" ... BUT THE CUPS NEVER GREW TO BE KETTLES "
special guests Roy Villevoye and Jan Dietvorst
16 December 2005 - 9 February 2006
at the gallery in Brussels
It will be allright
if you come again, only next time don¹t bring any gear, except
a tea kettle..., 1994 - 2004
Erna Hécey Gallery is pleased to present an exhibition
of early works by the Belgian artist Johan Grimonprez, along
with works by Dutch artists Roy Villevoye and Jan Dietvorst.
For his second exhibition at the gallery, three video works
are being shown together for the first time: Kobarweng
or Where Is Your Helicopter? (1992),
It Will Be All Right If You Come Again, Only Next Time Don't
Bring Any Gear Except A Tea Kettle (1994-2004), and Well,
You Can't Go To California, That's The First Place They'll Look
For You (1992), works which preceded the films Dial
H-I-S-T-O-R-Y (1997) and Looking
For Alfred (2004-2005).
Kobarweng... is the fruit
of Grimonprez's graduate studies in cultural anthropology, during
which he spent time in Irian Jaya, the western part of Papua
New Guinea. Puzzled by the question "Where is your helicopter?"
which greeted him upon his arrival in the remote village of
Pepera, Grimonprez soon learned that three decades earlier a
team of scientists and anthropologists had dropped down from
the sky in helicopters, much to the villagers' terrified surprise.
The shock of this first encounter, which forced the New Guineans
to redefine their known existence according to the outside world's
encapsulation of it, is still visible everywhere; one villager
was even named "Kobarweng" meaning "the sound of the airplane,"
from whence the title of the film. In recounting the history
of the collision between two cultures, Grimonprez juxtaposes
original documentary footage of the encounter with oral accounts
of the indigenous people. It is anthropology, however, and the
desire underlying anthropological investigation, that becomes
the exotic object to be explored and scrutinized—a reversal
best captured by the phrase "We never tell everything, we always
keep something for the next anthropologist !" Thus one story
is always embedded in and resignified by another.
Roy Villevoye and Jan Dietvorst, invited by Grimonprez to participate
in the exhibition, also deal with the problems of anthropological
representation, the conventions of documentary filmmaking, and
the legacy of colonialism in their work. Since the early 1990's
Villeroye's work has focused on the Asmat region of the Indonesian
part of New Guinea. The film Propeller
(2004) is a kind of detective story about the origins of an
aircraft propeller lying in the jungle, in which highly distinct
accounts and narrative styles are juxtaposed. While Propeller
contrasts mythic storytelling with a scientific search for historical
truth, the second film The New
Forest (2004), made with Dietvorst, has a very different
structure. Stories are also recounted, but this time without
any clear progression or goal, except perhaps to destroy the
illusion of New Guinea as an untouched, insulated world unto
In It Will Be All Right... Grimonprez
again explores the creation of new mythologies and cultural
narratives in the wake of Western imperialism, with reference
to a peculiar event. A major screening of the Sound
of Music was organized by a missionary for the people
of Irian Jaya; the viewers identified the landscape of the Austrian
Alps as similar to their own, yet also as the place from which
the visiting foreigners came. The film weaves together archival
footage of New Guinea with images from the Sound
of Music, effecting a strange transfer of meaning between
Hollywood's fantasy of Austria (in particular the beautiful
countryside), the New Guineans' re-imagination of their own
environment, and their attempt to envision the homeland of the
The intertwinement of landscape and storytelling, and the use
of landscape itself as a 'floating signifier' whose meaning
is subject to different shifts, is given a new twist in Well,
You Can't Go To California... Here the starting point
of anthropological investigation is not some far off corner
of the world, but the artist's own birthplace. The Flemish countryside
passes by accompanied at the bottom of the screen by text from
the Flemish writer Louis Paul Boon's novel
Chapel Road; the camera zooms into the house of the artist's
parents, where playing on the television is an episode from
the hit American soap opera Dallas.
The Flemish landscape, recalling the venerable tradition of
Flemish painting, is thus brought into 'cultural collision'
with one of the signature products of the American entertainment
industry; the phrase overheard from the show "Well, you can't
go to California, that's the first place they'll look for you"
becomes like a "Kobarweng" in a foreign land.
As part of the exhibition, Grimonprez offers a reading corner
where one can leaf through documents pertaining to the West
Papuan people's struggle for political self-determination
and the freedom to express their cultural identity. Their
voice has been silenced by 40 years of Indonesian military
operations, supported by the US-based Freeport mining company
and most recently by a pledge of 10 million dollars in military
aid from the Bush administration. News reports and political
texts, some by John Rumbiak, Supervisor at the Institute for
Human Rights Study and Advocacy in West Papua, Indonesia detail
the tragic history.
permanent installation, 2005
at Gemeentehuis Deerlijk