subota, 9. ožujka 2013.

Saskia Olde Wolbers - podvodna umjetnost

Pareidolia video still by Saskia Olde Wolbers

Video-radovi kao fikcionalni dokumentarci. Primjerice, izvanzemaljska scenografija uronjena je u vodu a glas u offu izgovara nešto poput ljubavne priče. Sindrom obrnutih snova, kada, kao kod astronauta, snovi izgledaju realnije od stvarnosti.

The aesthetically extraordinary films by artist Saskia Olde Wolbers all follow much the same pattern: a voice off narrating a storyline that is visualised in seemingly fictitious and organically formed spaces with details that correlate to the spoken word. Olde Wolbers is inspired by news stories and narratives from newspapers and television that report on people with singular life stories, which are expanded both visually and acoustically by the artist in her videos.

Placebo. This is the best HD film I've seen. Ever. An architectural environment is created with the movement of this white liquid, while a voice narrates a complex story about a lover, and at the end your left wondering what was true and what was a fantasy. "Wolbers uses events that actually happened to develop stories that shimmer and sway between dream and reality."


Since completing her MA at Chelsea College of Art & Design in 1996, Saskia Olde Wolbers has gained considerable notoriety for her work. In her films, she uses narration together with bristling and fantastic settings to pull together literary, sculptural, and cinematic elements taking inspiration from contemporary mythology, news, and documentaries.

Creating her miniature sets entirely by hand in a painstaking process that often spans years, she develops her imagery without computers opting for a lo-fi approach with stunning and unique results. She inverts our perspective in paddling pools and miniature sets using diverse (and often discarded) materials.

This ingenuity and tangibility is part of the charm in her work. She subverts our perceptions of the world and brings to life her vision within the confines of our own world. At once, her work is real, tactile, and dream-like.

From a narrative standpoint, her work reminds me of the magical realism of writers like Jorge Luis Borges and Julio Cortázar. In particular, I am reminded of Cortazar's inversion of reality in stories like Axolotland Blow-up.

Her films from a cinematic standpoint have elements reminiscent ofMatthew Barney (with whom she has been compared), David Lynch,Jean-Luc GoddardMaya DerrenChris MarkerMichel Gondry and Zbig Rybczynski.

In her latest film Trailer, a man is looking for answers after discovering that his parents were B-movie film stars in the 1930s who disappeared in the jungle. He has surpassed his parents age in terms of their preserved image on screen and as he narrates, the imagery passes between an empty, blood-red cinema and structural imagery of the jungle.

The narrative is absorbing, skillful and well-defined. Combined with her strong visual language, it's a symphony. I am eagerly anticipating the opportunity to see more of her captivating work.

Saskia was awarded the Baloise Prize at the Basel Art Fair in 2003 and the Becks' Futures Award at the Institute of Contemporary Art, London. She was born in Breda, Netherlands in 1971 and currently lives and works in London. Her works to date include: Octet(1997), Cosmos(1998), Day-Glo(1999), Kilowatt Dynasty (2000), Placebo(2002), Interloper(2003), Trailer(2005).

Saskia Olde Wolbers (Creative Time) - video/quicktime
Saskia Olde Wolbers (Saatchi Gallery)
Saskia Olde Wolbers (
Trailer - South London Gallery
Trailer - BBC Collective
Trailer - NYArts
Narration Text (Trailer/Placebo/Interloper/Kilowatt Dynasty) - PDF
BBC News - Winning Beck's Futures
Fantasy: Brian Griffiths, Chad McCail, Saskia Olde Wolbers (Tate) - video/realplayer*
Don't be ashamed to cry - Galleries.NL
Placebo/Interloper (Drawn by reality)
Saskia Olde Wolbers (Artforum 2002)
South London Gallery
Chelsea College of Art & Design

* As an alternative to RealPlayer I recommend Media Player Classic

Saskia Olde Wolbers: Underwater Art

Saskia Olde Wolbers is a video artist who lives and works in London, England (born Breda, The Netherlands 1971).
Since the mid-1990s, she has been developing fictional documentaries often loosely based on factual events. Her intricate videos are driven by a combination of otherworldly imagery – meticulously handmade model sets – and the apparent inner monologue of the voiceover in the audio book-like soundtrack. The films are shot underwater, miniature sets dipped in paint to create unstable imagery that abstractly illustrates the narrator’s thought process. In her most recent works, the music soundtrack has been composed by Daniel Pemberton.
Author and curator Phillip Monk describes in his book The Saskia Olde Wolbers Files, ”Olde Wolbers not only joins fictional and documentary elements in her scripts, she links them to series of images, themselves fabricated and quite fantastic in their nature.”
She has exhibited widely since 1998.  Solo shows include A Shot In The Dark at Vienna Secession 2011, Goetz Collection 2010, Mori Art Museum Tokyo 2008, The Falling Eye atThe Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam 2006 and Tate Britain, London 2003.

A Shot in the Dark
Saskia Olde Wolbers, Still from Pareidolia, 2011, Video 12 min, Courtesy Maureen Paley, London
Saskia Olde Wolbers, Still from Pareidolia, 2011, Video 12 min, Courtesy Maureen Paley, London

Pareidolia (2011) has as its narrative a fictional take on the situation leading up to the creation of the book Zen in the Art of Archery, by Eugen Herrigel. A popular book set in Japan in the 1930's that created a cult following for people in Europe in the post war years. The author's interpretation of Zen, pivots around an event he witnessed where his tutor, the eccentric archery master Awa Kenzo, shoots at the target in the dark and succeeds to split the first arrow with the second. In Herrigel's book the master then exclaimed; It, the Divine, has shot! Apparently neither man spoke each other's language and the man who served as the translator between the German professor and the master was absent the night Herrigel witnesses this epiphany.

Pareidolia is told from the fictional point of view of this translator and his alter-ego, a bird, and their musings over hunting versus Zen archery and the creation of the popular book. When asked to retranslate the book into Japanese, his character questions subjectivity, translation, and belief. The title points to the need for caution where stories are involved: "Pareidolia" refers to the tendency of human perception to discover meaningful pictures in random structures. While the story being told is based on an event that cannot be shown, the title alludes to the fact that story-telling is based less on exact observation or pure fiction than on illusion and deception. The film's visuals are shot inside models of an university lecture theatre, an archery hall and traditional Japanese interiors, alternated by animatronic birds drinking from dripping plants. The lo-fi animatronics, were created using the material Nitinol.

Saskia Olde Wolbers, Still from Placebo, 2002, DV, 6 min, Courtesy Maureen Paley, London
Saskia Olde Wolbers, Still from Placebo, 2002, DV, 6 min, Courtesy Maureen Paley, London

Placebo (2002) is loosely based on the life of Jean-Claude Romand, a Frenchman who for eighteen years pretended to work as a doctor for the World Health Organization. In Olde Wolbers' video, we hear the account of a woman who regains consciousness in a hospital after a car accident. In the bed beside her lies a man in a coma. We learn that he had claimed he was married and that he worked as a surgeon in the hospital where they both now lie – and that the narrator was his mistress. When he realized that she is becoming suspicious and that his deception might be revealed, he crashed his car into a tree. The story plays with the clichés of marital unfaithfulness and the phenomenon of Pseudologia Fantastica, a disorder whose sufferers create an alternative life for themselves based on a structure of compulsive lying that becomes increasingly blurred with reality.

Placebo's imagery shows the interior of a hospital; corridors, cubicles and effervescent pills descending through the frame, as seen inside the mistress' head. White oozing paint drips of the sets, as the images she build in her head while listening to his made up accounts of his days working there are disintegrating, literally melting away.

