin promotor Fay Lovsky; and there are a bunch of pop-up events celebrating spring. Linking everything together is the Elm Walk, starting at the botanical garden next to the EYE Film Museum, home to 32 different species of elm, and winding through the historical center. The city’s “tree mayor” Hans Kaljee talks about the city’s eldest elm (at the Nieuwe Herengracht, planted in 1891), the tallest (at the Oudemanhuispoort, measuring 35 meters), and the specimen planted in remembrance of astronaut Wubbo Ockels, who was a great conservationist.
In a city this packed with activities it’s difficult to stand out, though. Wijnands and Hoogendoorn needed something more tangible than a website and a map to get their enthusiasm across, not to mention a source of income to pay for their festival. Thus, Eau d’Amsterdam was born. That’s, of course, more easily said than done. Elm mucilage is used medicinally as a soothing demulcent, and during the great famine in Norway in 1812 the tree’s bark proved to be edible after cooking, but never before has it been used as the basis for a perfume. But working collaboratively with perfume designer Tanja Deurloo of Annindriya and the creative department of International Flavors & Fragrances they pulled it off. At the 2014 edition of Meesterlijk, an Amsterdam based fair for design and applied arts, they presented their first tests. The first limited edition, sold in a box decorated with a Hendrik Keun painting from 1773 showing the trees in full bloom, is almost completely sold out. A second edition, this time containing more blossom, is being produced right now.
And more uses of the elm have been discovered. The candy makers of Papabubble have developed a Spingsnow Candy, containing elm seeds. And Stadsplank uses the wood of cleared trees to make artisanal cutting boards, with the origin of the tree engraved. But these will probably never have the same impact as Eau d’Amsterdam. The power of scent can hardly be matched. Scientific studies show that pheromones are crucial for falling in love: you stick with the person who smells like home or who you feel at home with. I guess it works that way with cities as well.
(Image at top: Photo: Giuseppe de Bruijn)
Art Space of the De Nederlandsche Bank (DNB)
Westeinde 1 , 1017 ZN Amsterdam , Netherlands
May 6, 2015 - May 29, 2015
Robin Hood in Times of Digitally Induced Relativism
by Edo Dijksterhuis
Posted by Edo Dijksterhuis
| tags: photoshop post-internet art instagram Social Media digital jennifer in paradise The Internet
In the fall of 1987 John Knoll and his girlfriend Jennifer flew to Tahiti. For months they’d been working on the computer graphics of the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit and they needed a well-earned rest. It was at the pristine Bora-Bora beach that Knoll took a photograph which in the decades ahead became an icon of international geekdom: Jennifer, seen from the back, sitting topless on the white sand with the almost fluorescent blue ocean as backdrop. The picture would have remained just another entry in the family album had Knoll not gone on to invent Photoshop. When demonstrating the new software at Apple he used the image because it easily lent itself for all kinds of technical treatments. “Jennifer in Paradise,” as the picture was dubbed, was soon shared, cloned and tweaked by techies worldwide.
For artist Constant Dullaart, Knoll’s holiday snap constitutes the “original Photoshop meme,” the patient-zero of the visual tsunami unleashed daily by Instagram, Flickr, and dozens of other image sharing and editing programs. For his best-known work to date Dullaart reproduced Jennifer in Paradise in 72 panels, using a different Photoshop function for each image. The work is a monument to the appropriation and manipulation of imagery, which has penetrated every detail of our daily lives since the invention of Photoshop a quarter of a century ago.
Only in a few instances is digital enhancement of images disapproved of or even frowned upon. The jury of World Press Photo has over the years disqualified contenders for deleting parts of reality or aesthetically upgrading new images. And the practice of digitally molding fashion models into sticklike frames has been condemned for presenting young women with unrealistic role models. But besides journalistic integrity and body image concerns over unhealthy stereotyping, there’s not a lot of ethical no-no’s holding back our urge to alter images beyond the traditional photographic manipulation of light, angle, and shutter time. We even seem to have quietly accepted the fact that basically every picture we’re presented with is somehow digitally doctored. “What you see is what you get” has become “what you get is what you see.”
