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NRC / Sometimes you feel like making art yourself (EN)

Saturday September 05 2009

Review in NRC Handelsblad.


Written by Hans Den Hartog Jager.

About solo exhibition "One moment, it's really beautiful!" in gallery Fons Welters Amsterdam (NL)


At first sight it seems rather easy what Oltheten does. In public spaces she ‘catches’ people in remarkable positions or acts. Three businessmen in suits for example, walking side by side in the street, at the same distance. A group of men putting their knees between the rails of a fence. Or two gentlemen side by side, leaning against a fence with their coat tails hanging over the rail in exactly the same way.


Oltheten combines these kind of pictures, and adds texts and suggestions to them like: ‘Actually I want to film him’, or (with the picture of the knees) ‘think about a theory’, and that is, because of its calculating artlessness, pretty humoristic.


So far Olthetens work seems pretty clear. It evens looks a bit familiar – think of Diane Arbus’ sense of ordinary and yet absurd situations. But: at the same time Oltheten gives you the suggestion of staging. At first sight you hardly want to believe it, because the people in her work look so natural. 


However, in a series of film fragments Oltheten unlocks part of the mystery. Each time first you see a black screen while you hear Oltheten ask things like: ‘wow, you walked/rubbed/dangled so nicely. Would you please do that again in front of the camera?’ And then a woman appears, crossing a path in kind of a tortoise way of moving, or a man stroking the arm rest of a bench in the park with his hand. It seems natural, although not entirely. After you’ve seen a few of the fragments you begin to imagine you recognize the moment that acting merges into naturalness again.


The ‘semi-kind of staging’ does not make Olthetens work less powerful. On the contrary. The growing awareness of her images being not ‘just’ found, but partly created in a great naturalness, relates  Oltheten to other artists. To Bruce Nauman for example, who in his films analyses human behavior with a lot of feeling for precision and details. Oltheten also observes, manipulates and molds. And she does it in such an infectious way that it is inevitable you start looking at the world with the Oltheten view. And that is an enrichment.