In Paulien Oltheten’s third solo exhibition at Galerie Fons Welters, observation and imagination cross paths. The exhibition ‘It’s my imagination, you know’ is composed of a selection of photographs and videos made during the artist’s travels in Burma, Israel and Russia over the last few years. In her artistic practice, Oltheten makes spontaneous, and sometimes staged registrations of people’s gestures, postures and their relation to everyday objects in the street. For instance, a photo collage shows a young girl on the bus, who keeps a paper roll around her finger and holds it to the side of her head. Like a stream of thoughts the “film” of bus tickets unrolls in the air. In Oltheten’s ever-growing image archive, behavioural patterns reveal themselves time and again.
Physical peculiarities often attract Oltheten’s attention. But the specific contexts where she finds and creates her images, although unconsciously, do influence their content. The video that gives the exhibition its title, actually has no image. Watching a black screen, we overhear and read a conversation between the artist and a passer-by in Burma. Ropes hanging down from the balconies, used for pulling up newspapers, have triggered the view of a twirling dance of stretched-out arms in the artist’s mind. She is eager to visualize the idea. However, the man who lives in a country with only 'a little democracy' expresses his doubts about this artistic intervention. For him the gesture – hands up! – holds a totally different meaning. 'It’s my imagination, you know' the artist explains herself in vain, ultimately leaving us to wonder about the image in its potential state.
Since 2007 Oltheten has performed several versions of her 'Sort of Lecture' in which she interweaves different works in a narrative structure, layered in form and time. With a camera in her hand, she browses through piled up photographs, zooms in on details, films paper sheets with text comments and shows moving image; all directly projected onto the screen. This structure now forms the starting point for a new display form. In the exhibition, two short two-channel videos are screened in which video, photographs and texts are combined with the artist’s hands directing the storylines. While preserving the rhythm of a talk, Oltheten presents one story connecting flowers, flip-flops and a balcony ('Like Romeo and Juliet') and recalls a desired choreography of people joining together and splitting up at a crossing. These videos pull us right in to the artistic moments of both discovery and "failed" attempts.
Finally, Paulien Oltheten’s last line of the imageless video reads: 'Thank you. And have a nice day, but… maybe… maybe I try…'
[Rosa Juno Streekstra]
Paulien Oltheten (Nijmegen, NL, 1982) studied at the Rijksakademie, Amsterdam, and in 2013 she will be a resident artist at ISCP, New York. Exhibitions include: ‘Walk on a line…’, Nederlands Fotomuseum, Rotterdam (2011); Dvir Gallery, Tel Aviv (2011); ‘de Volkskrant Beeldende Kunst Prijs’, Stedelijk Museum Schiedam (2010); ‘Portscapes’, Boijmans van Beuningen Rotterdam (2010); ‘Off the Record, Proposal for Municipal Art Acquisitions’, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam (2009). In 2012 she was awarded the Dutch Doc Award 2012