Inge en Martin Riebeek
30 August - 26 October 2014
The seeds for the installation The Essential were sown in 2002, while Martin and Inge Riebeek were working on a piece commissioned by a juvenile penitentiary in Veenhuizen: Heaven at 4 am. This installation consists of an interactive treadmill. The runner is filmed and plays the lead role in an imaginary escape. Depending on the time at which he begins running and the pace chosen, he is shown various film images of the world outside the penitentiary. Should the runner opt for a quiet walk, for instance, he gets to see images of old people sitting on benches in city parks or of sandy white beaches. But if he makes a sprint, he ends up in a disco or watching a striptease act.
The Riebeeks devised a route for the virtual escape that ultimately leads to the southernmost tip of Italy. Along the way to this destination, they shot film in twelve European cities. But as they filmed people without asking for their permission, they soon began to feel like voyeurs. When permission was given, the spontaneity vanished. So they decided to engage passersby in conversation by asking them 'What is your dream? What does your paradise look like?' That resulted in remarkable portraits with all sorts of wishes. People dreamed of eternal love, of being allowed to be who they are, of having lots of money, a fascinating career or lots of booze, drugs or sex. And there are differences: in Nairobi people dream of a home with a garden; in Turkey and America the accent lies with the well-being of one's family. A prestigious job is important in Shanghai, while passion and desire play a significant role in Rio de Janeiro.
These encounters, which once began as the gathering of dreams for young people in a penitentiary, became an end in themselves for this artist couple. The format is always clear and shot in a single take: a person walks up to a fixed camera, looks into the lens and tells a story. No use is made of zooming in, or of other filmic devices and special effects. It's just the camera and the reality of the person and his or her story.
In recent years the artists have been posing other questions? 'What, to you, is the essence of life right now? What or whom has shaped your character?' This has led to mini-documentaries in which a life is compressed into a few minutes. The tone, in comparison to the responses elicited from 'What is your paradise?', is different from the start. There people were sharing their desires, but here they tell about what has happened to them. It's moving to see just how open those being interviewed are in front of the camera. Especially when you consider the fact that they've met Martin or Inge simply by chance out on the street, and that this encounter never lasted more than a few hours, including perhaps four or five takes. People tell the Riebeeks stories that they normally tell only to very close friends, and sometimes not even to them. The selection, made by Inge and Martin on returning from their travels, provides us with a glimpse of the other and of what is essential to him or her. But there is more. Taking inspiration from the philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas, in which 'the Other' gives meaning to our existence, they provide us through their work with a glimpse of the essence of our own being.