Willem De Rooij
Willem De Rooij
'Blue to Black', 2012
120 x 550 cm, batik hand-printed fabric
Installation view Hollandaise, Raw Material Company, Dakar, 2013
Courtesy the artist, EVA International and Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris
Willem de Rooij (1969, Beverwijk, Netherlands) lives and works in Berlin. De Rooij studied art history at the University of Amsterdam and art at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie and the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam. He is currently the Professor of Fine Art at the Städelschule, Staatliche Hochschule für Bildende Künste, Frankfurt am Main. In 2014 he was awarded the Vincent Award Nomination, The Vincent van Gogh Biennial Award for Contemporary Art in Europe, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, The Hague. Recent solo exhibitions include: The Impassioned No (2015), Le Consortium, Dijon; Character Is Fate (2015) Witte de With, Rotterdam; Index: Riots, Protest, Mourning and Commemoration (2014), Arnolfini, Bristol, UK; Using Walls, Floors and Ceilings (2014), the Jewish Museum, New York; Farafra (2013), Bergen Kunsthall, Bergen; Untitled (2012) at Kunstverein München, Munich; Crazy Repelled Firelight (2011), Friedrich Petzel Gallery, New York; and Intolerance (2010) at Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin.
Willem de Rooij’s work reflects on the conditions of the exhibition space and of institutional practice. Central in his work is the selection and combination of images in a variety of different media, which range from sculpture to photography, film, and texts. De Rooij analyses conventions of presentation and representation, constructing tensions between cultural, historical, political, and autonomous sources. Throughout his career, he has produced artworks that manifest an aversion to and at the same time dependence on visual references. This contradiction is already illustrated in the early film installations made with Jeroen de Rijke, with whom he collaborated from 1994 till 2006. Mandarin Ducks (2005), for instance, probes the possibility of ‘referentiality’ in art by testing how many references can be inserted into a single work. According to de Rooij, one of the aims was to question why ‘so many works seemed to lean very heavily on references and seemed to legitimize themselves by referring to other interesting stuff, be these artworks or any other reference in the cultural field’. Following this method, his recent exhibitions make use of existing objects and works of other artists.
For EVA International 2016, De Rooij has created a new work that is in counterpoint to Blue to Black, an artwork that was produced for Koyo Kouoh’s 2012 show Hollandaise at Raw Material Company in Dakar, Senegal. Blue to Black is a so-called Hollandaise wax print on cotton that is industrially printed in Ghana. The new work, Black to Blue, is a piece of fabric hand printed in Yogyakarta using traditional Indonesian Batik technique. Black to Blue and Blue to Black are shown together on two separate but identical pedestals in the same room.
The concept for the exhibition Hollandaise stemmed from the long-standing commercial relationship between the Netherlands and Africa. The title referred to the colourful printed fabrics that are exported from the Netherlands to Africa, and are generally known in West Africa as ‘Hollandaise’ or ‘Dutch Wax’. During the Dutch colonial occupation of Indonesia, Dutch textile companies, such as Vlisco, developed industrial methods to mass produce traditionally handmade Indonesian batik, and found their largest markets on the Atlantic shores of Africa. Today, these bright and distinctive wax prints are regarded as typically African. Complex globalization processes thus created the constructed image of a certain Africanness.
De Rooij based his works on the colours Dutch traders used to describe the Indonesian people (‘blue people’) and the West-African people (‘black people’); thus, the transfer of printing techniques from one continent to another runs parallel to the transfer of racial stereotypes.