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#35 The Essential

Speaking: Martin and Inge Riebeek

Martin and Inge Riebeek. photo Sanne Donders

The Breda artists Martin and Inge Riebeek are in the spotlight this year, because they have been working on the series The Essential for 10 years and have published a book with the same title. In ten years, they shot more than 600 video portraits in 23 different countries. Earlier this year their solo exhibition ‘Save me from this cold’ was on view at Stedelijk Museum Breda. In the solo exhibition at Pennings Foundation, which started at the end of August, the emphasis is on video portraits of performers. The title All the World is a Stage refers to a Shakespearean line of poetry. The exhibition is on show until December 5, 2020.

The central question that Martin and Inge Riebeek ask is: “What, to you, is the essence of life?'' In All the World is a Stage video portraits with street performances of a poet, an actress, a dancer, two singers and a freak show artist are shown in installations. When asked what their motto is, they give a surprising and often philosophical answer.

According to the poet Prince Enoch Afful (Accra), physical perfection does not matter in life. photo installation Martin Riebeek

According to the poet Prince Enoch Afful (Accra), physical perfection does not matter in life. The message of Singer Xinping Fu (Shanghai) is that those who look for a higher goal, above all encounter loneliness. Actress Karelle Prugnaud (Paris) proclaims that man's free will is an illusion; everyone has to adhere to rules and orders. Thomas Nealeigh (Dayton) claims that physical pain is something you can endure and that real pain is the struggle for existence.

The message of Singer Xinping Fu (Shanghai) is that those who look for a higher goal, above all encounter loneliness. photo installation Inge Riebeek

The group exhibition PREVIEW in 2018 already showed the video installation Art doesn’t earn money, art only burns money, which illustrates the importance of money in diverse lives and worlds. In the spotlight, among others, coffee saleswoman Irina Litvinenko, who would love to have a beautiful smile; the American prepper Malcolm Allred preparing for the end of time. Mirza who grew up in children's homes and is now looking for passengers who fell off the train. The Indian railways gives him two dollars for every death. Struggle for existence; that's what life is all about. That is why the mother of the Chinese Man Chui Yan told her to choose an education that offers a future. So, instead of becoming a dancer, she becomes a nurse. Because: "Art doesn't earn money, art only burns money." But she still likes to dance… Her performance in front of the camera was a preview to the current exhibition focusing on performers. That is why the installation is shown again in its entirety.

The installation 'Art doesn't earn money, art only burns money' in the exhibition 'All the World is a Stage'. photo installation Theo Derksen

During a guided tour, a visitor asked why these portraits are presented as video art. They are documentary films, right? A colleague, Carlo Storimans, replied that in art form and content are in balance. The content of the films is strong, but the form in which it is presented is also strong and, moreover, that form has been consistently implemented.

Actress Karelle Prugnaud (Paris) proclaims that man's free will is an illusion. photo installation Inge Riebeek

The fact that the video portraits attract strong attention has to do with the fixed pattern in which the films were shot. After his or her performance the person portrayed walks to the camera, mentions name and place of origin, tells a personal story and concludes with what is the essence, the meaning of life for him or her and walks out of the picture. “The film was shot in one take, making it feel like the story is being told directly to you,” explains Inge Riebeek. "It feels like a personal meeting." It is precisely this directness that ensures that visitors are personally touched and that many shed a tear.

Visitor watches the impressive performance of Aja Jaques on the street in Berlin. photo installation Inge Riebeek

“It doesn't really matter what education or background people have,” Martin Riebeek adds. “The location doesn't matter either, the issues are the same all over the world.”

The personal stories give an impression of what is happening in the world in the political, social and financial fields. In order to better understand the rapidly changing world, philosophers, sociologists and scientists, who reflect on society from their own field of expertise, are now also being interviewed.

The video portrait of Dirk de Wachter, psychiatrist in Antwerp, bears witness to this. His story is not included in the exhibition, but a reflection of it is included in the book. He says he has too much work and wonders how in a society where we are relatively well off, so many people are unhappy. According to him, people have too high expectations for life. His message: life is full of ups and downs, but above all, life is… normal. And we should be satisfied with that.

Greek singer Tina Alexopoulou tells about the political situation in her country. photo installation Inge Riebeek

Martin and Inge Riebeek have been working together since 2001. In 2002 they completed an assignment for a prison in Veenhuizen. They made a film of a landscape for a video installation. By walking on a treadmill and simultaneously watching the film, the inmates experienced the installation as a virtual escape. This installation influenced the later work of the artist duo. When filming people, they had to ask for permission in advance, making the people act less spontaneous. Then they decided to first talk to people they wanted to film. As a result, the filmed portraits became more spontaneous. The Essential emerged from this.

Visitors watch and listen fascinated to the story of Astor Perez. photo installation Peter Cox

For The Esstial they talked to people they met on the street. This has resulted in more than 600 usable films, shot in 23 different countries. About 1,000 films have been shot by now. “When they return home, half of the films or so turns out to be unusable,” says Inge Riebeek, “because interviews have to be conducted according to a fixed pattern. If something is missing or goes wrong, for example if the person portrayed forgets to mention his or her name, forgets to state the country of origin or if the concentration is gone, the recording is unusable. It also happens that we meet someone who has an interesting story, but for some reason this person does not want to have it recorded on film. ”

“On average, a video portrait is shot five to six times in a row before it is properly done. No more, because otherwise the spontaneity will disappear. For performers, it is usually recorded two or three times in a row. If you keep going on, they will get tired. ”

Inge Riebeek in front of the installation of freakshow artist Thomas Nealeigh. photo installation Martin Riebeek

However, they do not go out together for the production of the video portraits, says Inge Riebeek. Because of the care for two children, they take turns traveling. In recent years they have been working with a regular cameraman, Tobias Mathijsen. “When we travel, we are away almost a month and we work on the street from nine in the morning to nine in the evening. We approach people, make appointments, arrange an interpreter, conduct interviews, record films, and afterwards we check the contact details. The person who is traveling can concentrate on the project. The one who stays at home works on paid assignments and watches the film material. Together we decide which films are usable and which are not. However, in rare cases, after some discussion, a movie can be labeled useful, even though one of the basic elements is missing.

You can’t tell from the video portraits which of them is made by Martin and which by Inge. “But”, says Inge, “I do more female portraits, especially the portraits in which the women are vulnerable. Women tell a personal story, especially about a traumatic experience, simply easier to a woman than to a man.”

Visitors in front of the installation 'Art doesn’t earn money, art only burns money'. photo Hetty de Groot

Their method caught the attention of a professor of psychiatry, Jim van Os. The video portraits of psychologically vulnerable people made him think and gave him an idea about a different way of working. Experts by experience went out with Martin and Inge Riebeek and concluded that they asked different questions than psychotherapists. Formulating what kept them busy and watching the film later helped the patients move forward.

Last summer the book ‘The Essential’ was published. It contains a wide selection of the interviews with small portrait photos in black and white, but also with full page color photos that show the environment and briefly outline the situation. The book was published by The Eriskay Connection in Breda, and designed by Rob van Hoesel. For the book, art historian Anneke van Wolfswinkel interviewed the artist duo and also the professor of psychiatry Jim van Os, Hendrik Driessen, who showed their work in Museum De Pont when he was director, and Verily Klaassen, who is head of art affairs at Rabobank and bought some video work of the Riebeeks.

About the artists

The Breda artists Martin Riebeek (1957) and Inge Riebeek (1964) both studied at AKV|St. Joost in Breda.

Read also:

Book review The Essential:

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