Saskia Olde Wolbers, Pareidolia, 2011, 12 min video, Courtesy Maureen Paley, London
Saskia Olde Wolbers, Pareidolia, 2011, 12 min video, Courtesy Maureen Paley, London

In Trailer (2005), a man watches a cinema trailer that seems to speak to him directly. He realizes that he is the illegitimate child of two former and now-forgotten movie stars. The revelations eventually bring back memories of life in the jungle, into which his parents disappeared after waiting in vain to shoot a film on location in Kinema Color, an obscure format outdated almost as soon as it was invented. During this journey into memory, plant life appears alien and stylized, as in a dream. For the narrator, the deserted cinema becomes a gateway to his lost childhood. In this sealed-off world, nature appears manmade, while architectural space, the lipstick coloured cinema, appears human. Trailer's story was inspired by the book Uncommon Knowledge by Judy Lewis, the illegitimate child of Clark Gable. Soon after she was told he was actually her father, he passed away giving her access only to the actor version of his person.

In Olde Wolbers' slowly unfolding spaces of memory submerged in paint and water, the characters and their stories reveal the inherently contradictory, fluid, and ambivalent quality of truth and fiction. They remind us that moving images are capable of totally overriding such distinctions.

Opiate Narratives
Exhibiting both at the Mori Art Museum and at Ota Fine Arts, Saskia Olde Wolbers’ haunting video works explore the boundaries of narrative.
As I sit in a darkened room I hear the voice of a woman lying in her hospital bed. She is comatose. She lies next to her lover who, like her is holding onto the last strands of his life and the fictitious one he has constructed. The narrator cannot be seen: it is her voice alone that beckons you into her unconsciousness universe. As she spins her convoluted tale of deceit and disaster — a folorn story of a lover who assumes a false identity as a doctor — the story seems disjointed and delicate. The setting is equally frangible: a hospital scene constructed of meticulously wrought wire frames from which a white, glutinous paint-like substance bubbles and drips in all directions — a melting world of ward corridors and operating theaters. It all seems so tragic, and yet so very beautiful. Everything in Wolbers’ world is fragmentary, like a dream. The fantasy is utterly absorbing until the end when suddenly the scene melts away, leaving just a hollow frame, and plunging us back into reality.
Saskia Olde Wolbers, 'Placebo' (2002) Video 6 min. Voice-over: Sukie Smith
Saskia Olde Wolbers, 'Placebo' (2002) Video 6 min. Voice-over: Sukie Smith
This is Placebo, one of two works by Saskia Olde Wolbers being featured as the ninth in a series of projects held at the Mori Art Museum with the aim of promoting young promising artists. Located at the end of the current Turner prize retrospective. Placebo is one of her most well known works, its style indicative of her oeuvre. Her videos are instantaneously hypnotic, a combination of surreal, winding narrative and alien, dream-like backdrops. She constructs these settings from an array of props and found objects, and their execution is so impeccable that they can easily be mistaken for computer-generated imagery.
The second work, Kilowatt Dynasty starts with the voice of a young Chinese girl, speaking in broken English. “Let’s try to imagine that I am going to born in seventeen years”, she says, perplexingly. Although her works immerse you in a sense of wonderment, Wolbers often starts by constructing her fantasies around actual news stories and oracular anecdotes. Set in a future China after the completion of the Three Gorges dam, Kilowatt Dynasty takes us into a space-age fantasy world of underwater towns and hi-tech television shows. The opium-like mood of Wolbers’ work draws you into a sense of intimacy with the faceless narrator, who tells us how her parents are to meet in seventeen years’ time — the story centres on her mother, a TV celebrity, as the object her activist father’s failed kidnap attempt. This rather bewildering chronicle tragically concludes with the her mother finally succumbing to inverted dream-states, unable to tell the difference between dream-time and waking life.
Saskia Olde Wolbers, 'Kilowatt Dynasty' (2000) Video, 6mins. Voice over: Jean Lee
Saskia Olde Wolbers, 'Kilowatt Dynasty' (2000) Video, 6mins. Voice over: Jean Lee
Courtesy: Maureen Paley, London
Wolbers is also showing at Ota Fine Arts, which recently relocated from the Roppongi Complex (closed in February) to a modest two-room space tucked away on the fourth floor of a nondescript building in Kachidoki. Here, a single video work titled Deadline is on display. The narrative is told from the perspective of a young girl who, together with her father, undertakes a long but fruitless odyssey across West Africa, from Gambia to Nigeria to reunite her father with his twin brother. As the story unfolds, snake-like forms slowly traverse the screen, intermixed with shots of small, curved stone blocks, broken and piled-up like modernist architecture, structures that are redolent of the dichotomy between the realities of African life and the grandiose municipal architecture and expensive hotel show pieces that can be found in West African capitals like Lagos and Monrovia.
Saskia Olde Wolbers, 'Deadline' (2007) Video, 18min.
Saskia Olde Wolbers, 'Deadline' (2007) Video, 18min.
Image courtesy of Ota Fine Arts
This layered tale of deception and disappointment leads you down a muddied path of lucid fantasy, a bush-taxi trail of half-truths and scattered dreams. However, unlike the works on show at Mori, the narrative in this work invokes a stronger sense of realism. The exhibition at Ota Fine Arts features documentary photographs that Saskia Olde Wolbers took on a trip to West Africa, many of which seem to have a narrative that runs parallel to that of her video piece, lending the realism of her story an almost unsettling weight. Hardship in Africa, in whatever form it may take, is the staple of the contemporary news media and the first point of reference for many Western viewers. With this in mind, Olbers’ work seems to bear the fruit of a deeper connection with her subject matter. As opposed to being made from the latest news vignettes, the story has a more organic feel, with relation to Africa’s own folklore and oral traditions. - ANDREW WOODMAN

  • Pareidolia video still by Saskia Olde Wolbers
Prev | Next 1 / 15 Video still

Pareidolia 2011

  • Voice over Togo Igawa, 13 min loop
  • Single Channel Video Projection
  • H D PAL 16:9 Stereo
  • Installation dimensions variable


Pareidolia's narrative is based on the events surrounding the creation of Eugen Herrigel's book Zen in the Art of Archery, a popular book set in Japan in the 1930s that created a cult following in Europe during the post-war years. The German author's interpretation of Zen archery pivots on an incident he observed while living in Japan, the shooting of two arrows - one bisecting the other - by his eccentric archery master, Awa Kenzo, in a darkened hall. "It, the Divine, has shot!" the master allegedly exclaimed, yet the presence of a translator has since been disputed, raising questions of subjectivity, interpretation and belief.
Pareidolia is told from the point of view of a fictional translator between the master and his German apprentice, and the translator's alter ego, a bird, and their musings over hunting versus Zen archery and the creation of the popular book. The narrative's structure is modeled on Ambrose Bierce's manipulation of time in his short story An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge. The title points to the need for caution in storytelling: Pareidolia refers to the tendency of human perception to discover meaning in random structures.
The film's visuals are shot inside model sets of a university lecture theatre, an archery hall and various traditional Japanese interiors that fold into themselves, alternated with animatronic birds drinking from dripping plants.
The soundtrack is by Daniel Pemberton.
Pareidolia video still by Saskia Olde Wolbers
Pareidolia video still by Saskia Olde Wolbers
Pareidolia video still by Saskia Olde Wolbers
Pareidolia video still by Saskia Olde Wolbers
Pareidolia video still by Saskia Olde WolbersPareidolia video still by Saskia Olde WolbersPareidolia video still by Saskia Olde Wolbers



How the Dutch artist created a fabled parallel reality with the help of a book, a bird and cyber-goth hair extensions  


