High Definition / Niekolaas Johannes Lekkerkerk /
Catalogue of Dorothea van Stetten Art Award, Kunstmuseum Bonn, 2016

We find ourselves in the studio for an introductory meeting around a commissioned piece of text, to be written as we speak. We flatten our vowels – especially on the Dutch behalf – and engage in the more or less synchronous consumption of a lukewarm cup of coffee. Coffee is key to the understanding of the work, and is most effectively enjoyed when it reaches a thermodynamic equilibrium with the space, which happens to be dotted with debris and the remnants of previous installations. The ghosts of previous states, with the potential of reanimation, one could say. Behind the desk some A4 sheets with seemingly random expressions and word combinations are tucked to the wall. “Barefoot cruise,” “Shock cormorant,” “Minesweep,” “Spoiled doesn’t know what is good so spoilt are they”; these will be the actors on the background, silently informing our brief talk about elusive and ambiguous fragments, landscapes and viewing bodies.

I would surely commence by saying that Dan Walwin is not the type of artist with an elevator pitch ready at hand – for the right reasons, but more about this later. Now that the cognitive trading floor of the contemporary art field is flooded with hundred-word descriptions of art objects and artistic practices alike, it strikes me as weirdly generous on his behalf not to instigate himself as the first and foremost interpreter of his work, to wrap the works in ‘meaningful’ descriptions, or to underline them with personal motivations, contextual underpinnings and intentionality. In other words still, the type of ‘meaningful encounter’ one would normally expect from a studio visit: to distill some facts, balance the levels of interpretation, and to seek for a truthful proximity to the given material, as based on the viewpoint of the artist. This is by no means to say that Dan Walwin would not be a keen spokesperson on behalf of his own work, on the contrary. Instead it seems rather crucial to ascertain that his works would not reside all too well in the space of description in the first place, for any attempt at summation or definition seems rather redundant, considering the opaque nature of his video’s and installations.

Let me elucidate a bit further by means of some recent occasions. For instance, if one would be enabled to revisit Dan Walwin’s most recent exhibitions Winds (London, 2015) and Sun room (Amsterdam, 2015), the imprint it’s experience would leave on each individual visitor would be highly divergent. The two respective presentations took the shape of installations, with video material embedded within the frame of the exhibition. To categorise Walwin’s work as ‘video installations’ would seem misleading to me, in the sense that the video material indeed forms a distinct and integral part of the presentation, but would simultaneously stand on a more equal footing with the overall display structures, embedded within its grammar, so to speak. These display structures often take the shape of a seemingly mechanical apparatus. In terms of the visual vocabulary, they do not seem to borrow much from the heavy industrialist machinery we have come to know from the late 19th, early 20th Century. Instead, these displays would be more akin to the kind of engine rooms of server plants and solar energy operations: repetitive patterns of suspended screens, levitating between floor and ceiling, powder coated rods, pipes and tubes, forming an intricate network of more subtle connections, to settle on their own accord, plasma and LCD screens encrusted within grid-like cases, colour filters and the buzzing noise of stacks of media players. One would enter the exhibition space as if it were the gut of a technological institute, without having been given any prior information around its mode of operation. Was I just allowed to access this space? Here one enters an organic mesh of exchanging and interdependent parts, where the boundaries between purpose and purposelessness, function and functionality remain dubious and undetermined.

On closer investigation, these display structures come to resemble a different state of materiality one might perhaps expect in a different context: that of the garden, with its deckings and fences, although currently lined with deck chair fabric. Meticulously crafted, these fixtures seem to be purpose-built for the garden state, but then re-entered the space of an exhibition, transposed and adorned with slight hints of their displacement, informing a certain mood of non-belonging whilst remaining fully credible and sincere at the same time. By this implied movement from an outdoor context turned inwards, the space is folded in upon itself at least one more time: through the resonating material of the video’s we are once again taken into the field (and led astray). If there would be a recurrent thread within Dan Walwin’s work, it would be an interest in the potentiality of the rural environment and the countryside as a stage-setup for the acting out of humans and objects, to narrate and document their intrinsic behaviours. Not so much to see the countryside as the natural habitat of humans, or to treat nature as the passive backdrop for human activities, but rather as an assembly point where matters are interconnected and relationships become foregrounded. For example, on watching the film Cess, jel ever terrass? (2014) one would observe a wooden constellation reminiscent of a joint venture between a wooden terrace or pavilion and a designated picnic area. The camera slowly pans through and around the structure, revealing parts of the architecture, shot through the green lens of a nighttime rescue operation. The viewer may stand somewhat bereft of grips to connect the dots, or to establish narrative arcs between the various elements for that matter. Where and by what means can I inscribe this given situation into an overarching narrative? Who implemented this structure and what do the material actors tell me, where they enabled to speak my language in the first place? In this particular case the object of the film is equally its own subject, but you are somehow trapped with the persistent idea of linearity and progress of the narrative sequence given within the format of film. You are the one moving forward together with this object-subject, but where exactly are you heading in a story that moves in several ways except for the direction of head and tail.

The idea of simultaneity in film often seems implausible, where one frame precedes the other frame. However, in the space of an exhibition, and in the case of Walwin’s works specifically, the idea of simultaneity seems to be accounted for in the circuitry between a viewing body (a human visitor), the architecture of the space (the installation) and the structures floating in the video’s (the material bodies presented in the video, both human and non-human). In Walwin’s work there exists a sense of material resonance, where one material structure or substance is foregrounded in the space of the exhibition, which might then ostensibly resurface in the space of the video. The semblance is only makeshift, insofar there is no real doubling or sense of mimicry, and might stand for our readiness to make an ABC-reading of the material at hand. These props and properties are exchanged, and you, the viewer, becomes effectively part of this exchange. To give a straightforward example: for his presentation in 2013, entitled Moniker, which took place at the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam, Walwin presented three video’s, two with sound in one room (Previously set trial period, 2013 and Strang, 2013) and one without sound in an adjacent room (op, 2013). Through a mechanism activated by the visitor, the opening of one door would simultaneously open the door to the other space, informing a sound bleed from one space to another. The frequency of passing visitors essentially distributing the sound material for the otherwise silent environment.

Ultimately, and in conclusion, one might argue that Walwin’s works treat on the idea of nonhierarchical relations inter se the different actors present. These actors – be they human, a car tyre, a wire fence or a slab of concrete – surely possess different degrees of intensity, scale and reach, but eventually no arbiter or authoritative figure, granted the rights to acknowledge and legitimise the event, will be able to present itself. What is to be found in the experience then? By immersing oneself in Walwin’s work is to temporarily establish a secret pact of fixtures, dwellers and figments, suspended somewhere between floor and ceiling, and with no fixed place in the scheme of things. We catch ourselves in the act of thinking – and think we must – only to realise that the energy flows in any case, indifferent towards our epistemological maps and preconceived knowledges. Art passes by like life, and life passes by like art.

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