bigger, higher, leader!

Oorebeek01 web

Willem Oorebeek’s work reflects on the status of the image and on what reproduction by means of an image or message actually does. 

Oorebeek very meticulously selects images from the abundance of visual stimuli around us. He opts for illustrations, passages of writing, or manipulated images that have a certain autonomy without being too recognisable or seductive. Although images in general only have any meaning in a particular context or when linked to specific information, Oorebeek gives the images he chooses a certain independence. His selection thus also implies a value judgement which he simultaneously confirms and undermines by the way he deals with them.

By manipulating or combining images or transposing them to another medium, one looks at them in a different way and attaches different meanings to them. In the Blackouts Oorebeek has been working on in recent years, he overprints existing publicity images, covers and pages from magazines and newspapers, with a coat of black ink. This ink means that the image is only visible when the light on the black surface is seen from a particular angle. A tension arises between the extraordinary attention paid to mass media images and the act of making them invisible. In this sense the Blackout process is paradoxical: it displays a gesture of affection or appreciation for something that has just been erased. By making what is considered a banal image hard to see, he is simultaneously referring to remembering and forgetting, to suppressing or erasing the image and leaving it only just visible as a mere shadow. In contrast to our average consuming gaze, we analyse the image in the black surface with greater intensity. The various works in ‘bigger, higher, leader!’ expose certain patterns in the design and use of images.

There is an examination of how words enhance or enfeeble images, or give them a new layer of meaning. The superimposition of several covers from ELLE magazine show which rules of publicity are imposed with the aim of recognisability for what is called a unique cover. ‘Bigger, higher, leader!’ refers to the omnipresent urge for bigger and better. Oorebeek’s title is not a correct superlative but points out the general illusion of grandeur and the veneration of icons and leaders such as pop stars, communist leaders and Hollywood stars. Napoleon here finds himself alongside new leaders of contemporary society such as Alan Greenspan and Michael Jackson. None of these images is simply shown as a cutting from a newspaper or a magazine. Oorebeek transposes them into another medium. The portrait drawing of Greenspan from the Wall Street Journal was enlarged in the form of a tapestry made at one of the traditional Gobelin weaving mills. Greenspan, until recently a major figure in our Western economy, is thereby given an autonomy corresponding to that of historical leaders. Elsewhere we see a series of Blackouts of portraits of communist leaders on pamphlets of the sort handed out at demonstrations. Michael Jackson with his face covered on a journey to the East was transposed onto litho; spots on the printed surface look like snowflakes on an image of the South. In several works Oorebeek starts out from reproductions of works of art and makes use of the significance of what is shown. One sees, for example, an overprinted reproduction of a painting of Napoleon. A series of Blackouts is printed on several reproductions of Breughel’s painting The Tower of Babel. The variations in colour intensity in the original print result in varying degrees of visibility under the heavy overprinting. Two video-screens play both an autonomous role and serve as projection screens for video work by other artists. On a screen made up of Blackouts of postcards by Anthony Van Dyck (from the Van Dyck year in 1999), a video is shown by Joelle Tuerlincx in which painters are covering a red museum room in white paint. The combination of white and red areas of wall in the projected picture makes the Blackout in the underlying surface partially visible.

Other Blackout screens are made up of black-overprinted reproductions from an edition by Marcel Broodthaers. Onto these is projected a video by Christoph Fink, a compilation of excerpts from TV weather reports. Another screen consists of several covers of P-Magazine and illustrates their uniformity. In all the various works in ‘bigger, higher, leader!’, the means and techniques are presented by which we handle images and reproductions. It is possible to establish that the autonomous image is being lost, due to the visual pollution all around us and by the contemporary use of images, involving Photoshop, manipulation, recolouring, reproduction, repetition, etc. Oorebeek illustrates the ugliness and mutilation that results from both our actions and our perception. With its black overprinting, superimposition of images and manipulations, it exposes a number of patterns and strategies and raises questions about the manipulability of images. By tearing images loose from their context and isolating them, he deactivates them or makes them uninterpretable. Paradoxically, this actually contributes to making them more visible, so that we look with greater awareness rather than just zapping. The exhibition is accompanied by the publication bigger, higher, leader!, which includes articles by Eva Meyer and Keren Cytter, published by MER in association with S.M.A.K.

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