Workshop 'Sand, Trees and Blood. Beyond documentary'

Three-day workshop with artists Roy Villevoye, Jan Dietvorst, Geert van Kesteren and Renzo Martens.

Roy Villevoye, Jan Dietvorst, Geert van Kesteren en Renzo Martens will teach the workshop ‘Sand, Trees and Blood. Beyond documentary’. The artists work in different ways with the genre of documentary. Their films and images resemble documentaries or news reports, but are they? This workshop is centred on the question: What happens with the documentary when visual artists start appropriating it?

The journalistic documentary is often based on truth finding, and the filmmaker usually works from a clear set goal. Regularly the basis for the documentary is a personal quest or drive, and the documentary consequently functions as an instrument to highlight a certain injustice or to answer a concrete question. As a consequence the result of the research is already known at the start. The journalistic documentary maker has a mission or a problem, and finds a solution.

As a consequence the documentary often has a certain post-colonial rhetoric of guilt and innocence attached to it. In addition documentaries, no matter how diverse the subject, are often based on similar schemes which lead to a uniform structure.

Dietvorst, van Kesteren, Martens and Villevoye wonder whether it is possible to surpass these binaries of guilt/innocence, good/evil. They share the need to search for new forms within the documentary genre. Where the journalist has to conform to certain expectations, the artists is permitted a larger freedom. The guest artists try to refrain from making premature judgements and from falling back on moral preconceptions. In contrast to the journalist the artists, they believe, avoid formulating the aim for as long as possible. At the most their work is, in the words of Dietvorst, a proposition which is at times unpractical and disarranged.

A striking similarity in the work of the four artists is their preference for filming in war zones, or their general fascination with war. About the motifs for this thematic the standpoints of the artists differ.

Besides similarities there are also important differences. For example in method: Martens figures explicitly as actor in his films; in the case of Dietvorst and Villevoye this is much less so, and Van Kesteren raises the question of the identity of the photographer.


Jan Dietvorst & Roy Villevoye
In the collaborative work of Roy Villevoye (1960) and Jan Dietvorst (1953) the notion that visual art is a manner of gathering knowledge has resulted in films that are created using documentary footage. The panorama of the former battlefields of the First World War in Northern France as well as the culture of the Asmat tribe in the tropical rainforest of West Papua, formerly part of Dutch New Guinea, emerge through the portrayal of the people in these regions. In their work they take a stance against traditional journalistic methods, which fix historical events in an overly unambiguous manner.

In their 2009 work 'Pressure', the artists explore a new landscape – the Indian city of Mumbai, where lives overlap and conflict is present at all levels, from terrorism making world news to a struggle over the fate of a mangrove swamp near a slum. In all their works, Dietvorst and Villevoye refuse the standard approach and trappings of a documentary film. Instead of superimposing a narrative over the footage, offering a single explanation or interpretation, they allow the people interviewed, and the objects and places filmed, to speak for themselves. In each film there are several perspectives, and often the video includes two parallel streams depicting different events. They refrain from disguising the processes by which stories evolve, stories necessary to us to place ourselves in our cultural, historical and geographical context. In their works, there are no linear narratives or reductive truisms. The artists offer the viewer a mirror, challenging their assumptions and asking question after question about the act of looking, of seeking, and how this act is transformative for both onlooker and subject.

Geert van Kesteren
Geert van Kesteren (born 1966) is a photographer based in Amsterdam. His photography is acclaimed for a cinematic feel of storytelling; an author with a camera that gives insights into the psyche and soul of conflict. His landmark books, 'Why Mister, Why?' and 'Baghdad Calling' about the war in Iraq, serve as a new model for the possibilities of engaged and innovative documentary. He is recipient of several major fellowships from the BKVB, Mondriaan and D&M Foundations and was awarded the Infinity Award 2009 in Photojournalism from the ICP in New York. His work is represented in the collection of the Dutch Photo Museum and Rijks Museum and presented in most major international magazines, including Newsweek, Stern, the Independent and GEO magazine. Van Kesteren’s photographs have been featured in numerous solo and group exhibitions, including Recontres d’ Arles, Visa d’Or and recently at the British Museum, the Barbican Art Gallery and the 2008 Brighton Photo Biennial. His first monograph, Mwendanjangula! Aids in Zambia, was published by Mets & Schilt in 2000. Since then Geert van Kesteren has published Why Mister, Why? (2004) and Baghdad Calling (2008). Both books, reflecting on the war in Iraq, became instant-classics. Van Kesteren was a nominee at Magnum Photos (2005-2008) and since 2006 in the Advisory Board of World Press Photo.

Renzo Martens
Dutch artist Renzo Martens has spent the past several years examining the role of the camera in places of severe political unrest, utilizing performance and satire to create metafilms that raise questions about the useof journalism and documentation. For his film Episode 1 (2003), he traveled to Chechnya and, instead of recording the women in line for food, the children in refugee camps, or the heavily armed soldiers, he turned the camera on himself, asking his subjects what they thought about him. For Episode 3, part of which was shown at Manifesta 7, Martens went to Congo, where he launched a two-year project that examined the exploitation of one of Africa’s major exports: images of poverty and suffering. In a characteristic mix of journalism and irony, Martens erects a blue neon billboard in one of the villages that reads ENJOY POVERTY (in English for the roaming photojournalists who might pass by) while also attempting to launch a program that would allow the continent’s poor to receive restitution for being the poster children for global poverty.