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In a singular experience, Oude Kerk in Amsterdam brings together art and architecture, heritage and history in their latest exhibit Poems for Earthlings. In this immersive installation, artist Adrián Villar Rojas presents to us his exploration of the relationship between mankind’s impact on the environment and vice versa. He calls into question the complexities of our relationship with heritage and its preservation, using the Oude Kerk to bring to light its historical value in the modern metropolitan we know as Amsterdam. Through objects and sounds placed within the interior of the Oude Kerk, Villar Rojas references the World Wars, which pervaded Europe in the 1900s when heritage and culture was protected and cultivated at an exalted scale.
Adrián Villar Rojas was born in 1980 and raised in Rosario, Argentina; he went on to study at the Fine Arts University where he formally began his artistic pursuits. He lives and works nomadically, which allows him to immerse himself deeply into a number of sites across the globe. His works engages with a number of themes - notably, one of them being the idea of temporality and preservation. His practice simultaneously embodies the concept itself, as his artworks are usually broken down and destroyed post the exhibition. Villar Rojas’ project seemingly operates against the notion of commodity, undermining the tacit rules which ensure an effective circulation in the art world: endurance, reproduction, trading, and transport. That being said, Villar Rojas has showcased at a number of notable institutions including the Venice Biennale (Italy, 2011), Serpentine Galleries (United Kingdom, 2013), Metropolitan Museum of Art (United States of America, 2017) and many more.
Keeping true to his nature as a practitioner, Villar Rojas began his installation at Oude Kerk by immersing himself fully into its social, cultural, geographical, and institutional environment. Director and curator Jacqueline Grandjean said, ‘Adrián Villar Rojas’ sensitive exploration of the context of the Oude Kerk, making a connection between heritage protection and the preservation of nature, creates new insights in its meaning to us as humans’.
Oude Kerk literally translates to English as ‘old church’, and is the oldest building in the city, located in the heart of Amsterdam’s Red Light District. The building was consecrated in 1306, making it over 700 years old. The architectural beauty underwent extensive restoration from 1955 to 2013 and now presents itself as a didactic and dynamic space for contemporary art, exploring the layered relationship between heritage and art.
Villar Rojas opens up the viewers’ mind through his insightful understanding of concepts of wealth and heritage. He goes on to explain, “Accumulation of matter with symbolic value has always been a key human behaviour once ‘humanity’ got to some point of its development. From tools to ornaments, from ‘art’ and monuments to machinery and information, from territories and populations to gold and currency, humans – especially powerful ones, organised in classes, corporations, colonial nations, empires – accumulate, preserve and inherit matter, also known as wealth”. He uses sandbags stacked in the halls of the museum as a metaphor for the protection and preservation of heritage, a symbol in his artistic vocabulary since 2015.
In a first, Villar Rojas introduces sound as an important part of his installation, using it to delve into cultural idiosyncrasies of the Anthropocene. The sounds reference an examination of people’s materialist culture, and he says, “The creation of museums crystallized this inherent vice, preserving for instance, armours and swords from the French-British battles of the XV century. But, where are the sounds of those traces of bloodshed between the two reigns? Where are all the painful shouts, the clash of the iron against and through the iron, the whistle of a thousand arrows stubbing the air? Where are the endless crying of all the mothers mourning the dead of all the wars? Forever lost, may be the answer”.
Poems for Earthlings by Adrián Villar Rojas will be on display at Oude Kerk from November 21 2019-April 26, 2020.
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