Marijke van Warmerdam: First drop, Edinburgh Art Festival review

Petal, our guest contributor during the Edinburgh Art Festival, shares her opinion on Marijke van Warmerdam’s First Drop exhibition on show at Edinburgh’s Fruitmarket Gallery:

In true contemporary style Van Warmerdam’s work ranges across film, photography and sculpture. Of these, the Fruitmarket reckon she’s best known for her short films.

The Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh

This is a nice little exhibition -go and see it. You’ll like it and it’s free. It’s a light and quiet space out of the festival. I also think it would work across the generations, so take your kids/parents/grandparents/new love etc.

Who is she? Marijke van Warmerdam, born 1959, the Netherlands. From the early 90’s she gained increasingly international recognition (Europe, Japan, U.S.A.) with one woman shows and works acquired by public galleries, including representing the Netherlands, in 1995, at the Venice Biennale. She’s shown a few times in the UK, in Scotland at the Dundee Contemporary Arts (2000) and the Tramway (Glasgow) in 1995.

I don’t know about you, but I find films and videos in galleries a bit irritating; you don’t know how long it is or where you are in the loop. Worse, I like to start at the beginning and finish at the end (yes, I know how unfashionable that is!) and find not knowing where I am in the time line a bit stressful. Van Warmerdam’s films are short loops (a few minutes at most) – so it doesn’t matter where you start viewing and you don’t think ‘I’d rather see this as a selection of shorts at the Filmhouse’. They are also rewarding, rather than pretentious and (for analogue snobs) they’re real films and the reel makes that nice clicking sound.

It’s the little details of life rather than the bombastic major themes that make her work special. It’s more of a walk in the park than War and Peace. Whether the subject is domestic or sylvan, it feels familiar, but –at best – magical. Dream machine shows a glass of water being diluted with milk. Three everyday substances combined into a deceptively simple (and yes short) film. Watching the swirls is a bit like watching smoke, clouds or a fire – an infinite variety of possible (swirly) shapes. By concentrating on this swirling you can temporarily clear your mind, like a visual meditation.

Anyone else who saw the Dada’s Boys (Identity and Play in Contemporary Art) exhibition at the Fruitmarket may be a bit wary of jumping straight back in to another contemporary art exhibition there – especially if I mention another major aspect of Van Warmerdam’s work, its sense of humour. Don’t be afraid! It’s light and genuinely funny – not the “look at me” type of pun that the boys achieved.

Some bits of the exhibition did seem a bit light on quality. Photographic screen prints on mirrored card almost worked, but the giant pixels drew attention to the medium in the wrong way. They reminded me of a digital short cut. Equally, the screens hanging and turning by fan-power were a nice idea that needed taken further into three dimensions to succeed as sculpture, or better quality images to succeed as pictures. Van Warmerdam’s other 2D images succeed very well - hanging on the wall in a traditional style, whereas her more traditional sculpture has some nice moments, but doesn’t really pull itself together as a whole. Go back downstairs and wipe your mind clean for a few moments.

Marijke van Warmerdam’s First Drop exhibition runs at Edinburgh’s Fruitmarket Gallery until the 17th September 2006 and admission is free, although there is donation box by the exhibitions entrance.

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