Exhibition: Willem de Rooij’s “Whiteout” at KW

Left: Jeroen de Rijke/Willem de Rooij, I’m Coming Home in Forty Days (still), 1997, 16mm film. KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin. ©The artist and Galerie Buchholz, Berlin/Cologne/New York | Right: Exhibition Flyer KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin

With Whiteout, the KW Institute for Contemporary Art is showing the work of Willem de Rooij from September 14 until December 17, 2017

Berlin Art Week is on the starting blocks: Alongside the approximately 200 galleries taking part this year, private collections, the trade fairs Art Berlin and Positions Berlin, as well as the capital’s museums and cultural institutions will all be presenting an impressive program between the 13th and 17th of September, 2017. Taking a closer look inside the KW will be especially worth it. Dutch artist Willem de Rooij deals with the problem of how images are represented, and in these times of “fake news,” the topic has never been more relevant.

The word “whiteout” describes a meteorological phenomenon in the polar regions that can lead to an impairment in orientation and to feelings of vertigo: Snow-covered areas stretch ahead as far as the eye can see in a hazy, gleaming white atmosphere and out into infinity, the horizon melting into nebulous terrain. But the term also refers to a white liquid that can be used to improve texts and images and, as a consequence, change their meaning – some may know the product as Tipp-Ex. In this sense, de Rooji uses the title to introduce his exhibition at KW right at the foundation of his observations.

At the center of Whiteout are recent as well as seminal works made by de Rooji over the last 20 years. Included are pieces made in collaboration with Jeroen de Rijke, with whom de Rooji worked between 1994 and 2006 under the name of de Rijke/de Rooji. Based on the 16mm film I’m Coming Home in Forty Days, which was shot in 1997 during a sailing trip around an iceberg in Ilulissat’s Disko Bay in western Greenland, both artists operate with the physical and meaningful qualities of the time they occupy. After de Rijke’s death in 2006, de Rooji returned to Ilulissat in 2014 where he recorded the howling of thousands of sled dogs. The installation Ilulissat captures this communication taking place over all dimensions on 12 speakers. These two works are now meeting for the first time in the KW hall in a dialog about cognition, recognition, and memory.

De Rooji’s awareness has always applied the artistic and medial image as a container for information and meaning. He once said in an interview that he consumes images like other people do words. The arrangement, circulation, and reproduction of photography, video, sound, sculpture, and text play the same role in his oeuvre that the legibility and interpretation of images do within the dynamics of political and social communication. The two installations compress themselves into a distillation of Ilulissat that consciously dissolves the clichés of Greenland. Instead of a picturesque object of desire, a dark grey and icy landscape is opened up which coagulates into meaningless coolness through a break with medially pre-formed memory. It’s a shift that leaves the viewer disoriented and triggers doubts about the image in and of itself.

That’s how Willem de Rooji’s practice works: Casually speaking, it’s always about the power and powerlessness of images. The exhibition at KW reveals their inconsistency as well as their cultural and individual interpretation and sharpens our ability to see how essential the questioning, consideration, and contextualization of images has become in today’s world.

“Whiteout” by Willem de Rooij is on show at the KW Institute for Contemporary Art in Berlin from the 14th of September until the 17th of December, 2017. The opening will take place during Berlin Art Week on the 13th of September at 7pm. Further information can be found on their website here or via their Instagram account (@kwinstitutefcontemporaryart) here.

Translation: Melissa Frost

Fashion, art, and pop culture are her cosmos; the written word, the material she uses to bring it all together. After studying in Leipzig, Lola Fröbe moved to Berlin in 2014. She works as a PR consultant and freelance journalist for publications such as L'Officiel, i-D, and Material Magazine.