Profile — 23 Nov 2018
In Neither of Us Is Powerless, Jort van der Laan considers how bodies are implicated in the creation of meaning in liminal spaces. Filmed during the artist’s frequent airline trips between the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, the installation’s central video explores the airport as a transitory, extraterritorial space where movement is monitored and controlled, and collective experience is shaped. The video is accompanied by a collection of words and phrases that Van der Laan—in collaboration with artist and writer Charlotte Rooijackers—gleaned from airport boutique advertising copy, exclusive lounges, and SkyMall brochures. These terms, which are presented within the video and on a silk-screened poster the artist created with graphic designer Johanna Ehde, draw attention to how language shapes physical and spatial experience.
The film depicts an airport through a series of unsteady shots that are often recorded from unusual angles, as if the artist were recording clandestinely. The spaces and people Van der Laan captures are not immediately identifiable, and are further obscured by the artist’s hands as he handles his camera. By using blurred close-ups of his body as abstract transitions between scenes, Van der Laan effectively disrupts the idea of a subject or main character in relation to a surrounding environment, and instead approaches both non-hierarchically. Eerily empty and veiled in bluish shadows, the terminal seems almost otherworldly, populated by ghostly figures who move as if orchestrated in slow motion.
Van der Laan is particularly interested in the various technologies and placation devices that travelers interact with while passing through the airport. Ranging from highly advanced retina and body scanning equipment to more simple electric massage chairs, these affective technologies are closely linked to the airport’s greater regimes of control. The intensely regulated process travelers experience when going through customs contrasts with the feeling of relative anonymity inside the terminal. Neither of Us Is Powerless presents the airport as a transitory environment where technosocial devices replace human interaction, keeping travelers occupied while monitoring and managing their movement. The airport’s luxurious consumer offerings starkly contrast with Van der Laan’s portrayal of the terminals as shrouded in darkness. This serves as a visual reminder that behind the airport’s apparent clarity and orderliness are complex surveillance and screening operations taking place out of sight.
About the artist
Jort van der Laan (1986, Netherlands) studied at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam and the Dutch Art Institute in Arnhem. His work has been presented at venues including Casco Art Institute: Working for the Commons, Utrecht; Rongwrong, Amsterdam; The Tokyo Art Book Fair, Tokyo; and Zico House, Beirut. He is a resident artist at King’s College, London.