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Saskia Olde Wolbers: Visions of Desire and Pathological Lies

‘We all know that art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realise the truth, at least the truth that is given us to understand. The artist must know how to convince others of the truthfulness of his lies.’

- Pablo Picasso

Saskia Olde Wolbers’ works are full of lies, half-truths and fabrications. What may at first glance appear to be a sleek digital animation, is actually the result of an lengthy, handmade process. And the aesthetics are only the beginning of her deceptions. Olde Wolbers’ stories conflate fact and fiction in non-linear and time-defiant narratives – reality, and its antithesis, become wholly indecipherable.

Saskia Olde Wolbers, Pareidolia, 2011, HD video for projection with sound, 12 minutes 25 seconds. Courtesy the artist and Maureen Paley, London.

The Dutch-born, London-based artist can spend up to a year constructing one of her short videos. The foreign appearance of her intricately constructed dioramas are achieved using obscure items, such as water bottles, cod-liver oil capsules and cyber-goth hair extensions, dipped in paint, submerged upside-down in water and filmed – a unpretentious low-fi system with futuristic hi-fi aesthetics.

For her latest exhibition at Maureen Paley in London, Olde Wolbers is showing the video Paredolia, recently seen at Secession in Vienna. The title itself refers to the psychological phenomenon in which those things vague and random are interpreted as significant – the basis of the Rorschach test, and the reasoning behind why we might find animals in the clouds, or faces of holy figures in our morning toast – the cognitive propensity to find the familiar in the unfamiliar.

Saskia Olde Wolbers, Pareidolia, 2011, HD video for projection with sound, 12 minutes 25 seconds. Courtesy the artist and Maureen Paley, London.

Paredolia centres around a incident told by German professor Eugen Herrigel in his book, Zen and the Art of Archery (1948), commonly attributed to bringing zen and Japanese culture to the post-war Europe. In the much-debated climax of the book, Herrigel relates an incident in which his teacher, Awa Kenzo, shot two arrows in in the dark, not only both hitting the target, but the second slicing through the first. According to Herrigel, his Master communicated that it was not him that made the shot, but ‘it’, the Buddha.

However, Herrigel did not speak Japanese, Kenzo did not speak German, and there was no translator present. It is possible, and it has been argued, that Herrigel projected his own desires for meaning on to the incident, converting coincidence skill into a complex spiritual awakening.

Saskia Olde Wolbers, Pareidolia, 2011, HD video for projection with sound, 12 minutes 25 seconds. Courtesy the artist and Maureen Paley, London.

Our narrator in Paredolia is a bird, caught between the time in which an archer takes aim at him, and hits his mark. Olde Wolbers’ tale gives no more truths than Herrigel’s account, and takes great liberties, so that the incident that was the focus of Herrigel’s book, loses the focal significance that was once awarded to it. Instead this is a story of a professor and his assistant, floating in and out of the events of the archer and his master. Through a series of lecture rooms, archery rooms, botanics and birds gracing the screen, the visual poem disconnects from and at times precedes the narrative structure. These otherwordly frames confuse and conflate perception, as our narrator weaves in fiction with fact throughout this tale.

Through the constructions and dissolutions of delusions in Paredolia, Olde Wolbers’ lies lead us to an ultimate truth – that there simply is no such thing.

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