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Annie Fletcher speaks to Lidwien van de Ven about her working method, her relation to media images of conflicts and politics, and her mapping of the field of the visible.
Annie Fletcher: I first encountered your work at documenta 12 (2007) and subsequently worked with you on the exhibition 'Be(com)ing Dutch' (2008) at the Van Abbemuseum, where I learned more about your earlier material. I have a sense that you are as interested in a conversation about the photographic image as in making the image itself. You also seem to be interested in the dynamic between how contemporary media or journalistic outlets work with images and how you as an artist might work within an artistic setting. Could you comment on this?
Lidwien van de Ven: I am very interested in how the media works, and a lot of my own working methods overlap with theirs. This may be in terms of subject matter, the location I photograph or in research, which I do quite intensely parallel to the photographing and which makes up a substantial part of my work. The research may be following up a specific case (for instance, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and the case around 'Freedom of Expression'1), but also in more reflective thinking or in reading analyses concerning politics and religion. I relate to my photographs not just as images with a purely artistic aim, but my whole working method aims at connecting the aesthetic with the ethical.
There are several thematic lines that direct my research: most significantly, contemporary politics and religion, and where the two intersect. I have followed the development of migrant societies and the emergence of new nationalisms
'Freedom of Expression' was the title of the press conference held at the European Parliament on 14 February 2008, where the case of freedom of expression was presented by Benoît Hamon from the Socialist Group in the Parliament. The aim was to ask the European Parliament to raise a fund to protect people in the EU who are under threat for expressing their opinion. This was most strongly related to Hirsi Ali, who was the guest of honour to support this request. Hirsi Ali is an outspoken critic of Islam in the Netherlands. She wrote the script for Theo van Gogh's short film Submission (2004). The other supporting speakers in this panel were Bernard-Henri Lévy and Caroline Fourest. Freedom of Expression (2008) was also the title of the installation van de Ven made around this episode.↑
Van de Ven followed the political appropiation of the headscarf throughout Western Europe and the controversy and aftermath of the Jyllands-Posten Mohammed cartoons in Denmark, which resulted in several images such as Paris, 11/02/2006 (Danish cartoons), London, 04/09/2004 (International Hijab Solidarity Day), as well as Jerusalem, 24/04/2006 (graveyard/graffiti)↑
The name Lifta is not really in use anymore. Lifta was a Palestinian village that in 1948 was taken over by the Israeli Defense Forces and its inhabitants driven out. The village remained empty, though, and unlike other areas it was not repopulated by Jews. Up to today it is still a site of ruins. The photograph was taken on 15 May 2006, which is the memorial day of Al Naqba ('the catastrophe') for Palestinians. This takes place every year the day after Israeli Independence Day (14 May). However, to call this day 'Al Naqba' is charged politically - likewise what happened is disputed.↑
All the photographs discussed in this conversation (except the Freedom of Expression installation) were exhibited as part of document↑
'Isn't it the soul of Europe, its profound identity, its heritage that is in the balance when she pleads […] for a society where the theological-political link that modern Europe was built against is finally broken? It's hard to find anyone more European today than Ayaan Hirsi Ali. And it is difficult, even more difficult, to do this with the idea of a great European disowned definitively by her spiritual homeland. Look at this European who intends to pursue the fight for the fundamental values of Europe, forced to leave the continent and permanently exile herself in the United States. This will be more than paradoxical, it will be absurd - and more than absurd, a bad omen.' Bernard-Henri Lévy, 'Adresse à Nicolas Sarkozy à propos d'Ayaan Hirsi Ali', Libération, 11 February 2008.↑
Since 2006 Hirsi Ali has been a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC.↑
'[Question]: But in Israeli architecture, that trope of the red sloped roof is itself a really displaced kind of beauty - a borrowed European, almost Tyrolean form that in its right context has a purpose but here is not at all suited functionally to the environment. Eyal Weizman: It functions in the settlements as a sign. Many times, settlement building-codes require that anyone building their own home must build with this red roof because it's a sign that differentiates the "us" from the "them". And I have heard of a residents' meeting where settlers tried to resist the red roof - saying it's a misplaced European element, etc. - while people from Gush Emunim, the main settler body, forced them to build them if only to show Jewish presence.' Jeffrey Kastner, Sina Najafi and Eyal Weizman, 'The Wall and the Eye: An Interview with Eyal Weizman', Cabinet, Issue 9, Winter 2002/03. Also available at http://www.cabinetmagazine.org/issues/9/wall.php (last accessed on 5 December 2008).↑