Thursday, October 26, 2006

Mag ik een stukje film van U nemen?

(Us at the Waag Society. Fleur, far left, and Sam, in the fun sweater, are the Society directors.)

In my humble opinion, today’s group adventure was probably the most enjoyable excursion that we’ve had so far. We went to the Waag Society, which is a center for Netherlandish art, culture, media development, and research. The Waag organizes educational events, deals with artists’ rights, makes interactive media programs for disabled and illiterate people, and builds furniture through which media can be presented (such as a round table with simple interfaces for the elderly to feel comfortable accessing). We met with the two directors of the Society, Sam and Fleur, in their castle-like structure in the center of Waag Square. They gave us a run down of the history of the building, and it is a very important site. One of the rooms is apparently where doctors performed anatomical dissections during the Dutch Golden Age, and is also where Rembrandt, one of the greatest Dutch painters, made sketches for his famous The Anatomy Lecture of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp painting.

After learning, in detail, what the Waag Society does (Amsterdam is big on Power Point presentations), and at the insistence of the Society directors, each of us students presented our final projects to the group. This was a hold your breath sort of moment, as some of us are a bit nervous about/don’t have a lot of professional confidence in our projects yet. I, however, thought that the projects all sounded really interesting, some even quite innovative, and I am looking forward to seeing them executed in Berlin. Before we broke for lunch, John announced that upon our return we would be making mini-projects inspired by our visit to the Waag Society as a sort of thank you/fun thing to do. So, we ended up taking over this incredibly old and historically significant building in order to make-what else?- New Media!

The group that I was in became extremely familiar with the Anatomy Lecture mentioned before, as we made a tableau vivant inspired by it, new media style. Instead of having a corpse as the subject of the dissection, we used a computer: we opened its circuit box and placed some of the wires and cords on the table to mirror human innards. We had 8 people pose in the photograph, which is the same number of people in the painting. To lend real credibility to our photograph, we had John pose as the authoritative “doctor;” he held a pair of pliers and some circuits in his hand to imitate the dissection of the corpse’s arm.

This project was really fun, not only because we got to stand in ridiculous poses and make each other laugh while trying to remain stoic, but also because it provided us with an opportunity to become pretty familiar with the details of the painting. Through this newfound familiarity, we discovered that none of the subjects in the painting are actually looking at the corpse; they are all staring off into different directions. We tried to determine why Rembrandt might have painted the scene in this manner, and the best answer that we came up with was that the dissection was too gruesome to look at directly, especially from a close distance. I think this is a pretty accurate deduction, but I also wonder if the indirect gazes don’t have something to do with creating a study of 8 separate facial expressions. I also wonder if the goal of the painting has something to do with debunking the (likely) automatic assumption of the viewer that the 8 subjects are looking at the corpse. That would be a neat little subversive trick. Oh Rembrandt, what was your genius self thinking?


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