To create the video installation The Krazyhouse, Rineke Dijkstra built a white wooden studio within a club in Liverpool (The Krazyhouse) and filmed a selection of club patrons dancing alone to music of their choice. The resulting piece includes footage of five different individuals, projected on four different walls of a single room. It may not sound that exciting to watch an amateur clubber dance alone in front of a white wall, but Dijkstra cannily tunes into the energy of her subject and carefully reveals something thrilling in the human.
The most compelling of the clubbers was Dee. For the first couple of minutes of music she moved slowly and awkwardly, like a teenage girl with stage fright or someone who is playing out possible dance moves in her head but can’t quite let them out into her body. But then, almost imperceptibly, Dee’s energy shifted and I found myself watching a young woman confidently shaking, shimmying and lip syncing, reveling in the moment.
This video installation was one of the most recent pieces in Dijkstra’s retrospective at the Guggenheim and it brought together many of the themes that emerged through the 30 years of work—raw vulnerability, the experience of looking and being seen, the performance of identity—but most specifically pinpointed the unlikely relationship between shy discomfort and confident self-assertion. Rather than being opposites, Dijkstra’s work suggests that they are interconnected aspects of an honest projection of self; in these dancers, confidence is tinged around the edges with the shy desire to be seen. The moment of Dee’s transformation was a moment I have experienced a hundred times over on dance floors, at social gatherings, in the work place–the moment of crossing a threshold from internal to external, of learning to relax into performing myself.
In another of Dijkstra’s video projects, I see a Woman Crying, a group of Liverpudlian school children respond to Picasso’s Woman Weeping. The camera rests on the children, never turning to look at the painting in question, focusing our attention on the interactions among the children. Unlike Dijkstra’s portraits, where the subjects directly confront us, here the painting acts as the mediator.
The children begin reticent, cautiously describing what they see in the image—“I can see a woman crying” — and gradually gain momentum in speculating upon the precise emotions and the narrative that created them. Their insights range from “maybe she is crying because no one looks like her” and “other people are scared of her” (this is after all a cubist piece of Picasso’s) to “maybe she is a ghost” and “she’s lonely because no one can see her.” There is an interesting interplay between the suggestibility of the students as they roll with each other’s ideas, and the revelation of individual emotional landscapes through the specific comments they make.
During the artist talk last Tuesday, Dijkstra said that she is looking for an exchange to happen between her and her subject,and that in a successful piece there is “a recognition of something truthful in that person.” In that hunt for truthfulness Dijkstra both reveals the isolation of our interiors and the longing to have that interior be honestly seen.