Magazine article Art Monthly

Marjolijn Dijkman

Magazine article Art Monthly

Marjolijn Dijkman

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The work of Marjolijn Dijkman has the potential to induce in viewers a serious case of brow-wrinkled guilt, paranoia or millennial fantasy. Her subjects, which include ecological meltdown, neoliberal brutalisation and speculative physics, are certainly serious. Thankfully, the Dutch artist's work is rooted in a gentle no-nonsense wit and a general air of analytic calm. Taking the form of site-specific sculpture, video and photography, Dijkman's practice explores ideas underpinning the categorical fields of scientific research and museology, and analyses the mainstream propagation of images, cultural norms and the exploitation of natural resources. Part of a larger discourse about globalisation itself, Dijkman has exhibited in big-hitter biennales in, for example, Mercosul in 2009 and Sharjah in 2007. A current hiatus in air miles--the artist, I'm told, is exhausted--has coincided with two significant solo exhibitions in the UK this year. Presented first at the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham in a modest exhibition curated by Jonathan Watkins (who also directed the previously mentioned edition of Sharjah), Dijkman's work is currently on view in an expanded show at Spike Island in Bristol, which has been curated by the gallery's new director Helen Legg (who formerly worked as a curator at Ikon).

Dominating both exhibitions is Dijkman's ever-expanding archive of photographs Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, 2005-, taken at unnamed sites around the world, printed as posters and pasted onto the gallery walls. The artist has deployed a category system to arrange thousands of images around key words such as: 'abuse', 'civilize', 'correct', 'demonstrate', 'erase', liberate', 'measure', 'occupy', 'protest', 'strike' and 'warn'. If the categories sound portentous, the artist has chosen to illustrate them with images that undercut their implied gravity: a kitsch model of a dog in a shop display beside a Christmas tree; a faux life-sized horse wrapped snugly in tartan; a model cow standing above a well-positioned milking pail. She clearly enjoys the subversion of systems and words: the category 'burst', for example, features images of a smashed bus stop and a ruptured pavement; 'regenerate' is accompanied by images of hastily patched up walls and windows--the opposite of urban regeneration, surely? More importantly, the photographic project, as a whole, is an exercise in folly--her attempt to map the world from personal experience could, quite simply, never be enough. The title Theatrum Orbis Terrarum refers to the first true modern atlas, which was published by Flemish cartographer Abraham Ortelius in 1570, and translates as 'Theatre of the World'. Like Dijkman's project, Ortelius's 53-page atlas delimits an understanding of the known world that seeks universality but is deeply compromised by methodological pratfalls: Ortelius's maps are, quite clearly to modern eyes, rather lacking in crucial details--recently discovered South America looks a bit like modern day France, while undiscovered Australia is a turd-like lump troubling the Antarctic coastline.

Theatrum Orbis Terrarum partakes of a humour that is not immediately graspable: there is no clear irony, no cynical parody--just images, one after another, each demanding to be looked at and each allowed to dissolve into its own mire of iconological absurdity. This cumulative wit is, it seems to me, more prevalent in continental Europe than in the UK or US (our humour seems more rooted in verbally punning, text and bawdiness). Dijkman's humour is close, perhaps, to the photographic projects of Jean-Marc Bustamante, notably the French artist's contribution to Documenta X in 1997: Bitter Almonds was a book containing photographs of anonymous suburban non-sites that Europeanised Robert Smithson's photographed Monuments of Passaic, 1967. Bypassing the cinematic qualities of forsaken suburbia that so intrigued Smithson, Dijkman's exploration of the absurdity of place and non-place is more akin to a sprawling internet image search, with its miscues and surprises. …

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