'Pareidolia' - HD video for projection with sound
It started in the 1930s. German philosopher Eugen Herrigel was living in Japan and studying traditional Japanese archery under the eccentric master Awa Kenzô. Neither man spoke each other's language, so they always had a translator present - always, except for the moment when the master shot at the target in the dark and successfully split the first arrow in half with a second one, all before exclaiming: “It, the Divine, has shot!” This weird occurrence led up to the creation of Herrigel’s book ‘Zen in the Art of Archery’, a cult read in post-war Europe and, years later, to the inception of Saskia Olde Wolbers’ 'Pareidolia', now showing at the Maureen Paley gallery. There, the story morphs into a reflection on hunting, Zen archery and the creation of the book, moving on to question subjectivity, translation and belief, all from the fictional point of view of the absent translator and his alter ego, a bird.
Since the mid-1990s Olde Wolbers has been perfecting her own genre of video art through loosely fact-based fiction, creating remote and abstract imaginary, hallucinatory urban myths and fake legends where wonderfully odd, sci-fi looking submerged scenarios meet monotone audiobook-like narratives, diverging and blurring into a dreamlike stream-of-consciousness. Here, we talk to the artist about her miniature alien worlds and where stories come from.
Dazed Digital: How did you come up with the idea of fictional documentaries? Saskia Olde Wolbers: I never really did, that is what one could call them in hindsight. It so happened that I started to work in a documentary style first person fictional narration combined with images that are slightly removed from the spoken text.
DD: Your work is fictional, yet most of your work is based around facts, is there a reason behind this?
Saskia Olde Wolbers:
 The narrative is a fictional but interspersed with hints to experiences from real life, odd scientific or geographical facts and psychological syndromes. The reason for these different strands to end up in the narrative is often guided by coincidence.
DD: You've said before you start your art with your ideas for stories. Is there a particular story, fact, fiction or urban legend, that you would love to construct a film around one day?
Saskia Olde Wolbers:
 It takes a lot of time to decide what context to construct a film around, often they are a combination of different situations and the story evolves while I am working on the piece.
DD: What does the word 'Pareidolia' mean? Why should one have caution when stories are involved?
Saskia Olde Wolbers:
 The word pareidolia refers to the tendency of human perception to discover meaning in random structures often of a religious nature. I am very interested in subjectivity and people’s perceptions and this phenomena is a good illustration of the idea that there is no such thing as a singular truth.
DD: Why do you think 'Zen in the Art of Archery' became such a cult book in Europe? What is your personal connection to the book and why did you decide to base your work on an episode surrounding its creation?
Saskia Olde Wolbers:
 I work on a story in a very intuitive way. While I was working on the sets for Pareidolia the story and its research kept changing. I heard a woman tell a shopkeeper in a shop in Soho about a woman who moved into a haunted house - sharing her surname with the ghost - and she, just like the ghost got shot on a walk in the countryside. Then I was also looking at bird hunting in Malta and then myself got shot by an arrow while following my stepfather through a vertical archery field in Belgium. I then came upon Shoji Yamada’s text, The Myth of Zen in the Art of Archery and this particular situation and its ambiguity interested me.
DD: Why did you chose to tell the story from the point of view of the translator? Was it because he wasn't present at all in the original scene, or was it because sometimes things get lost in translation?
Saskia Olde Wolbers:
 I thought it interesting that the translator had the difficult task of translating and explaining the vague words of the eccentric archery master to the German professor. So the story from the point of view of the translator became more about the absence of translation and Herrigal’s own translation of a probably coincidental action into a religion.
DD: What is the longest it took you to create a set, and what was the strangest material you used?
Saskia Olde Wolbers:
 The cinema in Trailer took four months. It is created from small parts of mineral water bottles. For Deadline I made a yellow beaded curtain set out of transparent amber cod-liver oil capsules. All materials I use are somewhat odd but it is usually getting hold of the material that is the strangest part of the process... the animatronic birds in Pareidolia are made from a polyester woven crin from a cyber-goth hair extension shop in Ohio.
DD: You have filmed upside down and underwater - why is that?
Saskia Olde Wolbers:
 I film underwater as perspective get oddly squashed and combined with the paint it gives an image that is not reality but at the same time completely analogue so not computer generated imagery. I film upside down as that is logical to the process and inverted gravity that a tank has.
DD: Are there any movies that influenced your aesthetic?
Saskia Olde Wolbers:
 No not really but I suppose you can call a lava lamp, which was relevant to me when I started working in this way a movie of sorts. I am very influenced by the ‘essay film’, where the imagery has a slight remove from the voice-over.
DD: What is the one thing that inspires you the most?
Saskia Olde Wolbers:
All photos are courtesy of Maureen Paley, London.

Activating Images: On Saskia Olde Wolbers’ filmPareidolia

Pareidolia. Say it again. Rolls off the tongue beautifully, like the name of an unusual flower. Pareidolia refers to the tendency of human perception to discover meaning in random structures where meaning does not exist. It is the perception of an image in a cloud or a pattern on the surface of the moon. It can also refer to an experience of the spiritual.
The phenomenon of pareidolia is more common than the obscurity of the word suggests. We project anthropomorphic and personal significance onto everything. When we hear a story, or see an artwork we ‘understand’ it by relating it back to ourselves; we bring what we know to every experience and this shapes each experience. We also shape things to become what we want them to be, we listen selectively, and create complex fantastical structures of meaning.
Saskia Olde Wolbers, a Dutch born, London based artist, makes films. In her films she shows us mesmerising, labyrinthine science fiction fantasy worlds and annotates them with tightly woven fables based loosely on real events. Last week I went to Maureen Paley gallery in east London to see a new film she made in 2011 called – you guessed it –Pareidolia.
For the occasion the gallery was outfitted very much like a cinema. In a darkened room a projector is hidden behind the back wall, there is a good sound system, carpeting, and a bench to sit on. There is something oddly futuristic about walking into a gallery and there being no objects, only a moving image. Although I’m projecting here (no pun intended) – video art has been around for a while – the idea of a futuristic gallery setting suits Olde Wolbers’ work, a kind of vision of a multicultural, modernist utopia of empty, unsullied institutions and corridors.
In the film we see flowers, or something like flowers, and an animatronic bird. These images have all the artificial crispness of something digital, but they’re meticulously crafted models, made of found materials as diverse and unusual as vitamin E capsules and cyber-goth hair extensions. In the film we see a lecture hall reminiscent of a set from Terry Gilliam’s Brazil and we see a temple. These ‘sets’ are dipped in paint and filmed underwater so everything that’s not tied down floats about and opaque coloured drops drip from flowers with unearthly slowness like a lava-lamp snow-globe.
Saskia Olde Wolbers. "Pareidolia."
Saskia Olde Wolbers. Pareidolia. Courtesy Maureen Paley, London.
I walked in halfway through this 12 minute film. There is a narrative, a fable I said before, that accompanies the film. It’s told by a man speaking English with a Japanese accent. This story is told in fits and spurts like a recitation of an epic poem, there’s a transcription available in the office, and it’s printed out in lines like the Odyssey or Paradise Lost. I lost track of the story, an arrow is shot in the dark and it splits another arrow. Then some more flowers. The film started again and I listened more carefully.
There is a professor, a scientist, his colleague and a Zen master. The professor is European and he is visiting Japan with the intention of writing a book to “export Zen to the post war west.” The scientist studies Jurassic fossils and thinks he sees in them microcosmic versions of all earthly life. He is relieved of his position because of his unorthodox views. He is courting his colleague, as is the Zen master who has unusual ideas about archery. When the professor learns of the scientist’s relation to the Zen master through their mutual love of the same woman, he asks to meet the Zen master and if he, the scientist, will serve as his translator.
This story closely parallels a series of events that led to the publication of Eugen Herrigel’s book Zen In the Art of Archery. Herrigel and our professor experience a similar epiphany. He asks the Zen master archer if he can hit his target in the dark. He does, twice, and splits the first arrow in two. They do not speak each other’s language but the Zen master archer manages “non-verbally” to communicate the phrase “It, the divine, has shot.” His translator – our scientist – was not present when “what [the professor] thought to be Zen had finally presented itself.”
Saskia Olde Wolbers. "Pareidolia."
Saskia Olde Wolbers. Pareidolia. Courtesy Maureen Paley, London
The professor’s book is eventually published in the west and achieves cult popularity with people seeking an unconventional spiritualism. The professor brings a preconceived notion of Zen to the east and returns with it intact. His search for meaning completes when his translator is absent. Pareidolia suggests the professor’s spiritual epiphany stems from a moment of misunderstanding. It is the key to Olde Wolbers’ work. Her film functions as a kind of artistic essay. Her imagery illustrates a text but the effect is like simultaneously inhabiting parallel worlds that each present dim reflections of the other.  It is unclear what is imagined and what is experienced.
Above all Olde Wolbers’ films are aesthetic; her clear as a bell vision is unmistakable and unique. Her austere story lends an element of majesty to her, sometimes, whimsical imagery. Ultimately it is our desire to find meaning that allows these two worlds to sit comfortably together. Such is the luxury of the artist: to place into context incongruent ideas that do not logically cohere or follow from each other. This is the artistic imperative to create new worlds, new possibilities by combination of unrelated concepts and mediums.
Hobson's Choice: Saskie Olde Welbers

Hobson’s Choice: Saskia Olde Wolbers

Paul Hobson, Director of the Contemporary Art Society, recommends his favourite exhibition of the week.

