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Martijn Hendriks: Interview by committee.

Untitled (12 Glowing Men), 2008. Still from a single channel video DVD, projection and website. Color and black and white, sound. 4 min 10 sec loop.

Martijn Hendriks is a Dutch contemporary artist who works with found images and video. Selecting from an abundance of defaced and marginalized media he wages a low-key struggle to dissolve the misinformed haze that permeates image searches and suburban videography. By salvaging and promoting a variety of different source material, and through systematic alteration and redistribution of that material, he explores inherent paradoxes in today’s society.

For the purpose of this feature we decided to interview Martijn by committee; to give him not only the chance to write about aspects of his work that interested him most but also the choice not to write about other aspects, which although no where near as interesting as what he has to say, is interesting in itself.

Question (please answer at least one of the following):

1a. Do you have an inkling of what first drove you to make the work you do?

1b. What is it about the world that influences you to make the work you do?

1c. What message, if any, are you trying to convey?

Answer: 1a.

I think a returning drive in much of what I’ve done lately has had to do with a semi-destructive urge, or to put it in other words, perhaps better ones; I’ve wanted to make work that somehow deals with the collapsing of certainty. I’ve been working a lot with appropriation of existing images in many recent pieces, and my interventions in those images are essentially attempts to take away from those images, to disrupt their claims. The biggest claim of images, of course, their truly essential feature, is to show us things, to make things visible and to give them a place, and I’ve kind of been drawn to messing with that. Over the last two years or so I increasingly started looking for ways of not showing things, of negotiating visibility, displacing things, contradictions, interrupting, destabilizing things, negation, repetition, incomplete images, and interventions whose realization somehow contradicts the original purpose of images.
In a way this puts me in a contradictory position; there’s something not quite right about questioning visibility and images through, well, images and visual art. There is something odd about that situation. But somehow this is exactly where I want to be. It’s easier to see this and to put this into words now than when I first started doing this kind of work. I don’t remember when exactly this kind of work started making sense. It’s more that other kinds of work stopped making sense.

Untitled (good party), 2008 Inkjet print upon inkjet print. #1 in a series of double inkjet prints. 39 x 27 inches.

Question (please answer at least one of the following):

2a. Contradiction in this case is unavoidable, and yes, context is important. How do you see your context evolving in the future?

2b. Are your destructive urges representative of a desire to address media conditioning within yourself?

2c. In what ways do your images negotiate our perceptions of them?

Answer: 2b.

Maybe in a certain way they are, although not necessarily with the intent to truly sidestep or withdraw from that conditioning. I’ve always thought that the idea of conditioning makes things sound a little too one-directional and heavy handed. It’s more that most things that I start doing are in some way related to media images, informed by them. They enter my work on many levels such as through references, ideas, concepts, even simply as the material I work with. So yes, I think that this desire is a drive at a basic level of my work. But addressing media and producing a critical perspective on the role they play in my thinking are results rather than intentions. It’s just that when I follow a certain development of a work, it often makes most sense to consider and to unsettle the things I know best, the things that have a strong relation to other things that seem significant to me. Those things largely come from media such as film, video, the Internet and art.

You can have it both and you can have it all (detail), 2008. Three attempts to make found paparazzi photographs of Britney Spears capture the moment better. Three archival inkjet prints. 35 x 37,5 cm, 35 x 38,5 cm, 36 x 55 cm.

Question (please answer at least one of the following):

3a. Can you define what makes an image attractive to you?

3b. Would you consider yourself an iconoclast?

3c. You work within the western construct of art, how do you imagine your projects interacting with non-western ideas?

Answer: 3a.

