Lydia Hannah Debeer
Frank Lubbers for the publication The Empty Foxhole
Text by Frank Lubbers
for the publication of The Empty Foxhole, 2016
Lydia Debeer’s work is often ambiguous. The images she uses evoke a reality that is susceptible to more than one explanation. Her work poses the issue of the reliability of perception and the interpretation of reality. Does reality determine what we perceive, or is it the other way around, and does our perception determine reality? Only through perception and experience (that consists of repeated acts of perception), are we capable of building up a world view that coincides with our intuitions, such as our sense of gravity and balance, the difference between up and down, light and dark, front and back, left, right, space and movement, etc.
Every one of Debeer’s works contains a secret that only allows itself to be unraveled along the way. Her work is apparently simple and usually, it looks as if little or nothing is going on. The image is static and apparently without development. There is no conclusion, solution, release, and there is no good or bad ending. Every work by Debeer can be seen as a closed circle. Ending and beginning pass into one another, unnoticed, like an endless repetition of the same pattern. And yet nothing stays the same, because the viewer of the work sets out to look for something to hold onto, for hidden meanings, for the significance of what has been seen. The viewer recreates the work in the context of his own experience and the work obtains — as a new experience — a place in the viewer’s worldview. As such the continuous repetition of the same does not equal a predictable future, but it can signify an enrichment of the viewer’s own development.
The briefly sketched theoretical attributes of Lydia Debeer’s oeuvre can best be annotated based on a number of concrete examples. The scenes in the video film The Undertaker (2014) are like riddles: they are unreal and intriguing. Initially, you think you are in a machine plant. After having climbed up some stairs you arrive on a floor higher in an unwelcoming living room. In the following location, you have the impression you have ended up in a church. Slowly you can connect up the various places and it dawns on you that you are in a crematorium. The way in which the spaces have been successively brought into view — like a journey through the building — is particularly effective. The actions of the man who is being followed by the camera betray little about the nature of his activity. The building plays the leading role and the successive spaces have been recorded in an oppressive manner, with little light, making it seem as if the image is black and white, reinforcing the solemn atmosphere of the scene. The musical accompaniment — especially the sound of the double bass — adds a barely perceptible, yet powerful dimension to the image. The movement of the camera through the building is careful and its direction is compelling. The opening shot, in which the man comes walking towards you, and the final shot, whereby he is moving away from you, looks like the closing of a circle.
The work The View, of 2014, together with The Undertaker, forms an almost contrapuntal pair. In The View, everything is clear, spatially open, instead of being dark, oppressive, and closed, but at the same time the space here is just as geometrically architectonic as in
The Undertaker. Here, too, all manner of associations arise, such as for example the 19th century panorama, or the film The Truman Show, which both impart a certain unreality, however much they wish to portray reality in a faithful manner. The accidental presence of two people in the image acts as a painterly repoussoir that increases the sense of space and depth in the image. Just as the building plays the leading role in The Undertaker, in The View the wall is the protagonist. The people who are present by chance, who stand leaning over it and gaze off into the distance, are merely the confirmation of this. They see what we cannot see. Nothing changes in this work, and because there is almost nothing to see, the eye looks for distractions. The grid of a drain, an irregularity in the paving, some grass that has nestled itself between the stones, maybe a seagull that passes through the image. The view of both people who gaze into the distance stays hidden from us, and the title of the work refers more to the action of looking than to the view itself.
In languor, I merely wait (2016) is a good example of the estrangement that Debeer’s work often evokes. The image consists of the interior of a narrow, elongated waiting room with several blue plastic chairs and big windows all around. Because of the bright daylight it takes a moment before you can discern that there are parked cars on the right and that a body of water stretches out to the left. It takes longer to discover that the waiting room has set into motion. The image in the windows to the right barely changes and on the left only a subtle shifting of the horizon is visible. The sensation of movement is mainly caused by the changing patches of sunlight on the waiting room’s walls, which is not moving itself, but appears to be moving because of the minimal change in the surroundings. Do we see the movement of the surroundings from a still-standing frame of reference — the waiting room — or do we see a stationary environment — the landscape — from the point of view of a moving system? Movement is always relative to something else, that can itself also be moving. Because the stationary waiting room in the film is positioned on a sailing ferry, it looks as if the surroundings are moving, whereas the to and fro of a ferry illustrates the cyclical repetition of the same over and over again that is however also different every time.
The panoramic video projection Offing of 2016 gives an oppressive sense of space, as if you were looking through a narrow, elongated split at reality (the projection screen measures 70 by 400 cm). The camera randomly strays through a dune landscape and loses itself now and then in the pale blue of the sky, or that of the sea, it isn’t always clear. In an endless movement proximity and distance oscillate. They incessantly change position and meaning, without ever offering the eye anything to hold onto. The horizon, as a barely perceptible division between pale blue and an even paler blue, shows a perspective that is continuously yielding. The only thing that the horizon has to offer us, are the ever-changing views. This uncertain and ambiguous relationship between the perceiver and the perceived, between the reality and our imagination of that reality, forms a constant and fascinating factor in the work of Lydia Debeer.