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Installation view of Anne-Mie van Kerckhoven's "European Center for Futuristic Art" at Kunsthalle Burn

Anne-Mie van Kerckhoven
Installation view of Head Nurse

Anne-Mie van Kerckhoven
detail of digital image from Head Nurse

Anne-Mie van Kerckhoven
detail of digital image from Head Nurse

Anne-Mei van Kerckhoven
Installation view from Deeper

Anne-Mie van Kerckhoven
Installation view from Rorty, the Headroom

Anne-Mie van Kerckhoven
Installation view from Rorty, the Headroom
Digital Gyre
by Max Henry

Anne-Mie van Kerckhoven, "Europasches Zentrum fr Futuristische Kunst," Jan. 29-Mar. 23, 2005, at the Kunsthalle Bern, Helvetiaplatz 1, 2005 Bern Switzerland.

Since the 1970s, the Belgian artist Anne-Mie van Kerckhoven (b. 1951) has developed an interdisciplinary practice that combines drawing, painting, computer-generated images, video, light-boxes and texts.

Known largely in European art circles, the Antwerp-based artist can be linked to a new generation of multimedia artists whose installations explore the spaces and imagery opened up by 21st century digital technology. In the gallery, she uses new digital animation technologies as well as elements of exhibition design and more conventional modes of artistic practice like photography and drawing. Her sensibility variously combines elements that relate to the British Pop artist Richard Hamilton's unfettered manipulation of the photographic image, Martha Roslers feminist take on pop culture, Lucas Samaras' playful approach to materials and structure and Nam June Paik's vintage video colors.

Her recent survey at the Kunsthalle Bern bore the rather all-encompassing title, "The European Center for Futuristic Art," clearly indicating the artist's orientation towards our Brave New World. The works date from 1995 to the present, and are installed in a superstructure that links from one project to another.

One major work, titled Head Nurse to incorporate the notion of the artist as a healer of societys ills, presents a series of "sleazy" pin-up images along a perforated metal sheet on a wooden structure. Appropriated from girlie magazines pre-dating the sexual revolution of the 1970s, the images have been digitally processed to heighten their grain and color -- a painterly process modernized via technology.

Projected on a computer screen is an animated parallel to the digital stills, a slow, seductive flow of distorted, black-and-white pornographic images that beckons the voyeuristic art audience to watch as its sequence unfolds like a striptease.

These repetitious images, each slightly different from the other, reproduce themselves like a computer virus or meme. The human brain with its cognitive associations absorbs the fleeting images, whose blatant sexual content is disrupted by the computer's distortion. Here, Van Kerckhoven is melding the archetypal sexual fetish with the emblem of contemporary technology -- the personal computer. Clearly, our "influencing machine" is also fetishized, perhaps even psychotic.

Such alienation is profoundly depicted in the 44-minute video projection Deeper (2003-04), a series of 19 scenes from ordinary life, combining live and computer-generated imagery, starring the professional male dancer and choreographer Marc Vanrunxt. The graceful, well-paced narrative has a moody and at times dissonant musical score, acting as a soundtrack to the apocalyptic feeling that prevails throughout the exhibition.

The 19 sequences of Deeper are like a dance of death, in which the protagonist's disembodied observations of his immediate urban surroundings take on the characteristics of the angel in Wim Wenders classic independent film, Wings of Desire (1988).

Van Kerckhoven also utilizes black monochromes, painted on the walls and interspersed through some of the galleries, as a reference to Malevich and the possibility of evoking higher states of consciousness. One can look to the Suprematist square as an early virtual void with its bottomless wellspring of spatial depth.

Van Kerckhoven's fascination with alchemy also informs the video projection Rorty, the Headroom (2004-05). The mandala-like computer-driven animation features brightly colored Pop interiors (resembling paintings by Patrick Caufield or Dexter Dalwood) that are activated when the viewer passes in front of a network of sensors. The morphing hyperlinks include texts and numerous "philosophical" rooms where people are seen entering and exiting the virtual frame. The interactive set-up mimics the brains neurological patterns and through movement the spectator gets the sensation of being submerged into a virtual vacuum.

The "Rorty" referred to in the title is the American philosopher Richard Rorty, whose theories inform van Kerckhoven's work. Rorty argues that truth and insight do not depend on a single philosophical viewpoint but on the aggregate total of cultural production. In other words, no single dogma can rule the search for meaning, especially where the artist -- who acts as both scientist and philosopher -- is concerned.

Van Kerckhovens intense social analysis extends as well to occult mathematics. The number 19 repeatedly turns up in her work, almost like a mantra. It turns out that the number -- a prime -- can be related to a pattern of concentric hexagons. It's also a sacred number in the Koran, and the number of steps in the medieval alchemical process that turns lead into gold. In Rorty a countdown sequence flashes on and off the screen between shifting moments, colors, abstracts, words, and room interiors -- a visual roundelay of altered states.

Van Kerckhoven presents her doomsday scenarios as a scientific query caught in an existential labyrinth of newly formed virtual archetypes. Her works raise the ontological question of the possibility of a new modernism in order to enable us to exist in a drastically new environment. She conveys the supernatural element of technology as in what Yeats described in his concept of the gyre:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre/The falcon cannot hear the falconer;/Things fall apart; the center cannot hold/Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world/

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere/The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity.

Van Kerckhoven's outlook combines anxiety, pessimism and hope in equal parts. We stand at the threshold of a digital realm, she seems to say, that is a scientific and artistic enigma. For van Kerckhoven, the question is whether we are losing control of ourselves in this transpiring dream.

MAX HENRY lives in New York.