Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Alumni of the Rijksakademie - Paulien Oltheten

Video still, Water Circles, Krasnoyarsk © Paulien Oltheten
Curator Kim Knoppers interviewed each of the participating artists in Foam's current exhibition, Alumni of the Rijksakademie. Here, she talks to Paulien Oltheten about her work in the show.

What is your working method?

My approach is to go somewhere without a clearly defined plan. The first few weeks are always difficult, because I have to find a point of departure, a way in. During these moments I always end up thinking that next time I should prepare a pIan in advance. I walk into that same trap every single time. In the end, I always get back with new and surprising work. When I really start to produce work, I have my camera and video camera with me. I have developed a certain system that allows me to grab them quickly whenever I’m ready, and then I go outside. The best times are in the morning in the evening. Other than that, I have to make sure that I stay curious, that I am confident. It is very important that I feel that I have time for it.

You use the camera in the way it was originally intended: to record reality. And, even more so, as a means to record your particular observations of reality. Why is photography the ideal medium for you?

For me, photography is about capturing ideas. That’s why first and foremost it is a very practical method for me. Photography fits me very well. I don’t have the patience to sit down for a long time and draw, for example. You can take a camera with you and grab it when you need it. I chose photography because it records a situation quickly, but I do take the time to find things that I want to photograph. Sometimes I start taking photos immediately. Sometimes I ask people to repeat an action so I can photograph them. And sometimes you realise afterwards: I should have taken photos, but the moment is gone and I’ve missed it.

The beauty of photography is that, of all the different media, it’s the closest to reality. If you have taken a photo, you can often see even more clearly how a particular point in time really was. You can look at a photo and analyse what was in the background. It provides the most direct representation of what colours were present, what clothes such a person was wearing, who else was present in the background.

How do you create a connection between all those ideas, all the individual photos?

I created Slideshow at the start of my career at the Rijksakademie. In this series, I make connections that together tell a story. In each Slideshow photo, something physical happens. In one photo, an object is leaning against something, and in the next photo, a person is leaning against another person. The series continues with these kinds of associations. In Watercirkels (Water Circles), I show a video along with a photo that depicts a point in time before the video was filmed. It’s about time, and about what a ‘photo moment’ is and what a video is. The video Man en hond (Man and dog) is independent of my other work. It is about an interaction between a man and a dog that circle around each other. The two are playing a game together, almost a dance. 

How did your work develop during your time at the Rijksakademie?

I saw the photos and videos that I took at that time as material that I needed to process and edit.  In exhibitions, I saw photographers presenting series. In this way these series came to a natural conclusion.  After that, they started a new project. As a result, I started looking at the amount of material I had as a huge mountain that needed to be flattened out, that needed to be resolved. In my first year at the Rijksakademie, someone told me to just look at it as if it were a lake. You toss photos in it and then you fish them out when you need them. I realised that the amount of not chronologically ordered material I had wasn’t actually an obstacle, but rather a source I could tap into as needed. In the second year, I delved into this idea to create the form that I still use.

Kim Knoppers

The exhibition, Alumni of the Rijksakademie - RE-Search, is on  from 31 August - 14 October 2012.


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