Berlin, December 15
NOME presents

Navigating Polarities

Marjolijn Dijkman

December 15 - February 23, 2019

The layered generosity of Marjolijn Dijkman

Over the past nearly two decades, the prolific practice of Dutch artist Marjolijn Dijkman has resulted in a rich and diverse oeuvre, without becoming eclectic. Indeed, a number of red threads running through her practice can be deciphered.

Starting her practice as a professional artist upon graduating from the free media department at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy Amsterdam in 2001, her films, installations, and interventions were by and large dominated by concrete and often site-specific questions and themes such as the right to communicate in public space in ​Plakatieren Verboten!​ (2006), the authenticity of the Dutch landscape, ‘real’ versus man-made nature, and questions of use value in ​Forest (2001) and ​All Alone among the Stars​ (2010), or global trade and its cultural understanding in for instance ​Here Be Dragons​ (2010).

Near the end of the noughties, Dijkman started zooming out to draw the background against which these often location specific, yet glocal topics, can be understood. Indeed, her works began to address more broad universal themes that play into the overarching conundrum of how we, as human species, relate to the world and universe around us.

To avoid talking about everything, and thus nothing at all, ‘relating to the universe’ can be broken down into questions about how we know, how we influence and predict, and how we appropriate. It is clear however, that these questions are strongly intertwined: the quest for knowledge brings with it the desire to predict, and the power to influence.And history has shown us, that the habit of human influencing has mostly been done from a perspective of overpowering appropriation, with a clear gain for (a subset of the) human species, and a loss, suffered on someone/something else.

An anchor work in understanding the above can be found in ​Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (2005-2015).

A decade-long cornerstone of her practice, this work comprises of a collection of photographs that observe how people organise their living environments across the world. As with most of Dijkman’s works, the title is highly relevant, anchoring the work within cultural and scientific history. In this case, the title references the first modern atlas as compiled by Abraham Ortelius in 1570. Dijkman’s ​Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, ​however, is not an atlas of landscapes and territories but an atlas of the ways in which man ​relates t​ o the world he inhabits. The focus on the relational is made apparent through the categorization scheme deployed: all typical context specific data allowing one to understand the photograph in time and space is omitted. The only cataloging system in place is organized according to human actions such as ‘adapt’, ‘control’, ‘demarcate’, ‘embrace’, ‘honour’, ‘profit’, ‘speculate’,… effectively reducing anything and everything referenced in the photograph, to a product or result of human intervention.

In spite of our actions upon the universe, the limit of our knowledge (within the dominant scientific knowledge system) about the universe is made absurdly apparent in ​Composition of the Universe​ (2011). The work is the result of a commission from mathematician Martin Lo to ​Enough Room for Space,​ the research focused and inherently collaborative art initiative founded by Marjolijn Dijkman and Maarten Vanden Eynde in 2005. ​Composition of the Universe​ is a visualization of the current dominant model of the universe consisting of 74% dark energy, 22% dark matter and 4% normal matter, i.e atoms. It invites the viewer to reshuffle its shapes to create equally complete universes. If we know that we can explain the workings of only 4% of the universe, the possible compositions are endless.

However, our human knowledge system is of course not limited to the dominant scientific ones. This embrace of different knowledge systems throughout time and space is apparent in a number of Dijkman’s works.

In ​Cultivating Probability​ (2015) and ​In Our Hands​ (2015) it is moreover linked to the human practice of future forecasting, prediction and influencing. Some of the objects in ​Cultivating Probability​ are interpretations of ceremonial objects found in the collections of Museum Volkenkunde in Leiden and the Africa Museum in Berg en Dal, that were made to predict – or ward off – the future. Others are influenced by historical as well as contemporary objects, rituals or technologies used for similar reasons, around the world. The object’s shapes might be recognizable, the material references clear, but their size suggest an otherworldly user. It is their size, more than anything else, that turns them into something uncanny; familiar and unfamiliar at the same time, attractive yet slightly disturbing.

In the dual-screen video work ​In Our Hands, ​Dijkman choreographed a sequence of hand gestures derived from spiritual, political and military contexts, and developed to influence, heal, predict or ward off the future. Devoid of context, the hands appear to be ours on one side, and reach out to us on the other side. The accompanying sound piece is a composition made of 18 computer generated binaural tones or brainwaves. Alternative medicine communities claim that these tones could help induce relaxation, meditation, creativity and other desirable mental states.
In Dijkman’s practice of the past decade, the concepts of knowledge systems, prediction, influence and appropriation rise time and again in works that are artistically refreshing and intellectually stimulating (even when binaural tones are not used). The ever so short descriptions above do not do justice to their richness, yet may illustrate how the works function as evocative entities, be they sculptures, films or installations. They attract and entice contemplation. They invite associative meandering of the mind, yet avoid pointless surface gliding. They challenge what we think we know. They are generous and smart, without becoming didactic or worse pedantic.

Above all, they point towards a call for modesty: A modesty that includes embracing the unknowns, a modesty that accepts the existence of alternative knowledge systems throughout time and space, a modesty that takes into account the invisibles made visible, and the invisibles which remain.

In light of her practice, one cannot but conclude the absurdness of placing ourselves as homo faber at the centre of the universe. It seems apt to, in response to this, summarize our relation vis-a-vis our planet and the uses to which we have put and continue to put it to, in a 3’20” animation as Dijkman did in ​Blue Marble​ (2009). A tiny, yet equally arrogant retaliation.

The latest works in Dijkman’s practice, as presented in her solo show in NOME, Berlin, indicate a slight tilting from the universal theme questioning our relation to the universe towards the ever more pressing and overarching conundrum of climate change ecology and life in the anthropocene. Viewing humankind as just one of the elements on the planet, the work ​Navigating Polarities​ (2018) focuses on the continuous quest of the planet for harmony within itself.

In ​Reclaiming Vision​ (2018) focus shifts to the living biological systems on the planet (in particular, the ones invisible to the human eye) and our interactions with it. Microorganisms from brackish Scandinavian water seemingly play the lead role, yet their actions are not self-induced. They are rather directed in a sequence of scenes, unmistakingly acknowledging and once again questioning our self-proclaimed position as puppet masters.

Building up on an oeuvre spanning nearly two decades, these last works in particular prompt the question: ​can w​ e live a good anthropocene*?


Karen Verschooren

*With thanks to Kim Stanley Robinson for bringing up the question and taking a first attempt at answering it during his lecture on October 30, 2018 at BAMPFA, Berkeley, CA.


Karen Verschooren is a contemporary art curator based in Belgium. As Head of Exhibitions for STUK Arts Center, Leuven, she curates a series of solo exhibitions and Artefact festival. From 2008–15 she curated exhibitions for Z33 House for Contemporary Art in Hasselt, Belgium.

Navigating Polarities
Reclaiming vision: a neo-neo-zoological drama by Jon Bywater