The ever-expanding internet has engendered a kind of “absolute relativism.” Images exist within a context of likewise images, making them recognizable and “readable.” But in a realm with limitless capacity to create ever-new universes, no image is without context. It renders all images equally possible, equally true and—eventually—equally acceptable. We, consumers, have been swept up in the dynamics of it all, cutting loose value, truth, and reliability from the gold standard of real life.
Internet artists have responded to the phenomenon in different ways. Someone like Petra Cortright dives headlong into the technical toolbox and confronts the world as a happy-go-lucky tour guide in the United States of Virtuality. Ed Atkins, on the other hand, is more concerned with the physical disconnection the internet presents and infuses his avatars with existentialist angst.
Constant Dullaart is more of an activist, examining and criticizing the assumptions underlying the downtrodden paths of the digital highway system. In an interview he once said that “the industrialization of image manipulation that Photoshop enabled is actually a form of cultural imperialism.” His Jennifer in Paradise series can be seen as an act of resistance, an attempt to beat the capitalist Moloch with his own images and tools. By enlarging and exaggerating Dullaart opens our eyes to the subtle mechanism of manipulation we’ve come to accept as normality.
Constant Dullaart, High Retention, Slow Delivery (2014) from voornaam achternaam on Vimeo,
Commissioned by Jeu de Paume
Fittingly, the show at De Nederlandsche Bank is organized as part of the bank’s “Innovation Month.” A small screen placed awkwardly askew in the middle of the room presents Dullaart’s essay on social media. The artist bought 2.5 million fake followers and set about equally distributing them over Instagram accounts of art institutions and art professionals. These often function as a channels for selling art, taking the popularity contest of Facebook one step further and effectively casting the audience in the role of commodity. By equalizing the accounts Dullaart nullified their relative worth and neutralized them. The printed out placards with ghost profiles look like posters for an election that has obviously been rigged.
While during Innovation Month the bank’s personnel is undoubtedly schooled in technological singularity, cybercrime, and whatnot, digital native Dullaart has chosen to present mostly physical art works, driving home his point even more effectively. By translating the virtual to the physical he highlights the ethical blind spots inherent to the internet. Being at the vanguard of image manipulation Photoshop is his preferred target. Both simple and powerful is the massive glass plate he engraved with Photoshop’s characteristic brushstrokes. Translucent, it leaves the wall behind it recognizable enough, but the tools of transformation can never be denied.
Constant Dullaart, Eyjafjallajokull, from series HEALED, 2011-ongoing, Spot Healed disaster images, lambda prints, variable sizes
For his Healing-series Dullaart employed Photoshop’s healing brush—a tool implying that some images are to be considered sick and in need of virtual medical care. The artist selected photos depicting the explosion of an oil drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico and the nuclear disaster in Fukushima. In their healed state they look like a romantic sunset and a soothing Jasper Johns monochrome. It’s a bit like Thomas Ruff’s aestheticized pixel images but with a more vicious bite.
Like Ruff, Dullaart also poses the question of authorship and ownership. While internet superpowers like Facebook-appropriate snaps uploaded by individual users and blatantly enlist them for marketing and advertising purposes, tech companies tend to be extremely protective of what they consider their property. An army of lawyers is on stand-by to curtail the free movement and use of images on the internet. Dullaart tricks the internet giants at their own game by turning the tables and stealing from them. He did so with Jennifer in Paradise and now he’s done it again with images taken from John Knoll’s website. He printed and overlayed them with engraved glass mimicking Photoshop brushes. On the wall of the art space the tiger behind ice crystals and the bamboo stalk obscured by milk glass stop being stock photography and become something else altogether. Robin Hood has struck again.
(Image at top: Constant Dullaart, Jennifer_in_Paradise, re-distributed digital image (first image ever Photoshopped), encrypted message, 2013)
Dries Verhoeven’s Controversial Grindr Performance Is Back… with Some Changes
by Andrea Alessi
Posted by Andrea Alessi
| tags: performance Online Dating theatre SPRING utrecht wanna play? INTIMACY dating apps grindr
When Dries Verhoeven decided to put himself—and all his Grindr dating app interactions—on public display in real time in Berlin last fall, he had no idea the sort of community outrage he’d be met with.
Now the Dutch artist’s controversial performance Wanna Play? Love in Times of Grindr is back—with edits—after its Berlin debut was shut down 5 days into a 15-day run last October.