Pareidolia refers to the tendency in human perception to discover meaning in random structures and gives the title to the new work by Dutch artist, Saskia Olde Wolbers currently showing at Maureen Paley in Bethnal Green.  Taking as its starting point an incident that inspired the post-war cult book by German philosopher, Eugen Herrigel – Zen in the Art of Archery – the piece continues the artist’s interest in the nature of subjectivity and the potential arising from the contingency of perception.  In the 1930’s, Herrigel was living in Japan and studying traditional Japanese archery under the tutelage of master, Awa Kenzȏ.  Since neither man spoke each other’s language, a translator was required to be present at all times – always, except for the moment when the master shot a target in the dark and then allegedly shot a second arrow which split the first arrow in two, before exclaiming ‘It, the Divine, has shot!’.   Using this mythical anecdote and the absence of the translator to raise speculation on the truth of this account as reported by the German writer, the artist alludes to the function of mythology, weaving a monotone tale from the fictional point of view of the absent translator and his alter-ego, a bird.  Always hypnotic, seductive even, and evoking hallucinatory urban myths and abstracted journeys via fictional documentaries that are dreamlike streams-of-consciousness, Olde Wolbers presents a uniquely strange and beguiling world, which reflects on the function of art to amplify our perception and experience of the world.

Saskia Olde Wolbers: Visions of Desire and Pathological Lies

Written by 
‘We all know that art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realise the truth, at least the truth that is given us to understand. The artist must know how to convince others of the truthfulness of his lies.’- Pablo Picasso
Saskia Olde Wolbers’ works are full of lies, half-truths and fabrications. What may at first glance appear to be a sleek digital animation, is actually the result of an lengthy, handmade process. And the aesthetics are only the beginning of her deceptions. Olde Wolbers’ stories conflate fact and fiction in non-linear and time-defiant narratives – reality, and its antithesis, become wholly indecipherable.

Saskia Olde Wolbers, Pareidolia, 2011, HD video for projection with sound, 12 minutes 25 seconds. Courtesy the artist and Maureen Paley, London.
The Dutch-born, London-based artist can spend up to a year constructing one of her short videos. The foreign appearance of her intricately constructed dioramas are achieved using obscure items, such as water bottles, cod-liver oil capsules and cyber-goth hair extensions, dipped in paint, submerged upside-down in water and filmed – a unpretentious low-fi system with futuristic hi-fi aesthetics.
For her latest exhibition at Maureen Paley in London, Olde Wolbers is showing the video Paredolia, recently seen at Secession in Vienna. The title itself refers to the psychological phenomenon in which those things vague and random are interpreted as significant – the basis of the Rorschach test, and the reasoning behind why we might find animals in the clouds, or faces of holy figures in our morning toast – the cognitive propensity to find the familiar in the unfamiliar.

Saskia Olde Wolbers, Pareidolia, 2011, HD video for projection with sound, 12 minutes 25 seconds. Courtesy the artist and Maureen Paley, London.
Paredolia centres around a incident told by German professor Eugen Herrigel in his book, Zen and the Art of Archery (1948), commonly attributed to bringing zen and Japanese culture to the post-war Europe. In the much-debated climax of the book, Herrigel relates an incident in which his teacher, Awa Kenzo, shot two arrows in in the dark, not only both hitting the target, but the second slicing through the first. According to Herrigel, his Master communicated that it was not him that made the shot, but ‘it’, the Buddha.
However, Herrigel did not speak Japanese, Kenzo did not speak German, and there was no translator present. It is possible, and it has been argued, that Herrigel projected his own desires for meaning on to the incident, converting coincidence skill into a complex spiritual awakening.

Saskia Olde Wolbers, Pareidolia, 2011, HD video for projection with sound, 12 minutes 25 seconds. Courtesy the artist and Maureen Paley, London.
Our narrator in Paredolia is a bird, caught between the time in which an archer takes aim at him, and hits his mark. Olde Wolbers’ tale gives no more truths than Herrigel’s account, and takes great liberties, so that the incident that was the focus of Herrigel’s book, loses the focal significance that was once awarded to it. Instead this is a story of a professor and his assistant, floating in and out of the events of the archer and his master. Through a series of lecture rooms, archery rooms, botanics and birds gracing the screen, the visual poem disconnects from and at times precedes the narrative structure. These otherwordly frames confuse and conflate perception, as our narrator weaves in fiction with fact throughout this tale.
Through the constructions and dissolutions of delusions in Paredolia, Olde Wolbers’ lies lead us to an ultimate truth – that there simply is no such thing.

Say it with flytraps

Her last major work won the Beck's Futures prize. Now Saskia Olde Wolbers has turned to Hollywood, writes Adrian Searle

