How do people connect to a place? How does a place connect to the personal and collective memory, and the personal and collective identity?
The audiovisual work of Pieter Geenen revolves around places and communities which find themselves between appearing and disappearing, forgetting and remembering, destruction and resurrection, the utopian and the dystopian. They are subjected to war, persecution, colonialism, cultural genocide, migration, economic or demographic changes, globalisation, climate change, etc. He approaches universal symbols around which people gather, coexist or live in conflict. These are elements which connect people and places who don’t seem to share a common ground at first sight and remain merely exotic to the western mind. However, working across communities, locations and formats opens our understanding of place, belonging and identity, and offers potential new readings of the present and of the past.
Pieter Geenen (born 1979) lives and works in Brussels, Belgium. Selected exhibitions and screenings include International Film Festival Rotterdam, M-Museum Leuven, New York Film Festival, La Capella Barcelona, Hong Kong Film Festival, Doclisboa, FID Marseille, Centre Pompidou-Metz, Images Festival Toronto, FRAC Basse-Normandie, Argos Centre for Art and Media Brussels, Les Rencontres Internationales, Médiathèque FMAC Geneva. He was recently artist in residence at [R.A.T.], Mexico City and Ágúst Residency, Iceland. His works are included in the public collections of Colección Inelcom, Madrid, Collection of the Flemish Community, Emile Van Dorenmuseum, Genk, and different private collections.
He is a co-founder of Messidor, a collective platform for reflection, production and distribution based in Brussels.
HD Video / 14:30 min / 2011
“pulsation” shows a nocturnal view over the city of Nicosia, looking from Greek to Turkish Cyprus, across the UN buffer zone. Imprinted on the mountains of Northern Cyprus and visible to the rest of the divided island, the provocative landmark of a Turkish Cypriot flag is stretched out on the mountain slopes facing the Greek Cypriots. This distant view is synchronized with the sound generated by the flag’s very own operating system on the other side of the border, located high on the mountains. Besides being so obviously visible the flag has now also been made audible, and resonates like a strong heartbeat over the landscape. This act of displacement virtually reconnects both sides of the long war-torn island.
HD Video / 50:00 min / 2014
The isolated people of Nagorno-Karabakh are living in a time vacuum since the cease fire of 1994. They live in a de facto independent country, but remain unrecognized as such by the international community. This area is still subject of an unresolved and long forgotten conflict which is the result of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Then what does identity mean in a country that doesn’t exist?
HD Video / 11:20 min / 2016
On the walls of the local Belgian Club in Delhi, Ontario (Canada) hangs a banal painting portraying Saint Catherine’s Square, a square in the heart of the Belgian Capital of Brussels. For the many Belgian immigrants in this particular Canadian region the painting evokes the memory connected to the homeland, which helps to define and enhance the community’s identity. ’home’ metaphorically illustrates the concept of communities, the construction of national identity and the potential loss of it after migration. Both realities, Brussels and Canada, are connected by the sound, which mutates from the busy square in Brussels to the deserted space of the club of the Belgian diaspora.
This film travels from the detailed and vivid memory of a place and time once called home, to the vague and blurred remains of this memory, which got exchanged for a new reality, a new home. Shortly before the Delhi Belgian Club closes down for good the viewer is allowed to cast one last glance at what once has been and is about to disappear forever.
HD Video / 25:46 min / 2016
Around the southernmost tip of Europe, the European and African continent almost seem to touch. That explains the importance of the Strait of Gibraltar as an important migration route, not only for the migratory birds spotted there, but also for refugees trying to reach Europe. At the Mirador del Estrecho panoramic lookout tourists gather to take pictures of the stunning landscape, and comment on the view of Africa that they are being offered.
‘mirador’ is centered around spectatorship and the act of watching itself. Like silent witnesses the tourist, the immigrant, the audience and the camera look at the landscape and indirectly at each other. They look to the other side, facing a continent that appears like a fata morgana. The seducing power of the image is selling us all a dream while this situation of ‘we’ versus ‘they’ and ‘here’ versus ‘there’ reveals a postcolonial gaze in a world of increasing mobility and globalisation.
miniDV / 28:00 min / 2006
The course of daytime obeying the pace of the sun is an increasing and decreasing identification of things. At noon things coincide with themselves, they reach their complete identity. You can say there’s nothing left to guess for, that everything is as it is because seeming and being are one. Though at night, things gain a reserve of meaning in their shadow. Nighttime on the Italian island of Lampedusa is such a moment of disguise. This handful of rocks situated south of Sicily is the closest European point to the north of the African continent. In origin an island of fishermen, this isolated place has become a holiday resort over the years. Or as the boat rental services on Lampedusa advertise now: ‘La più bella isola del mondo’.
At the same time refugees and migrants started crossing the Mediterranean Sea from Northern Africa and put their lives at risk in an attempt to reach this outpost of ‘Fortress Europe’. At first they would reach the island by themselves, preferably at night, to hide from the authorities. Later on these authorities would manage to intercept them at sea and bring them to land also at night, to hide them from the tourists on the island. Following these events nighttime became the preferred time to deport refugees by plane to camps on the main land and back to Libya or elsewhere in North Africa.
“nocturne” captures the ambiguous and tense atmosphere of nocturnal Lampedusa with the use of an infrared security camera. It overlooks the island and registers several places on and around it. In the dark, abstract and suggestive anti-images human presence has been reduced to some anonymous, unidentifiable luminous dots, or to the suggestive black space in between.
HD Video / 11:00 min / 2008
“atlantis” shows a nocturnal landscape being scanned by a lightbeam. The searchlight of a boat on the Chinese Yangtze river explores the banks of the Three Gorges Reservoir, which came into existence due to the construction of the controversial Three Gorges Dam. Just before it would flood up to its final level of 175m this lightbeam reveals what soon is going to disappear below water level. Referring to the concentrated lightbeams in typical images of underwater discoveries and explorations, this video seems to explore a sunken universe, a land of which people seem to have left, with demolished and abandoned buildings, desolate forests and ghost ships.