I am attracted to many images but for different reasons. In general I tend to like images the most when they can’t be seen fully or grasped immediately. When you know that there is something missing from an image. Or when you know it is a copy of another image, a double. I’m attracted to those moments when the status of an image is disputed or unclear. I like images that are incomplete, or images whose original meaning gets turned into its opposite. I guess this is one of the reasons I started working with defaced images that I found on the internet. This was something that at first started as part of my routine of saving images every day from the Internet as reference, or because they have something I was looking for. At a certain point I realized that a kind of focus had slipped into that routine— for a while I was mostly saving images that were somehow turned against themselves. Many of them were images of Saddam or Britney Spears. You could still recognize the people in those images but things were added to them or parts of them had been removed. It was interesting to see how these images had brought iconoclasm some new meaning. For traditional iconoclasts, for example those who turned against Catholic imagery in 1566 in the Netherlands, where I live now, the point was largely to destroy religious images. They had come to stand for a decadent display of wealth and a worshiping of false icons. The iconoclasm of today is still directed against people and institutions whose images have come to stand for their false worshiping. But at the same time, iconoclasm has fundamentally changed now that images travel so much easier through the internet and other media. It seems that now, iconoclasm depends not just on defacing images but on putting the results out there for all to see, copying them and distributing them. For that reason, something is left that keeps part of their original meaning intact, so that the act of violence onto the image is clear. The attraction of those images is that they still show their original subjects even while they’re undermined. There is a conflict in these images, where we don’t really know how to interpret them in a single way.
In my recent works I have found that simple techniques are better than complex interventions to produce the results that I am looking for. The interventions into images that I am most attracted to are often very simple alterations that somehow work in subtle ways with the complexity of the image and visibility, like erasing, hiding, displacing, repeating, cropping, blowing up, re-editing and putting things side by side. And another thing is that I like the concept of taking something all the way, like the video work for which I’m digitally removing every single bird from Hitchcock’s movie The Birds. I still cannot believe that I am doing that piece, it is so much work. But I like that aspect of it. So much of that is about absence; you don’t see the birds, sometimes you hardly see my intervention in the image, but you know about these things.

Still from Untitled (Give us today our daily terror), 2008. Single channel video. Color, sound, 119 minutes – ongoing. Exact copy of Hitchcock’s 1963 film The Birds from which all birds have been removed.

Question (please answer at least one of the following):

4a. When you talk about taking things all the way, do you mean identifying in and out points for the source material?

4b. By documenting defiled images you are adding a third layer to an already compounded image. Are you suggesting that iconoclasm is actually a way to produce a new meaning.

4c. Do you feel that the reality of intentional absence is stronger than actual presence?

Answer: 4c.

There is something powerful about the act of creating a void or absence when working with found or existing images. Perhaps part of the strength of such absence is that it introduces a disjunction between form and content. In my video piece of The Birds without the birds, the terror of that film is still amazing. But the source of the terror has changed. By taking out the birds, terror isn’t given a form anymore, which instead is something we start doing as viewers. Our refusal of true absence or void is an important aspect for me in working with absence, erasure, hiding, etc. We don’t really accept those things; we start filling the void immediately, imagining what was there or what it is that we’re not seeing. That’s an interesting aspect of absence. It is as if we don’t accept things not to be visible, not to be known or made available. And as such, displacing or hiding things instead of presenting them is also a matter of leaving part of the work to the viewer. With The Birds without the birds, the source of the terror shifts to the viewer. In that sense, working with absence could be compared to telling a good joke. Jokes also depend on a void, something that is left unsaid. The punch of a good joke really comes from the listener who understands that something very particular is left unsaid; a listener who finishes the joke by completing for himself what is left out by the person who tells the joke. And this completing happens on a different level, it could not have been articulated in the same words as the joke was told in. I figure that is why jokes are never funny when they’re explained. They lose their power. Of course the same is true of art works, because all art depends on something that is not completely given yet, not fully present in one way or another. Intentionally working with absence is a way of putting that aspect of art to work.

I feel that erasure in some situations is a very strong form of alteration to work with, but at the same time it is just one way of approaching uncertainty or exploring the possibilities of a disjunction between form and content. In a way, such disjunction or uncertainty was also central to 12 Glowing Men, a video I did which didn’t involve any material erasure. Instead I added another layer: in this case an overtly spectacular layer of digital effects over a key scene of Sidney Lumet’s 1957 film 12 Angry Men. The original movie is in black and white, my addition is in shimmering colors. The original scene deals with guilt, justice, prejudice and doubt, whereas my alteration of the scene is a kind of default digital effect. In a way it is a completely dumb effect, too easy and light to explore the dark subject of the source material. But this dumbness and lightness were an essential part of the material I wanted to work with, it offered another layer of re-appropriation. Using readily available material is not just about appropriating visual material but at least as much about the ways of seeing and reading, the forms of legibility that come with that material. The different dimensions of the work come from completely opposite worlds, and at the same time, once together their dissonance or uneasy combination of a cinematic masterpiece and a canned digital effect starts having its own relevance to how we see that image and how we relate both to visual form and a content (violence, guilt, justice, doubt) that is again very relevant today. So strictly speaking the work is about combination and stacking layers of meaning. But it does rely on a kind of gap, an absence between several levels or interpretations of the work.

In the black of this long night, 2008. Installation view. Attempt to organize Google Image Search results according to defacement tactics Jpeg slideshow transferred to DVD, projection, 15 min 20 secs loop.