Trailer by Saskia Olde Wolbers
Plantlife ... a shot from Trailer by Saskia Olde Wolbers. Photograph: Maureen Paley
Cinema, so they say, is a palace of dreams. I'm in a dark room; it is a big room and there are moving pictures on a screen at the far end, across a big void of well-swept floor, with a single row of benches at the back. They must have taken the seats out and put them in the movie, where the camera keeps panning across the auditorium of an empty cinema, the raked ramp of vacant plush seats, the ruched walls, all velvety and pink and red as the womb. A cinema waiting for a movie and an audience to see it.
The cinema, supposedly, is in small-town Ohio. You can almost smell the stale smoke and the popcorn. But it is decaying as we watch. There are shots of dripping walls, the ceiling lifting off like a canopy of rain, the auditorium filling up with scummy water. The place seems to belong to another age, to a dream or a forgotten memory of life before birth.
A male voice, enunciating every scripted word with the unnatural scrupulousness of someone who wants to win the town public-speaking prize, describes this "always-deserted interior" as looking like "it had been dipped in the lipstick of the elderly lady knitting in the ticket booth". As the analysts quip, one thing always leads to a mother. The voice has a Canadian lilt, my ear snagging on the word "aboot".
Trailer, by Saskia Olde Wolbers, is her first major production since she won the Beck's Futures prize last year. Showing at the South London Gallery, Trailer tells the story of a man watching a trailer for a movie. This conceit is as clunky as one of those novels about a guy writing a novel, which are often taken as self-consciously modernist or postmodernist meta-fiction but which in reality are as old as Tristram Shandy. We are transported first to this movie theatre in middle America, then to the Amazonian rainforest. Close-ups of exotic, carnivorous fly- traps, dripping tendrils, a cheeseplant melting in the heat, a glob of half-liquid foliage falling like the wax in one of those novelty lava lamps.
Olde Wolbers - to a certain extent like Matthew Barney, but on a comparatively miniscule budget - tries to do several things at once. She builds model sets that she then films and digitally manipulates, as a kind of animated equivalent to painting or sculpture. She tells stories, fictions that have a tenuous relationship to real-life events she's heard and read about in magazines, books and newspapers. These are extrapolated beyond the realm of the believable. As much as she captivates and seduces us, she constantly reminds us that the whole thing is artifice, a reality whose every term is false.
In her work, the sets have the power of characters, while her unseen characters and the off-screen stories they tell are as much mental ambience and territory as they are flesh and blood. On their own, the stories would make great radio plays. In effect, everything Olde Wolbers does is a language game. For spectators - who have to listen as well as look - this sets up a sometimes impossible tension between the images on the screen and the images the voices describe while we are watching.
One has to admire an artist who risks storytelling and narrative. For most of the 20th century, narrative in art was frowned on, partly as a rejection of the sentimentality of Victorian narrative painting, and also in response to the modernist ethos that the literary belonged to literature rather than to painting or sculpture, which were asked to purge and cleanse in the name of artistic purity and hygiene. And then, of course, along came the movies, the quintessential 20th-century art form. But artworks of all kinds have always begotten stories and provoked our storytelling instincts. To deny art's capacity to incite our imaginations in this way is to reduce the creative options. It is just that some stories are better than others.
Trailer is narrated by a man who is watching a trailer for an old movie in a run-down cinema. The movie concerns a plane crash in the Amazon jungle. Two plants in the jungle (an ancient tree and an odd, hallucinogenic flytrap) have for complicated reasons been named after the pair of two-bit Hollywood actors who crashed there in the 1930s, while on a location scout. A peculiar species of moth, whose life cycle was dependent on the flytrap (and is now extinct), bears, to the consternation of the narrator, his own name.
This isn't the half of it. The poor wretch, we learn, is the illegitimate child of the silver-screen nonentities who ended up lost in the rainforest. We further learn, from critic and poet Barry Schwabsky's essay that appears alongside Olde Wolbers' transcript, that this farrago has its origins in a dubious Hollywood story about Clark Gable, who supposedly sired an illegitimate daughter who never knew her father's identity till after his death, and only ever encountered him through watching his movies. Gable, who married five times, did have an illegitimate daughter, with actress Loretta Young. Or perhaps Olde Wolbers means another daughter. By now, I'm past caring.
The link, such as it is, is so stretched as to be irrelevant. You could take all of this as richness and depth and academic inter-textuality - or as the sort of over-complicated MacGuffin Hitchcock would have thrown out during a script conference. Such ideas start out full of promise but end up irritating and too clever for their own good.
The text for Trailer, as with other works by Olde Wolbers, is read as a voiceover accompaniment to a slow progression of moving images. On the page, the transcript reads as somewhat overwrought, perhaps less a short story than a monologue, which in some ways reminds me of the performance-monologues of the late Spalding Gray. At other times it comes close to the slightly fey meanderings of Laurie Anderson. The delivery is a bit problematic, too - the low volume means whole passages are lost should anyone happen to walk through the gallery, or if you move away from the speakers beside the benches. All this, I think, is a kind of deliberate self-sabotage, one more over-complication among many.
You'll have gathered I have my problems with Olde Wolbers' work - the distant nods, which some critics have identified, to Jean-Luc Godard or Chris Marker (and in particular his 1963 La Jeteé) notwithstanding. I find it hard not to take her sensitivity, scrupulousness and seriousness for preciousness and pretension.
That said, how is an artist going to get anywhere without pretensions? It seems that Olde Wolbers is trying to stake out a territory that belongs neither exactly to cinema nor to storytelling, nor to sculpture nor to painting (the latter two being referenced in her set constructions, models and animation, and all that digital tweaking). Or perhaps she is trying to play with the uncertainty of all stories, whether they are fiction or fact, and the ways in which we filter, pick and choose, as we make our own ways through what we see and hear. It's all a lot to pack in to a work that lasts less than 15 minutes.
Olde Wolbers' films have been likened to dreams, and like all dreams they fade. What you're left with is a residue of disconnected images and atmosphere, and that fades soon enough, too. Or not nearly soon enough: no one wants to hear your dreams, apart from the shrink, and even they have to be paid to listen. Art's weird, too, and the weirder it is the more tiresome and less believable in my experience. The surrealists have a lot to answer for. So do the movies, and so in their way do dreams.


Saskia Olde Wolbers —

In the downstairs gallery space of Maureen Paley a sequence of fifty snapshots depicts various aspects of life somewhere in Africa. Images of tired buildings, abandoned or not yet completed, sit alongside pictures of children playing in the street. These could almost be the photographs of a naive traveller charting his first experience of backpacking, but the focus on unusual modernist architecture and abstract industrial forms takes them somewhere else. In one, a truck lies upturned by the side of the road, its cargo of timber spilt. In another, two men stand in the dark, one holding a rabbit, the other a knife. What begins as a seemingly banal succession of images develops into an unusual and compelling narrative. 

This sequence is a document of a journey made by Saskia Olde Wolbers and is presented as source material for the video piece Deadline which is projected in the space upstairs. The voice of a Gambian woman, Salingding, narrates the film and tells the remarkable story of her family history and of her own sixteen-month journey across 3000 miles of west Africa. In 1960, her grandfather's two wives gave birth to two boys in adjacent rooms, on the same hour of the same day. They are described as twins who had the 'luxury of having grown in their mothers alone'. One of these boys, who would become Salingding's father, was deemed to be the younger by virtue of the fact that he was thought to be a week early, and so these two lives had their fates sealed almost at random. 

The story runs almost in the form of a poem and the narrator's voice is accompanied by distant African drums. It seems appropriate to describe the sound before the visual because it is such an extraordinary tale and it is stunningly rendered. Indeed the aural is so powerful that for much of the film it dominates what we see on screen. This is not to take away from the imagery, but the narrative is so rich that at times the visuals struggle to compete, or there seems to be an imbalance of some kind between the two. Like much of Olde Wolbers's work the content is neither wholly based on fact nor purely imagined. She constructed Salingding's narrative from an amalgamation of stories from several different individuals that she met in a Gambian fishing village; a mixture of local folklore and actual histories. 

The imagery itself alludes to various aspects of the monologue and is typical of Olde Wolbers's previous work in its abstraction of commonplace objects. She creates strange and unfamiliar landscapes which are imbued with a kind of hypnotic quality through her use of slow, but often very extended, camera movements. There are five or six principal visual themes running through the piece. One depicts snake-like forms with scales coloured like the flags of African nations. This references the 'Ninki Nanka', a python which has the head of a termite and carries a small diamond on its cranium. Another depicts a glass rabbit dripping blood, upwards, from its head. Slowly the relationship to the photographs on the ground floor of the gallery becomes apparent. The woman describes how her brother hit a rabbit while driving. 'He got out of the cab and slit its throat, announcing breakfast as he threw its limp body in the back of the van.' 

Towards the end of the film Salingding asks 'do we all have journeys mapped out in our central nervous systems like migrating birds? It seems the only way to account for our insane restlessness' The idea of the journey has always captivated the human imagination. There is a certain romanticism attached to the notion of the traveller as someone liberated from the banality of the everyday. Conversely, people's reasons for moving from one place to another can also be desperate and even essential to survival. Olde Wolbers's film charts an economic migration of a family, a story that falls very firmly within the scope of the latter of those two categories. It offers a bleak portrayal of how fragile the hopes of those who 'desire to travel away from the everyday squalor' can be. Of how corruption, or crime or governments or any number of factors can stand between people and their dreams of a better life for themselves and their families.

