— Delphine Bedel

Press: The Glow and the Reason

Publication: Exhibition Playtime, Cargo, Almere 2004

The Glow and the Reason
by Nina Folkersma

Still a little woozy from a party the night before, on a Saturday afternoon in July, I step into Delphine Bedel’s studio. She offers me a cup of tea and gets right down to it. This afternoon, she is going to tell me about her new project for Cargo in Almere, but first, she shows me some of her earlier work. She puts a tape into the video player, a compilation of her videos and performances. I watch as amusement parks, Halls of Mirrors, roller coaster rides and sugar candy pass me by. Labyrinths of light, sound and motion. Everything turns, revolves. A little girl spins around in a circle, twirling around the camera. A house tips over and falls on its head, again and again. My stomach, too, is beginning to churn.

Delphine tells about her fascination with ‘dizziness, vertigo and speed’, specifically in relation to today’s culture of amusement. Because of tourism, commerce and marketing, our cities are increasingly being changed into a kind of entertainment park: environments in which our experiences are completely regulated, as if each experience had been determined in advance. It is within such ‘scripted spaces’ – a term borrowed from Norman Klein, the American historian of urbanism and mass media – that Delphine seeks ways of experiencing something personal and real, ‘the delightful loss of control in a controlled space’. With the camera, she tries to hold on to this experience – the ‘high’, the dizziness, the glow, as both a visual and a physical experience. I can fully confirm that she has succeeded, certainly in the latter.

For Cargo, she wants to create three new works. The first will be a video panorama about the village of Nagele in Holland’s Northeast Polder. This village was built in the 1950s as one of the first of the Netherlands’ ‘model villages’. In a relatively short time, the Dutch government conjured a fully-formed town out of earth reclaimed from the sea, a place intended for a community of agricultural workers, people working and defining the land. According to Delphine, you can view Nagele as a forerunner of the city of Almere, another of the model cities thought up by the Dutch government for the new polder.

Nagele was designed by the famous architects of De 8 en Opbouw, including Gerrit Rietveld, J.B. Bakema, Aldo van Eyck and Cornelis van Eesteren. Characteristic of designs by these representatives of the modernist New Objectivity movement are the straight lines, strict order, functional arrangement and most of all, the flat roofs. Even today, people still argue about whether houses with pointed roofs should be allowed in Nagele. Delphine describes what it looks like today, an old-fashioned, monotone village of identical row houses and an empty, deserted centre. A bit creepy, even, ‘almost like Twin Peaks’. My first impression, leafing through a book about Nagele that Delphine hands me, is that it is all rather dismal. (1) It is empty, bare, flat. Where is the ‘high’ here, the dizziness? What in heaven’s name is Delphine Bedel – used to the big urban spectacle and the context of scripted spaces – going to do with this endless, flat polder?

Reading more closely, I find that I am mistaken. Here too, the space is filled with directed experiences, here too it is bursting with prescribed intentions and scenarios. In Nagele, I am told, one will ‘experience a feeling of solidarity and belonging’, be imbued with ‘the sense of community’ and live in harmony with nature. The New Objectivity architects clearly had in mind just which experiences they intended their homes and town planning to generate. They strove to achieve nothing less than a ‘new feeling for life’. Virtually everything was planned to the minutest of details. Not only details concerning the social and religious composition of the population, but even their psychological makeup had all been meticulously taken into consideration. The official criteria for the character of the ‘solid type of person’, they planned for was ‘rationality, sobriety and a materialistic and practical temperament’.

Delphine tells me about the second video work she wants to make for Cargo. As a counterpoint to the rectilinear logic and rationalism of Nagele, she envisions a work that is most of all intimate and personal in nature. She hasn’t absolutely decided on the form and content, but it will probably be a video of someone drawing lines between the freckles on her body . She shows me a photograph, a video still from a video – her bare back filled with random lines and planes, like a capricious city map. It is sensual and organic – everything that Nagele is not. Then I remember that Delphine had also used this method – juxtaposing two totally different experiences – for a project realized in Vienna in late 2001 (2). Here too, she had placed two video productions across from one another: one of a calm and misty view of Vienna, filmed from a revolving restaurant with a panorama view, juxtaposed with an orgasmic explosion of light and colour, filmed in the famous Prater amusement park, also in Vienna. No explicit value judgements, just the one in balance with the other, playful and contemplative at the same time. This method of working is characteristic of Delphine Bedel. She dives deep into her subject, conducts extensive research ahead of time, but for the finished work has discreetly retreated to the background. Stepping back, she leaves space for someone else’s experience.

When I leave, Delphine gives me a sketch of the third work she will show in Cargo. Two neon texts are to be installed in the entrance, one on each side of the passage to where her videos will be projected. ‘Play and No-Man’s-Land’. Exactly. This is where her work is to be found. Between play and anonymity – with all the space in between to approach the work itself.

Nagele, ed., Anneke van Veen, photography Theo Baart, Cary Markerink, Fragment Publishers, Amsterdam 1988
Das Experiment 8, Secession, Vienna. October-November 2001