04.01.2017 | Words by: Mathis Neuhaus.
Donna Verheijden looks beneath the surface. Surfaces, to be precise. Beneath all those which are super-HD, super-glossy, super-flat. Music videos, commercials and pop cultural images that are part of our collective memory are her objects of investigation. In her work she tries to decode them, because usually we don’t. She seizes the images that try to appeal to our deepest desires and assembles them in orchestrated video collages. Collages which are by no means moralistic. Rather, they mirror contemporary strategies of seduction and consequently seduce the viewers to think about themselves. For the second edition of Tijdgenoten, this time in collaboration with LIMA, a various number of her works is going to be shown: Land of Desire, All the World’s a Stage – Ways of Seeing, Prison and her newest project: Trompe L’oeil. The Trompe L’oeil loops continue the observations Donna made in her previous works and primarily deal with the double-faced notion of Freedom. They revolve around the question of contemporary imprisonment and wonder how to react to it.
I spoke with Donna via Skype as a preliminary for her upcoming exhibition in De School in January.
The description on your homepage says that you are a contemporary image maker. Could you shine some light on this expression?
"I started out as a graphic designer and from there gradually shifted to making dynamic collages in a sense that these collages are assembled of moving images. Consequently, working with images makes me an image maker rather than a graphic designer. It is not bound to a certain discipline. I also try to analyze images that surround us, in pop and consumer culture. What do they depict? What do these constructed and produced images mean in a highly censored media scape. I chose the addendum contemporary, because I mainly work with images that are produced between now and two years ago. But of course, they often have references to images that have been produced earlier and in a different context. Therefore, it is also always interesting for me to unfold the roots of an image."
What qualities does an image need to possess to be qualified as contemporary - is it mainly the date of production?
"Yes. But I think the quality also has to do with the hyper-reality or hyper-realness of an image. A lot of images we are confronted with in our everyday lives are now Super-HD. We tend to think that they are real, but in fact they are completely produced and artificial. The techniques became so good, so deceiving. Even on YouTube you find 4K videos that sometimes seem realer than the actual image. Falling in love with someone in a music video sometimes appeals to our emotions more than falling in love in real life - which might be disappointing in the end."
Your work All the World’s a Stage – Ways of Seeing from 2013 is going to be shown in De School and exclusively works with Found Footage. Land of Desire is your latest project and also going to be shown here in January: is it all self-produced imagery in that one?
"No. Land of Desire is a mix of Found-Footage and self-made imagery."
How do you decide on the images you want to make yourself?
"I am really interested in staged realities. Whenever you put a frame of any kind around something, it becomes staged. In the beginning of Land of Desire there are images I shot of a swimming pool on the 27th floor of a Hotel in Sao Paulo – and nobody is swimming in it. At the same time, there is a huge water crisis going on in the city. The image shows a contradiction in termini. I am always looking for a surreal reality: surreality you could say."
The images work in both ways.
"Yes. There are other images in Land of Desire, where I was attending the carnival, watching a show. And in the scenes you see a woman that is completely fabricated. It is body architecture. Behind the woman is a fence and behind the fence stand people that are looking at the woman. There is a sense of freedom to carnival, but actually there is no freedom at all. Freedom of dancing, yes. But other than that the carnival in Brazil is a completely organized thing. Another image shows a woman fishing in a pond. And behind her is also a fence, because the pond is located in a gated community. These images all depict a twisted sense of freedom."
I find that the audible layer is also very interesting in your work. How do you approach that?
"For Land of Desire I thought about the connotations to the term “land”. What does it mean? It is a geographical place, it has borders. What kind of regions would you be able to find in a land of desire? Many different languages are spoken, different dialects. The text is a mixture of lyrics from music videos to texts from advertisements and commercials. The sound is important in the piece, because sound is, besides images, also what’s been used in marketing strategies all the time. The consumer is constantly overwhelmed with the help of orchestrated soundtracks. Audio builds up tension, provides balance and rhythm. It is also a way of addressing the viewer, to build up empathy or provoke emotions."
Adaption in your work is a way to trick the viewer. To lure him in.
"I personally am just as much seduced by all these images as I am appalled by them. I am not sure if it is a moralistic take on it. But I think it is important to show all these images that are part of our collective memory. To question what we see and if we are happy with what we are seeing."
What do you think the environment of De School is going to add to your work? Isn’t a nightclub consequently the ultimate Land of Desire?
"It is an interesting thing. The biggest feast of desire is carnival. From ancient times onwards. Carnival was always the time to celebrate without hierarchies. Everyone was able to be who he or she wanted to be. Now, of course, it became a huge commercial thing and hierarchy has been injected in it. But originally it used to be a feast of desire. In a nightclub it is also always constantly a play with desire: becoming who you want to be, dressing up, escaping from reality. Using make-up as a way of expression. In that sense it fits quite well. I am curious to see how it is going to play out. A part of Land of Desire deals with exactly this: wanting to become someone else."