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'Pearls' at the Leiden Cloth Hall is a boundless experience

'Pearls' is an exhibition with the limitlessness, fantasy and dreamlike vistas that come with a fairy tale. Associations with the pearl roll in all directions. Those who wander around in 'Pearls' forget for a moment everything to do with sober everyday reality.

Pearls appear to be able to pop up everywhere. The works of art belonging to this exhibition are scattered among the permanent collection: paintings that somehow have something to do with pearls, viewing cases with pearl necklaces, old films of pearl fishermen, photos with bright, surrealistic images, video recordings of pearls from the great dance repertoire, imaginative pottery, textile creations, animated films. You get the feeling of bumping into a special pearl every time. The music drifting from room to room is intoxicating.

The exhibition is arranged with a keen eye for contrast. Kinke Kooi's work, to name just one example, does not show literal pearls, but stands out almost luminously among the moody colours of the Dutch masters.

The mastermind behind 'Pearls' is Karin Post. Her background is in dance art, but for many years she has been creating combinations with visual arts. In 'Parelen', she and other artists give a good impression of the modern techniques available in the visual arts. In sets for dance performances, pearl-like shapes move above a hilly surface in such a way as to create an enormous spatial effect and give the spectator the feeling of being lifted up and floating along in it. With 'motion capture' technique, Post shows a pearly creature dancing in an animated film. Constantly the natural human motor skills are recognisable, even though the little ball has no legs and arms. It is exciting to watch this and let your mind jump back and forth between the human and the artificial.

The common thread in 'Pearls' is a fairy tale about the pearl diver Siluce, in which transience and eternal renewal are made palpable with beautiful, tenuous descriptions. Pierre Bokma narrates this fairy tale in an audio tour. As beautiful as this story is, when you hear it while walking through the museum, it gets in the way of the experience of the exhibition. It's too much of a good thing. The exhibition itself already has such an evocative, fairy-tale atmosphere, that the story entering your head through the headphones acts as a disturbance and fragments your attention. In the process, the references to current affairs dissonate, although that fits the current trend that art should take root in society. In 'Pearls', on the contrary, it is not, and in this case that is a relief. 'Parelen' shows that art can do more than comment on society: it can create its own world, with vistas that touch your inner self.

A special mention in the multitude of 'Pearls' is 'Mein junges Leben hat ein End', a dance film created by Peter Delpeut and dance group LeineRoebana, set to Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck's music of the same name. This part is the most integrated into the building. The film footage is projected in the same corridor where it was shot. A seven-year-old girl, a 31-year-old woman and a woman over 90 dance in the extended corridor. Music and title put you on track to see in it a woman meeting herself at various stages of life and experiencing the decay of old age, with all the violent emotions and touching vulnerability that come with it. But there is more. The lines are extended. Man's gait is continued into unsuspected distances. You see decay, but also something infinite. The staggered images give the feeling that life is limitless and that you can switch to a different track each time. Truly a gem you can look at endlessly.

Museum De Lakenhal, Leiden until 13 January 2013

With contributions from: Karin Post, Maura Biava, Rib Birza, Pierre Bokma, Felix van Cleeff, Peter Delpeut, LeineRoebana, Rineke Dijkstra, Marlene Dumas, Yvonne Fontijne, Rob de Graaf, Emio Greco|PC, Conny Groenewegen, Koen Hauser, Scarlett Hooft Graafland, Natalia Horecna, Henri Jacobs, Jiří Kylián, Fransje Kilaars, Kinke Kooi, Danielle Kwaaitaal, Yannis Kyriakides, Erik van Lieshout, Joep van Lieshout, Hans van Manen, K. Michel & Dirk Vis, Het Nationale Ballet, Erwin Olaf, Michael Schumacher, Berend Strik, Peter Struycken, Claire Verkoyen, Marijke van Warmerdam, Lee Eun Young, Marinke van Zandwijk, Anne van der Zwaag and Johan Ambaum.

Maarten Baanders

Free-lance arts journalist Leidsch Dagblad. Until June 2012 employee Marketing and PR at the LAKtheater in Leiden.View Author posts

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