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Collective urban portrait
During a month-long workshop where the individual experiences of participants were collected, the artist Marta Colpani has given life to a unique group portrait of Amsterdam.
Since I have never really experienced Amsterdam as a tourist, it is a strange thing for me to walk the streets here. Bicycles give the Dutch capital a smoother, more stretched-out dimension. The succession of parks and architecture becomes the main motif, while the variety of sounds and people (as well as the nuances that distinguish one street or shop from another) gets lost in the mix. On foot, however, these are precisely the details that determine a slower and more meditative experience, one that is exhilarating though in a different way. This is why Marta Colpani’s workshop, organised during her residence at the Peer Paper Platform, caught my attention. For a few weeks, Colpani worked with a group of 6 participants with different creative backgrounds (Elisa Fiore, Esther Brakenhoff, Dorin Budusan, Leslie Newhall, Liesbeth Wieggers and Annemarie Cilon) to assemble a collective portrait of Amsterdam and its spaces by recapping individual experiences.
The artist has lived in Amsterdam for some time now and has even set up family here. By speaking with her you can tell that relating to the city—a space that becomes yours after time and despite a series of cultural obstacles that an expat can pin-point only after some years have passed—is vital. In her work, the artist often faces space in a visual way, showing preference for a light, associative aesthetic rather than direct representation. In There (where distances disappear) (2015) Colpani connects the northern Netherlands with the Po valley in Italy through photos of looming fog banks, while in Het gemaakte land (2014) she chooses to describe her adoptive country through some window frames emptied of the landscape inside.
If a subjective view of urban space and her own relationship with the Netherlands are main themes, pencil drawing and sound have become the means to portray them, where both are intended as recordings. In fact, in Lines (2015 – in progress), the artist traces her own experience of geographical borders (Italy/Slovenia, the Netherlands/Belgium, the Netherlands/Germany) by using lines as a performance document, inseparable from the duration of the act. The result is a set of more or less abstract surfaces, a subtle and private story that only occasionally crosses paths with reportage, for example, through the sounds recorded onsite.
During the four workshop Sundays, the Peer venue (a few minutes on foot from Dam Square and literally next to the Red Light District) acted as a strategic fulcrum to narrate its own course. Also inspired by literature and the screening of films and shorts with a psycho-geographic/urban theme, Marta and the other participants met and discussed in the basement each week, collecting material and human interactions gathered on the streets, then brainstorming and collective drawing. The talks not only concerned the theme of walking but also the format in which to narrate a group “story”, in a shared scale and aesthetic to express the concept of distance and the experience of covering it. The result—a patchwork of words and sentences met along the way, images, some objects—clearly bears the hand of Colpani, who acted as an editor and a bond between the visions of the participants. However, in some cases a different point of view emerges (a photo taken by Google Street View, for example). Joined around an indirect approach, the project’s final aesthetic presents both analytical as well as emotional aspects, in an incisive mix to narrate such a multifaceted city like Amsterdam.
In a media context where psycho-geography is often delegated to digital platforms and compulsive social networks, the rigorous frequency and the creative friction implicit in teamwork perhaps represent the most interesting aspects of Colpani’s project. In fact, she views the workshop medium as a probable direction for her own future art practice. The precarious balance between aesthetic harmony and individual impulse is completely missing from the uninterrupted flow of photos, check-ins, reviews and stories overflowing on social media, the inevitable consequence of which is the melting together of single perspectives into white noise and feed deafening for users. Instead, united around the indirect approach that characterises Marta’s work, the collective narration staged at Peer was able to reconnect with modern art currents (Richard Long, but also Janet Cardiff, and obviously Situationism) without giving in to the allure of media.