When we walk, we shift the body’s physical relationship with respect to its surroundings, providing ourselves with constantly changing perspectives. While this mostly happens unconsciously, Isolde Venrooy aims at actively altering this experience, seeking to question those things in life that seem to be givens. Through her artistic practice, Isolde hopes to elicit glimpses of the underlying structures that make up our perceived environment. By changing our attitude, or the relationship of our body and senses to our surroundings, Isolde manages to create an aesthetic experience that is discovered and performed by the people she involves in her work.
As an example, Isolde organises walks together with participants, co-authors, friends and passers-by. With the inclusion of written instructions and physical tools that influence the senses, the activity is transformed from an everyday walk into one that makes you more aware of the way you experience and relate to your surroundings. However, the themes within Isolde’s work are not limited to the experience of landscape. With works like I SUPPORT YOU – YOU SUPPORT ME, Isolde invites people to explore their relationship to others by giving them a gift to pass on.
While Isolde’s work touches on themes such as the movement of the body and social relations, her art is not entirely conceptual. For example, although her work TRACK invites participants to walk a route through the city of Arnhem, this walk revolves around the materiality of several yellow, ceramic objects the walkers will encounter along the way. Some of these objects bear a text inviting the walkers to perform certain actions that allow for an alternative way of experiencing the environment. As such, while the ceramic objects provide the material backbone for the artwork to exist, they are not the sole focus of the experience.
In the work OBSERVER it is likewise a physical object – a circular rug with small holes in it – that serves to alter people’s perception of their surroundings. The work can be experienced in various ways. We can lay face down on the rug, looking through one of its holes, and witness a small isolated part of the environment, then turn on our back and stare out at the vastness of the sky. Or we might walk past the enormous yellow rug with people relaxing on it and instead take a walk through the landscape to witness its aesthetic characteristics, unique to that location. And so, in both cases, the focus is never solely the designed, material aspect of the work, rather it is how this materiality interrelates with people and their environment.
Ever since the early phases of Isolde’s artistic career, the concepts of identity, (in)visibility and landscape have played an important role. Through her art, we are encouraged to explore our surroundings, which not only leads to the discovery of previously unnoticed aspects of our environment, but also provides insight into how we perceive our own identities. The idea that a person’s identity determines the way they experience the world, both physically and mentally, is rooted in Isolde’s personal life and plays a continuous role in her artistic endeavours.
In that sense, an artwork by Isolde is never only about our identity or surrounding environment but always a combination of the two, since they are intrinsically linked. While we can never fully comprehend how we identify ourselves, the conscious perception of our surroundings shows us glimpses of who we are, and learning about ourselves can in turn alter the way we perceive the world around us. Thus, the structures that we perceive as immutable – as a result of the normative way we move through the world – are called into question through our participation in Isolde’s work.
Koen van Zwol, Amsterdam, February 2022