Saskia Olde Wolbers

She is a mightly fabulist, an artist who creates vast and lanyrinthine worlds which she uses as settings for miasmic tales of longing and delusion
With their quizzical voice-overs and looping storylines, Saskia Olde Wolbers’ videos are set in the bowels of large institutions; the camera pans slowly over waterlogged halls and passages, along pipes and cables, in and out of empty rooms with translucent, faintly glowing walls. As we watch, we hear narrators speak of mistaken identities, ill-fated affairs and demented ambitions.
It takes Olde Wolbers – a London-based Dutch artist – a year to make each piece. And no wonder: her texts are manically inventive but tightly written, and her sets, which look at first sight like the backdrops to Hollywood sci-fi productions, are in fact intricate models, made in the studio out of materials such as plastic bottles and hamster cages and often shot underwater in a paddling pool.
Many of Olde Wolbers’ narratives are based on news items. Her last two works, Placebo (2002) and Interloper (2003), for instance, were loosely inspired by the life of Jean-Claude Romand, a pathological impostor who for 18 years pretended to family and friends that he was a successful doctor before going on a killing spree in 1993, when his fabrications threatened to unravel. In Placebo a woman wakes up in a hospital after a car crash and looks back over her relationship with the man who lies comatose in the next bed. He had told her that he was a surgeon, and that he worked in the very hospital where they both now lie. When she suspected otherwise and questioned him, he deliberately crashed the car he was driving into a tree, critically injuring them both. As she tells their story, we see a white room submerged in water, large globules of emulsion slowly detaching themselves from the walls and drifting across the screen.
In Interloper, the companion piece to Placebo, the woman’s lover picks up the thread. He floats away from his own body
(‘I heard about this … a near-death experience… no need to panic’) and wanders around the hospital. He learns from a woman in a lab coat that he was one of a number of child prodigies who were raised in the hospital basement as part of an experiment in social engineering. Later, after returning to his ward, he assists his lover, who has just given birth. The baby, who looks just like him, may be his child, but the script also suggests another possibility: the narrator may have witnessed his own birth – after all, he is a man of several identities. And as the narrative moves backwards from near-death to childhood and then to birth, we see another hospital room, silver-tinted this time. We follow scores of pipes as they course along service shafts and see silver-glazed bubbles traverse an operating theatre before the screen is filled with entwined silver-coloured tendrils that resemble magnified molecular structures.
We pass from visions of the speaker’s surroundings to internal views of the body and barely notice the shift; what with the wooziness of the script, the slow camera movements and monochromatic props, the transition from external to internal views seems oddly natural. In visual terms the molecular chains are a variation on the pipes we saw earlier, which could be read as veins and arteries. This blurring of the division between the worlds within and without just confirms what the narrator has been suggesting all along: that he can no longer distinguish between his experiences and his imaginings. And it traps the viewer in the same amorphous, deeply claustrophobic sphere, in which there is no telling whether a view is seen, remembered or hallucinated. As in Stalker, Andrei Tarkovsky’s film from 1979, the physical environment in Olde Wolbers’ work is both a terrain to be navigated and the projection of secret fears and obsessions. For all we know, her figures may be wandering around the hinterlands of their own clouded minds.
In other pieces too the artist follows characters who slowly lose their grip on reality in outlandish settings that come to reflect their derangement. In Day-Glo (1999) Luis, an Andalucian entrepreneur, creates a virtual reality theme park in which visitors can relive their memories, but his wife leaves him for a younger incarnation, another Luis whom she meets in the park. In Kilowatt Dynasty (2000) a woman narrates a meeting that is to take place in 17 years’ time. Her future mother, the presenter of a teleshopping programme, will be taken hostage by her father-to-be, an eco-warrior, in an underwater television studio – a marshy web of transparent chambers and gangways – behind the newly completed Three Gorges Dam. Here, as in Placebo, the aqueous setting reminds us that in Olde Wolbers’ world identity is fluid and indeterminate, and fictions tend to seep out of their frames and swamp ordinary perception.
These videos ask to be read on two different levels: they are both grimly witty visions of a dysfunctional hyper-modernity and stuttering journeys across mined internal landscapes. And inasmuch as viewers hesitate between the two readings, they are effectively caught in the same bind as Olde Wolbers’ sleep-talking narrators.
Marcus Verhagen

Fishing Line Never Looked So Good - 

Janna Schoenberger

From time to time there comes an artist to remind you of tradition, the value of skill, the importance of excelling at a craft and constructing another world with ordinary materials and dexterous fingers. The best thing about Saskia Olde Wolbers is that she has incredible talent in creating objects, yet her work is still exciting and innovative. She is boundary-breaking by incorporating expertise and tradition in contemporary art. This summer, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam will be featuring Dutch-born artist Saskia Olde Wolbers in a solo exhibition, “The Falling Eye,” from June 24th through September 17th. Focused around her newest piece, Trailer from 2005, which is making its debut in the Netherlands, the show includes three other works Interloper (2003), Placebo (2002) and Kilowatt Dynasty (2000.)
Each of Olde Wolbers’ short narrative films is shot in a miniature set entirely created by the artist’s hand. The sets are submerged in water and with a tiny camera Olde Wolbers wanders and explores nooks and crannies like a submarine. The underwater effects can range from scarcely noticeable atmospheric changes, to air bubbles conspicuously clinging to the walls of the movie theater in Trailer. The probing camera occasionally hints at the found objects used to create the intricate scenes. A futuristic glass dwelling at one angle, for a moment, transforms into a vegetable oil bottle. In the sterile white surgical rooms in a hospital in Placebo, plastic cutlery is temporarily discernable. The most delicate, venomous flytraps from Trailer, are carefully assembled from fishing line. It is incredible that everything you see is created from scratch without digital manipulation, especially in a time where such renderings and animations are acceptable, even expected. Recalling tradition, in this case, with narrative and hand crafted work updates contemporary art with convention.
Situated both in an empty cinema in Wadena, Ohio, and in the jungle, Trailer is Algfar Dalio’s story of finding out about his biological parents through black and white film advertisements. Bits and pieces come together through film clips and the old woman cashier working at a theater, occupied by her knitting. In all of her narratives, Olde Wolbers bases her scripts on articles she has read in books, newspapers, magazines or tales she has overheard. The source for Dalio’s monologue is found in a documentary of Judy Lewis whose religious mother told her she was adopted to shield her daughter from an illicit affair with actor Clark Gable. Lewis only discovered her father’s identity after his death, movie footage being the way she learned most about her father. In Trailer, Dalio gathers from the cashier that his parents were flying on their way to shoot their break through film, in which they would star, as opposed the string of supporting roles, so small they would not always be included in the credits. The plane crashed and Ring Kittle and Elmore Vella were left stranded, their film never produced. In Hollywood fashion, Vella became addicted to native narcotic flytraps, causing their extinction, which were renamed in her honor. This narrative is a twisted horror version of a romance novel. The characters are never seen, the sets are empty, taking on a role of their own equal to that of the speaker.
Saskia Olde Wolbers’ compelling works are the artsy version of gossip column meets science fiction movie. Filming slowly, yet constantly moving, she puts time on hold for the speaker to tell her story and the viewer is immediately hooked. Olde Wolbers perfectly composes every aspect of the film, from the details in the cinema seats bolted to the floor to the narrators’ ever so slight, geographically revealing accents. The stories, in addition, filled with references and depth, provide enough interest to stay and listen again and again. “The Falling Eye” is a great excuse to visit Amsterdam this summer and view four first-rate films from up-and-coming Saskia Olde Wolbers.