For the duration of the performance (10 days in its current iteration) Verhoeven lives in a glass trailer where the public can watch him eat, sleep, work, even go to the bathroom. Throughout, the artist uses multiple smartphones to solicit non-sexual interactions from men on Grindr: he asks them to join him in eating pancakes or making sushi, trimming his beard, telling shameful stories or talking about death, playing Scrabble.
As ArtSlant previously reported, the Berlin performance center Hebbel am Ufer (HAU), which hosted the project’s debut, shut it down in response to community concerns that Verhoeven was exploiting the users he met on Grindr and infringing on the privacy of gay men. After learning he was unwittingly part of an artwork, one angry participant physically confronted the artist, prompting HAU to host a public forum to discuss growing public grievances, and ultimately leading to the project's early termination.
So what’s changed? For its Dutch premiere, held in Utrecht as part of the SPRING performance festival this week, the artist has revised the project’s privacy protocol. Telephone screens of simultaneous Grindr conversations are still projected onto the back wall of the trailer for all to see. But these remain blurred until each chat partner learns that their conversation will be visible to the public and grants Verhoeven their permission. Their Grindr profile photos remain distorted by a negative filter.
It’s currently day 7 of 10, with no shocking incidents reported. Is this a case of lessons learned? Does the fact that the artist is from the Netherlands change the conversation? In Germany he was an interloping stranger in the Berlin gay scene; in Utrecht, he’s home.
In an interview on the SPRING website, the artist generalizes about his experiences with how German and Dutch viewers respond to art:
The Dutch reaction to art is still quite often indifference—it’s the other side of our much-praised tolerance. When the Dutch get confused by what they see, and learn they’re looking at an artwork, they quickly shrug their shoulders. In Germany it’s completely different. When an artwork confuses them, Germans search for a place to air their views. There I become more awake.
I hope that the discussion in Utrecht revolves around our changing dealings with intimacy. In Berlin it ultimately focused on privacy vs. the right of the artist. It was an interesting discussion, especially in a country whose past has a rather ambivalent relationship with privacy, but that wasn’t the point of the work for me. Due to some changes that I’m doing, I want the discussion to move in a different direction. That also means that I don’t expect the aggressive reactions. The disaster tourists attracted by the Berlin scandal will be disappointed.
Indeed, in Utrecht the project is hardly scandalous. If anything, it’s dull watching the artist’s minute-to-minute activities. Situated in a popular square, Verhoeven’s “glass house” attracts plenty of viewers and passersby, but most seem more interested in the exhibitionism (a crowd of about 20 watched the artist shower one evening). The publicity stunt of living in a glass room 24/7 largely overshadows the modern intimacy angle. There is the occasional juvenile giggle from people reading the artist statement—“Ha! Grindr!”—but common responses I observed over multiple visits include:
“I’ll meet you by the guy who’s in a box for 10 days.”
“He’s living in this thing and texting people.”
“I hear he shits in public.”
“The description is nothing like what I’m seeing.”
To hear the artist tell it—he posts daily on the SPRING website and on Facebook—he’s having meaningful conversations and interactions with many of the Grindr participants. I don’t doubt it. But as an observer, this is something you miss. Ironically, it’s when Verhoeven has visitors he’s met online—when he’s doing something other than everyday minutiae—that Wanna Play? becomes the most boring; there just isn’t much to see or hear. When a visitor arrives, Verhoeven pulls shut a light curtain and viewers in the square quickly disperse. Voices in the trailer are clearly speaking, but audio is muffled. (For the privacy of participants this all makes perfect sense, of course, though it’s worth noting that there’s nothing hiding said visitors as they come and go from the trailer.)
It’s hard to feel enthusiasm or outrage for the performance in its current guise because, frankly, it’s not that interesting—you can either watch the artist perform the most prosaic of “real life” activities or gaze at a closed curtain. The removal of any kind of grappling with our current sentiments on privacy has defanged the work of art. The Berlin scandal might have derailed the conversation Verhoeven wanted to be having, but without a direct challenging of the private and public spaces of intimacy, a line that is very blurred in our current techonologically mediated environment, this version of the work does little to interrogate its object: modern intimacy.
(All images: Dries Verhoeven, Wanna Play? Love in Times of Grindr, 2014/2015, Performance in Utrecht during SPRING, May 21–30, 2015. Photos: the author.)