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Seas and mountains of women in Walzer by Frieda Gustavs and Leo Erken

Banners from the Women's Suffrage Association, Haarlem Division show that things have changed over the past century. But the banners of London suffragettes demanding equal pay for men and women make it clear that it is far from enough.

The opening night of Walzer, the new VR installation at Eye celebrates women's lives. Dolle Mina's, suffragettes, Aletta Jacobs, nameless women photographed by a father with a colonial lens, all women pass by. With short films and conversations with the makers, we waltz through all the feminist waves.

Landscape with gaming software

In Frieda Gustavs and Leo Erken's VR, we move through a landscape of and featuring women. Aletta Jacobs rises miles above us like a kind of Mount Rushmore, but we can also swim through a sea of women, wander through a women's forest and get lost in the city of women. Game software has transformed thousands of photos into a vivid landscape where it is very nice to stay.

A controller lets you navigate through different types of terrain. Walzer sits between a 2-D and a 3-D. Although the creators nowhere aim or pretend to create realistic terrain, you can still wander endlessly and even get a little lost. The photos fold around buildings and trees, become the trees and the sea, but also remain explicitly old portraits. Photographer and photo collector Leo Erken found the thousands of photos at markets, in private collections and online. Thematically, you move from work to pleasure and from anger and injustice to fashion. The accompanying waltz steers perception, although nowhere does it become explanatory or narrative. Viewers have to get to work themselves.

Endless waltz

The score is the graduation project of young composer Frieda Gustavs, who created a 70-second waltz endlessly ran and copied into a rich soundscape that excites. Various instruments, vocals and industrial sounds set the tone for the visuals.

The women's voices in the project come not from an audio archive but from the makers' neighbourhood: Russian photographers who have fled, a neighbour of Erken's who speaks both flat Amsterdam and fluent Japanese, children playing in the neighbourhood. It gives the project a pleasant ordinariness that excites rather than frustrates. While it would be nice to hear more about the women portrayed, it is ultimately the sheer amount of imagery that makes the work impressive. For why do we know that the black woman was photographed by a priest, but know nothing about herself? Why are there so many groups of three women, and not two? The latter, Erken told us, is because things can happen then. It can become too intimate, and that requires a third woman or girl. Three is a crowd.

Plus ça change

Just a week ago, the House of Representatives debated whether abortion should be out of the criminal law. Women still do not get equal pay for equal work. The corsets are out, we get to vote, but how much has changed permanently since the first pictures from 1850? At Eye this summer, the focus is on women, and of women. Those male gaze is at least being dismantled here.

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Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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