Contemporary cities through Emma Van De Put’s eyes

I came across two video works by contemporary artist Emma Van De Put, ‘Room’ 2012 and ‘Montmarte’ 2011, while wandering in the fantastic Centraal Museum in Utrecht. I instantly loved them. Filmed in a low-tech, documentary style, the works are quietly observational, humorous and somewhat voyeuristic depictions of city locations blended with symbolic imagery, evocative shots and clever editing.

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Stills from Room

Room depicts shopfronts on an anonymous street, the dreamlike flashing of reflected city lights is the subject. Shots focusing on the play of lights on glass are interspersed with close ups of raw meat, presented on platters with a somewhat 80’s soft edge food photography look about them. Visceral, pretty and absurd.

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Stills from Montmartre.

Montmarte presents a sequence of observations about the behaviours and interactions of people at that iconic tourist locale. Beginning with an image, seen through a crowd, of a child in a pram trying to get the parents attention –  the work goes on to focus on shots of textures, clothing patterns, feet, crowds and the backs of peoples heads. These little vignettes are fascinating, akward and compelling. People often obstruct our view of the subject of their own focus. It is not glamorous. These shots are interspersed with two images to which we return many times- a youth staring pensively at the distance,  as though contemplating the deepest questions of human society; and a woman who is feeding and rocking a baby in a manner which appears more like a violent struggle than a maternal gesture. The overall effect of the work is layered and complex. This iconic tourist site, itself just one locale of a city which has been reduced to travel agency cliches, is stripped back and depicted as a stage for ambiguous human interactions and weird, alien occurences.

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