Through video, films, photographs, drawings, and print projects, Arnoud Holleman appropriates and creates imagery, blurring boundaries of documentation and fiction, reality and fantasy. While pivoting between media as well as commercial and fine art production, he consistently represents people. Holleman’s melancholic works leverage photography and layering to consider memory and the passage of time.
Holleman uses the potent combination of photography and words to test notions of biography. The photography, drawing, and text piece Hester (2005/1982) banks on each media to support the next in creating a portrait of a depressed woman. Two sketches on a single sheet of paper show a mother and daughter. Though each is drawn by the other, both appear alone, with downcast face and closed eyes. Take-away flyers complete the story: a black-and-white photo depicts Hester quietly holding the drawing, and inside her words describe a difficult relationship with art, her mother, and their shared depression.
Several of Holleman’s biographical works mine photography’s inherent evocation of the past. Sontag (2005/1992) is an evocative portrait of the artist over time. A column of text is flanked by pencil drawings of photos featuring seminal image-theorist Susan Sontag. Holleman’s hand-printed words relay his contested relationship with photography. The recollections move from then to now: an early conflation of snapshots and reality; an art school examination of drawing versus photography; the resemblance of his pregnant mother to the drawing/picture; the moment he finished the piece for exhibition.
In Marcel (2005) Holleman layers video on top of a mural-sized photograph of a bare-chested man. Exquisitely shot by photographers Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, his mouth is open and eyes are shut in intense agony or ecstasy. The projection element tracks junkies, caught by a camera perched voyeuristically above, in an alley going through the painful motions of their lives. On the accompanying soundtrack a voice speaks intimate thoughts, providing a subjective caption to what is seen. The narrator is presumably Marcel, who recorded the footage from his window. He muses on his empathy and distaste for the junkies, fears of death, conflicts with art, and the increasing occurrence of “experiencing” reality through someone else’s lens.
In the silently projected film Staphorst (2003), Holleman reworks footage of villagers from a notoriously conservative Dutch town. The original black-and-white reel was shot in 1959 and functioned as post-World War II state propaganda. Shown in movie theaters before the main attraction, it said to viewers, “this is us.” Holleman’s version intensifies the nostalgia to emphasize, “this was us.” He slows down recordings of the village women, clad in traditional hats, longs skirts, and heavy clogs, who hurry to avoid the invasive gaze of an unwanted camera.
These clips of retreat are interspersed with flashes of white like hushed memories before closed eyes. Shown floor to ceiling, Holleman’s overwhelming portrait of the past furthers the distance from the present.
Arnoud Holleman’s works ultimately suggest that understanding and presenting a person is as fugitive and complex as arriving at truth from a photograph.
Curator of Education and Exhibitions
Supported by the Mondriaan Foundation, Amsterdam.