Arts Illustrated

March 24, 2020

Poems for Earthlings

In a radical installation in Oude Kerk in Amsterdam, Adrián Villar Rojas presented an impressive lesson for mankind, culture and the planet

Argentinian artist Adrián Villar Rojas is well known for building worlds through embodied collaborations, allowing us an opportunity to tell each other stories while touching and thinking our way through this messy world. For Villar Rojas, the beginning of every project is an extensive process of personal immersion into the social, cultural, geographical and institutional environment in which he and a group of project-oriented collaborators will work. So when the time came for him to work with one of the oldest churches in the world, his approach was no different.

Last November, the Oude Kerk, Amsterdam’s oldest building and oldest parish church that was founded in circa 1213, opened to an immersive environment by Villar Rojas – the artist’s first solo show in the Netherlands. Titled Poems for Earthlings, the site-specific project used various objects, sounds and multiple interventions through the interiors of the old church to investigate the complex relationship between humans and our environments, and the impact we have on each other.

As Jacqueline Grandjean, the director of Oude Kerk and curator of the exhibition succinctly observed, ‘Adrián Villar Rojas’ sensitive exploration of the context of the Oude Kerk, making a connection between heritage protection and the preservation of nature, creates new insights in its meaning to us as humans.’ The site-specific installation urged visitors to look deep into the many events that influence their daily lives while challenging them to think within massive time scales and spatial distance that go beyond mere human experiences.

‘Accumulation of matter with symbolic value has always been a key human behaviour once “humanity” got to some point of its development. From tools to ornaments, from “art” and monuments to machinery and information, from territories and populations to gold and currency, humans – especially powerful ones, organised in classes, corporations, colonial nations, empires – accumulate, preserve and inherit matter,’ said Villar Rojas in a conversation with Grandjean.

At a time when the entire world is waking up to the urgent and dire consequences of that very human behaviour, Poems for Earthlings hits home, hard. It transformed a symbolically-charged space and used it as a diving board to revisit a collective history from the flip side: the immateriality and abstraction of sound – challenging history to try and keep that in a safe.

Adrian Villar Rojas; Poems For Earthlings, Installation View at the Oude Kerk, Amsterdam, Netherlands, November, 2019. Photograph by Jörg Baumann. Copyright 2019 Baumann Fotografie Frankfurt a.m. Image Courtesy of the Artist and Oude Kirk, Amsterdam.

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