Answer: 4a.

What I mean by this is the idea of doing something against all odds as an important dimension of an art work – the art work as the result of a focus or insistence that would seem ridiculous or untenable in any other context than art. I often work with a rule, a concept, a short description for a work – and in realizing that concept, there is something that introduces another layer of meaning for me. In a way the work is given a performative dimension of which the visual work will be a result. And I’ve realized that I like this performative dimension best when it introduces a kind of questionable or unproductive element, so that I really need to believe in something to go through with it. Making an art work is also about believing in something enough to follow it through, to stick with it even when that something lacks all credibility or value.

Untitled (12 Glowing Men), 2008. Still from a single channel video DVD, projection and website. Color and black and white, sound. 4 min 10 sec loop. Part of an online exhibition ( curated by New York based artist Damon Zucconi, a dedicated website was set up for this work at

Question (please answer at least one of the following):

5a.Your work relies heavily on the premise of the internet, a medium initially developed by the US military.  Is this context considered in your practice?

5b. Your recent use of defiled media images seems symbolic of a deeper moral or societal degradation, is it?

5c. Are you a gleaner or an anarchist?

Answer: 5b.

I don’t necessarily think so. I think the degradation would be much deeper if the original images were completely left alone. In a way I find those images equally moralistic as immoral. I mean that there is a kind of deep conviction about right and wrong in the defiling of these images. Like in the iconoclasm I mentioned, there is something about these images that suggests the people who did the defiling felt strongly about the false claim of the original images that they attacked.
At the same time, they are symbolic of a moral crisis, which shows itself in the fact that people take refuge into the images of popular culture, religion, marketing and state politics to flaunt their discontent. There is little that the defiling of these images will change, and I believe that this frustration of being reduced to just symbolic acts shows in the aggression of many of these defacements. What I like about them, however, is that many of them take pleasure in following specific aesthetic tactics, which is something I tried to trace in my installation ‘In the black of this long night.’ And then after that I started doing a series called ‘Healed Britney,’ in which I attempted, against my own better judgment of course, to digitally heal defaced images of Britney Spears that I had found on the Internet. It’s a series that replicates the same symbolic attempt as the original defacements but turns it around into its opposite gesture by healing, more or less, the image’s defiling.

Healed Britney #10, 2008. From the series ‘Healed Britney’. Archival inkjet print. 20 x 27 inches.

Question (please answer at least one of the following):

6a. Regardless of their positive or negative connotation, where do you place the cult of idol in the zeitgeist?

6b. Have you imagined Saddam Hussein and Britney Spears as some kind of hermaphroditic entity?

6c. Are we in ill times?

Answer: 6c.

That’s a good question. It’s both much too big to answer and at the same time, it’s short and to the point. And it has multiple answers, which is always nice. The obvious answer, of course, would seem to be yes. But on the other hand, things are a lot more complicated than that. Although it’s tempting, it’s too easy to contrast our own moment to previous times and to project onto our moment everything that’s gotten out of hand.

Other times were pretty fucked up as well in their own way. A big difference is that today things move a lot faster and we get to see much more of the shit that goes on through news media or whatever other sources we want. The question is not if things are getting worse, but if so, in what sense, and what that means. I think that one of the issues of our current ill times is not just the obviously serious political, economical or environmental problems that we’re facing (giving particular examples here would feel misguided), but that our perception and knowledge of them through an endless choice of images has become incredibly complex and uncertain, with an almost paralyzing effect. It’s much easier not to face that uncertainty than to actually consider it.

Untitled (12 Glowing Men), 2008. Still from a single channel video DVD, projection and website. Color and black and white, sound. 4 min 10 sec loop.

Answer: 6a.

I’ve done a number of works that reworked images of contemporary idols like Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, and what attracted me in working with them was the paradox that the cult of idol embodies in our culture. On the one hand, of course, there is the idol as perfection, the social figure that is looked up to, larger than life. They are nothing if not a reference point for desire, onto which all kinds of qualities are projected. They seem almost like big iconic structures that tower high above everything else. What interests me is the moment where these iconic, towering figures start to topple, or where a sense of impending collapse is projected onto them. It’s not simply the idolized people who collapse, but the values that are ascribed to them. In that sense, the construction of the idol functions not just as an image where we place the extremes of cultural ambition, success, money, confidence and desire but also, and today it seems even more so, as a place where everything falls apart, where we start imagining the party to end[.]

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Martijn Hendriks: Interview by committee.