Art-focused Journalism by Tyler Green

Tyler Green Modern Art Notes

Q&A with Saskia Olde Wolbers

PlaceboOldeWolbers.jpgThe first time I saw a Saskia Olde Wolbers was at the Hammer in 2003, where Placebo (2002) was showing in a Hammer ‘Projects’ group show. I was hooked from the first moment: the lush, rich, oozing visuals were other-worldly. It took me a minute to hear the voiceover, and another minute to teach myself how to divide my attention equally between the video and the narrative — and by then the six-minute video was up.
I figured out how long it would be before Placebo (left) played again, went upstairs to see something else at the Hammer, and returned in time for Placebo to restart. I think I did that one more time that day, and several times over the course of that visit to Los Angeles.
Few video pieces have stuck in my mind like Placebo. It’s catchy like Pipilotti Rist’s Ever is Over All, it’s visually sumptuous in the same way a Shirin Neshat is, and it’s slow like a good Bill Viola. But while each of those artists shows a narrative, Olde Wolbers writes one. Her visuals are super, but it’s her cleverness as a writer that keeps me going back a third or fourth or fifth time.
Placebo opens with a line that could have started a classic novel or the best vintage bit of Hollywood noir: “Here I am, lying next to my lover Jean, in intensive care, slipping in and out of consciousness in shifts. Life slowly dripping out of us…” So too Trailer (2005), which is on view now at the Hirshhorn as part of Kerry Brougher and Kelly Gordon’s The Cinema Effect show: “Somewhere in the vast Amazonian forest, among plants whose indigenous, Spanish and Latin names compete with one another outside of their awareness, three species stood out self-consciously. There was the ancient red bark tree by the name of Ring Kittle. And in his shady undergrowth the Elmore Vella, a species of flytrap, used to go quietly about her deadly business.”
For the next 10 minutes Trailer’s narrative wanders away, folds over itself, slips along, and then doubles back in a too-real-to-be-true self-referential loop. Olde Wolbers’ stories are like ice crystals: They’re beautiful and complicated, and you have to examine them carefully to fully appreciate them. Then, just as you begin to figure them out, they melt and vanish. I’ll have plenty of opportunities to ’solve’ Trailer: The Hirshhorn has acquired the piece for its collection.
Olde Wolbers, who is Dutch, lives in London and has never had a solo show in the U.S. She visited the Hirshhorn for the opening of The Cinema Effect and I talked with her about Saskia Olde Wolbers, the writer. Come back for part two tomorrow.
MAN: Are you a writer?
Saskia Olde Wolbers: No. But I guess fiction is my main source of inspiration I’m constantly reading and writing things down, but you know I think writing is difficult. When I’m making actual work, I guess sort of it is ninety percent of it is making, making sets in the studio. In the studio I listen to a lot of novels on tape, so I am constantly engaged in ways of narrating. Even if I’m socializing, I’m looking for stories, so I’m definitely listening for stories. That’s sort of an interest of mine, the way writers sort of filter experience in a distant way: They see the actual story as well as the emotional experience.
MAN: So when you’re working on a piece, do you start with writing, with narrative, or do you start with visuals?
SOW: I usually start a piece with a very thin premise. For instance with Trailer (above right) I stumbled upon a documentary about Judy Lewis, who was the daughter of Clark Gable and Loretta Young, and by the time she found out Clark Gable was her dad she could only see him in his roles. So I started with that distance, how film creates something but it’s not really personal per se.
I had just been in Los Angeles, so I started working on the idea of the cinema as a building, and the jungle as a sort of place for fiction. So I had different strands, but I never have one or the other finished first.
MAN: So you don’t sit down and write out the whole story in one or two sittings?
SOW: No. I do the writing only in pieces. I have a notebook, so I make notes and then I put it into a PC and I end up with lots and lots of unrelated material. I add things I find along the way and then I edit it down.
MAN: Do you outline or go with flow?
SOW: Towards the end, when the visuals are almost done and the story has to come together, I do guide it a bit. But when editing I lay the narrative/voice over down first and then I can slot the visuals into it.
MAN: You’ve mentioned fiction a few times. Tell me what you read.
SOW: There are definitely some particular writers. There is a sort of particular feel I guess to what stories I like. I wouldn’t read just anything… What did I just read? Oh, I just read Dave Eggers’ What is the What and I really liked that. It was great company. [Olde Wolbers also emailed me her reading-plus list. Click below to see it.]
MAN: So instead of looking to art, contemporary or otherwise, for inspiration, you go to books.
SOW: Writers and novels have more information than art. I also look to architecture and cinema. But then of course when I’m making the object I think about contemporary art. But I’d say I’m not really interested in working or commenting on art. I’m more interested in life and stories.
MAN: What do you look at in movies?
SOW: The visuals. I especially look at documentaries. I think it’s the way visuals and text are used in documentaries – often it will lead you or seduce you into the stories with a voiceover that doesn’t necessarily lead you to the images. That happens especially in more conventional documentary or historical documentary, where you have to have something to look at as you hear the story. So narrative is very important, but I also don’t mind it if people pick up half of it [in my work] or are seduced by the visuals. I think I also use narrative as a guide. I think if I didn’t have the narrative I could make anything. It’s good to restrict myself… I don’t work with storyboards so the visuals are a help to the audio.
SOWTrailerTheaterheadon.jpgMAN: When you were in art school or whenever and when you started making work, did it start with writing or did it start with visuals or with video, and how did the two end up coming together?
SOW: I was just sort of writing really for fun, but not too much. Then I started working with video because my pieces were becoming more narrative, and I thought video was a great way to combine visual and narrative. I think it’s problematic with art when you have to read a lot and look at something. In a way it’s also very seductive to listen to a voice, and most of my images move or the camera moves and it’s a good way of drawing people into a story.
MAN: Do you ever want to write anything that isn’t part of a video installation? A novel, poems, whatever?
SOW: I wouldn’t mind writing a Lonely Planet to some country. That’d be fun.
MAN: Where? A real country or a fictional kind of thing?
SOW: Anything. I don’t know. A real country. I think I’d be more into something like journalism more than something like poetry.
Salman Rushdie, Midnight’s Children, 1981
Oliver Sacks, An Anthropologist on Mars
Ryszard Kapuscinski, The Shadow of the Sun
Hearts of Darkness; a filmmaker’s apocalypse, 95 min colour, USA, 1991
Bahr Fax, et al. (documentary about the making of Francis Ford Coppola’s film Apocalypse Now)
Les Blank, Burden of Dreams, 95 min colour, USA, 1982 ( documentary about the making of Werner Herzog’s film Fitzcarraldo)
Alejo Carpentier, The Lost Steps, 1953
Werner Herzog, Aguirre; The wrath of God, 90 min, colour, Germany
Haruki Murakami, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, 1999
Chris Marker, Sans Soleil USA:100 min, 1983
Lauren Slater, Opening Skinners Box; great psychological experiments of the 20th century
Ian McEwan, Enduring Love, 1997
Robert Altman, Nashville, 160 min, colour, USA, 1975
Jim Krusoe, Bloodlake and other stories, 1997, Iceland, 2002
Lars von Trier, The Kingdom, 279 min, colour, Denmark, 1994
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun
Tobias Wendl, Wicked Villagers and the Mysteries of Reproduction. An Exploration of Horror Movies from Ghana and Nigeria. In: Rose-Marie Beck and Frank Wittmann (Eds.), African Media Cultures. Transdisciplinary Perspectives. Köln: Köppe, p. 263-285.
Black Sun, Gary Tarn, 2005, 75mins
Science Is Fiction/The Sounds Of Science, 1927
The films of Jean Painleve
The films of Oskar Fischinger
Amos Tutuola, The Palm-Wine Drinkard, 1946
The private life of plants, David Attenborough, 1995, 50 min
Michel Tournier, Gemini
Mark Hudson, Our Grandmother’s Drums , 1991
Jonathan Safran Foer, Everything is Illuminated
Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart, 1958
David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas
Zadie Smith, White Teeth
Decasia; the state of decay, Bill Morrison (2002) 67 min
Paul Theroux, Dark Star Safari
Ben Okri, The Famished Road
Ousmane Sembène, Xala
Susan Faludi, Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man

Saskia Olde Wolbers

Maureen Paley / London / England

  • Saskia Olde Wolbers /  Reviewed by Marco Bohr / 21.02.12

    Saskia Olde Wolbers’ twelve-minute video work Pareidolia currently on display at Maureen Paley is based on the following story: in the 1930s a German university professor called Cassar moves to Japan where he meets the Zen bowery master Okakura. Fascinated with ‘all things Japanese and Zen’, Professor Cassar felt that he could follow in the footsteps of D.T. Suzuki and write about his experiences in Japan. Here, the fictional story of Cassar meeting Okakura evokes many comparisons between the real-life story of the German philosopher Eugen Herrigel’s encounter with the Zen master Awa Kenzo. Herrigel’s observations on mystical religions and his encounters with Kenzo were subsequently published as Zen in the Art of Archery – a global bestseller which inevitably helped to shape the West’s image of Japan when the book first came out just after World War II.
    In Olde Wolbers’ video however, the story of Cassar and Okakura’s culturally complex encounter is told in a fragmented and purposefully deconstructed format. Added to this, the story is told from the perspective of a Japanese translator who claims to have facilitated philosophical discussions with Cassar and Okakura, while neither of whom spoke each other’s language. The climax of this encounter occurred at an incident at which the translator was not present. Asked by Cassar if he could practice his art blindfolded, Okakura first shot one arrow at a bale target, before he shot a second arrow straight through the first one. Despite the absence of the translator, Cassar later wrote in his book that Okakura said: ‘The shot was not my doing but ‘It’, The Devine, has shot!’
    The monotone voice and the Japanese accent of the fictional translator narrating the story is underpinned by atmospheric music which further locates the video in the realm of meditation and transcendence. Yet it is the images, those bizarre and totally unearthly images in Pareidolia that have the most dramatic effect. Filmed underwater, in slow motion and upside down, Olde Wolbers has created an utterly psychedelic and alienating montage of images that range from miniature interiors of Japanese rooms drenched in silver paint to strange impressions of colourful birds that appear fictitious as much as they appear to be real. These visually extremely stimulating images, coupled with the complex story told by the translator, makes for dense viewing. Olde Wolbers’ work literally overwhelms the senses.
    The title of the video, Pareidolia, is derived from the Greek words ‘para’ and ‘eidōlon’ which, in combination, can be translated as ‘beside image’. Pareidolia is a psychological phenomenon which manifests itself when a visual stimulus is perceived as another object: a cloud that looks like a rabbit, a tree that looks like a witch, a piece of toast that evokes the image of Jesus Christ. In Olde Wolbers’ video, the notion of pareidolia is probably best applied to the strange looking birds that, in reality, might be made of rubber. To focus on these technical aspects however would not to Olde Wolbers justice. Pareidolia actually refers to a larger overarching narrative explored in the video: the fictional versus the real. Even though the story might be based on a real encounter, all the details, the characters, the places are, much like the strange-looking birds, inventions of the artist’s imagination. The blacked-out space of the gallery further creates an atmosphere in which the viewer becomes completely subjected to a world that is surreal, comforting, and at the same time, haunting.

    Deadline video still by Saskia Olde Wolbers

Prev |Next 1 / 10 Video still

Deadline 2007

  • Voice over Kiza Deen, 18 min loop
  • Single Channel Video Projection
  • SD PAL DV 4:3 Stereo
  • Installation dimensions variable


Deadline's narrative is a fictional amalgamation of local folklore, Nollywood film references and actual histories taken from a small fishing town in The Gambia that Olde Wolbers visited. Here she met both a man whose two wives each gave birth to a son on the same day and a taxi driver who drove from Gambia to Nigeria to receive a plane ticket that his brother had sent from Greece. He was on the road for nearly two years without ever reaching his destination.
Salingding, a fictional young Gambian woman, narrates the film. In 1960 her grandfather's two wives give birth to two boys in adjacent rooms on the same day. They are described as twins who had the luxury of having grown in their mothers alone. Both women call their sons Lamin, the first-born. Their fates are sealed by a mere guess as chance intervenes to determine who is the elder, a decision that subsequently sets their lives of unequal status on course. While the older brother, joins the army, works in a hotel and eventually leaves for Greece, the younger brother, her father, reluctantly stays at home fishing. One day he decides to join his brother in Europe and drives his bush-taxi from Gambia to Nigeria to catch a flight to Greece.
Images of coiling patterned snakes, a rotund glass rabbit and an interior with transparent beads alternate with structures referencing African Modernist architecture.
The soundtrack consists of various samples and music by Daniel Pemberton.
Deadline is accompanied by a photo archive. A collection of snapshots taken by the artist and her co-travellers in The Gambia and Benin.
Trailer video still by Saskia Olde Wolbers
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Trailer 2005

  • Voice over John Wynne, 10 min loop
  • Single Channel Video Projection
  • SD PAL DV 4:3 Stereo
  • Installation dimensions variable


In Trailer an anecdote is transformed into fiction. Clark Gable had an illegitimate daughter who did not know the identity of her father until after his death. She knew him only through the roles he played out on the silver screen.
Alfgar Dalio describes wandering into a dilapidated movie house in Ohio, known as the Kinorama Playhouse. Only films from a long-faded Hollywood studio are shown here. He watches a trailer and is caught off-guard when it mentions an extinct Amazonian moth that shares his unusual name. The moth's life was dependant upon a certain tree and a fly-trap plant named after two actors, who used to work for the film studio years ago but had disappeared whilst on location in the jungle.
Dalio realises that the trailer is addressing him directly by broadcasting the secret of his own existence and that the actors are in fact his unacknowledged parents. The revelations bring back memories of his life in the jungle. The video's imagery switches from a vivid red empty theatre to a translucent green plant life. The green and red are a reference to Kinema Color, a pre-colour process based on alternating green and red filters, an obscure format outdated almost as soon as it was invented.
The soundtrack is by Daniel Pemberton.

  • Interloper video still by Saskia Olde Wolbers
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Interloper 2003

  • Voice over Ian Mitchie, 6 min loop
  • Single Channel Video Projection
  • SD PAL DV 4:3 Stereo
  • Installation dimensions variable


Interloper is a companion piece to Placebo.
The off-camera narrative is told from the doctor's divided point of view; as a phantom lover and placebo surgeon. He wakes up from a nine-month coma, has a near death experience and floats above his deluded self through the basement bowels of a hospital. He briefly realises that he has become fiction as he sees his character carry out unqualified medical operations. A clue to his state of mind is offered when he realises he grew up in an experimental lab, a secret incubator of young prodigies that was housed in the basement of the hospital.
Interloper is filmed underwater with a camera going through the interiors of submerged sets dipped in paint.
The electronic soundtrack is by Jem Finer.

  • Placebo video still by Saskia Olde Wolbers
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Placebo 2002

  • Voice over Sukie Smith, 6 min loop
  • Single Channel Video Projection
  • SD PAL DV 4:3 Stereo
  • Installation dimensions variable


Placebo is a fictional story based on the syndrome Pseudoligica Phantastica, where invented experiences are presented as reality.
The video is set within the intensive care unit of a hospital with the off-screen narrative told by the mistress of a supposedly married man who claims he is a surgeon. Regaining consciousness after a car crash that her now comatose lover orchestrated, she begins to unravel his intricate web of deceit.
Images of empty hospital interiors, a drip, effervescent pills and various molecular structures, melt away into liquid globules. Placebo is filmed in real time in miniature sets covered in paint and submerged in water.
A soundtrack of electronic samples plays in tune with the melting droplets.

  • Kilowatt Dynasty video still by Saskia Olde Wolbers
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Kilowatt Dynasty 2000

  • Voice over Jean Lee, 6 min loop
  • Single Channel Video Projection
  • SD PAL DV 4:3 Stereo
  • Installation dimensions variable


Kilowatt Dynasty takes place underwater at the bottom of the future reservoir that will be created by the Three Gorges Dam in the Hubei province in China.
The film opens with the sound of a gong as transparent structures emerge in an underwater scene. An unborn child relates the heroic deeds of her parents somewhere in the near future. Her father is an activist who opposes the construction of the dam by chaining himself to the fence by the visitor centre, under the gaze of the international media. As the days go by he fears that his actions will not deliver any results. Her mother is the presenter of Kilowatt Dynasty, a successful television program on the bottom of the lake. On it she sells electronic equipment to the former inhabitants of the land that now lies underwater. As a result of her unusual underwater existence, she begins to suffer from the 'Inverted Dream Syndrome', a fictional condition in which the understanding of waking and dreaming becomes confused. Her father's final desperate act is to take his future wife hostage. This is seen by millions of viewers but is doomed to failure because of her mother's split conception of reality.
Kilowatt Dynasty is filmed in a pool in and around transparent sets made of a range of plastic bottles and ready-made shapes.
The soundtrack is by Michael Raedecker.

  • Day-Glo video still by Saskia Olde Wolbers
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Day-Glo 1999

  • Voice over Valerio Martinez, 6 min loop
  • Single Channel Video Projection
  • SD PAL DV 4:3 Stereo
  • Installation dimensions variable


Day-glo is set in the municipality of El Ejido, a centre for large-scale fruit and vegetable production on Spain's southern coast.
In the early 90's the fictional main character, Luis Zarzuela has turned his greenhouse into a virtual reality theme park. His wife had seen virtual reality on the television and in a Cargo cult manner he sets about building his own.
He decides on Australia as a theme, as many of the town's inhabitants have recently repatriated from there. We hear Luis reading a letter to an estate agent where he writes of his desire to sell his park, including his wife who is lost inside courting a younger version of himself.
This work incorporates a large rotating set with vacuum moulded and ready- made plastic shapes. The soundtrack comprises of electronic samples and crickets chirping.
The sountrack is by Michael Raedecker.

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