Tubelight 51 08.07.2007 PLAYGROUND: HANDS OFF THE CHILDREN! Nils van Beek Joanneke Meester, PLAYGROUND The girl hesitates for a moment. Something is missing….fingernails! It is endearing how unselfconscious they move, the children who are the subject of the five videos that are the main component of the installation that Joanneke Meester made for outLINE. The recordings are displayed on five hanging monitors that can only be seen when the viewer lies down underneath them. The directors instructions that Meester gave the children can then also be heard. They lie down on a black background and draw their own contours in white chalk, in the manner that children often draw the outline of their hand on paper. It is clearly a difficult task, and they are visibly content when Meester says that they are done. The resulting drawings also hang in the exhibition hall. They are the witness of the concrete actions shown on the videos, but also refer unmistakeably to the chalk outlines made of victims of violence or traffic accidents by forensic detectives at a crime scene. The outLINE exhibition space also helps recall such sinister connotations due to its former function as the surgery theatre for the former Burgerziekenhuis (Municipal Hospital). Previous expositions, such as The Haunted House of Art compiled by Gabriel Lester some years ago, or the more recent mortuary by Maze de Boer also help reinforce this association. In Joanneke Meesters work, the reference to forensic investigation is a constant factor, very emphatically so in works such as the large-scale installation that she made for Safe in Dalfsen last year. She sets her focus on the violence that we would prefer to block out, the violence that is no longer an abstract concept, the violence close to home. In so doing, she creeps onto and under the viewers skin. Some could criticise the fact that she sometimes uses one-dimensional signifiers, as in the case of the controversial pistol that she made from her own skin, or even the chalk lines from Playground. But perhaps her theme is too urgent to reflect on that for too long. The children who she filmed are naked, but at their ease. Meester decently rendered their genitals digitally unrecognisable; it seems, in order not to betray their confidence, but also to turn the viewer into a voyeur against their own wishes, or into a concerned parent. Is this no longer permitted? An unclothed child is not unusual at the beach, but in a photograph? This is a fundamental problem of the image; (re)production, distribution and possession, but especially interpretation. A sensually painted Christ Child did not mean that Michelangelo was a pederast rather a pious man who ably expressed how the Word truly became flesh. On the other hand, the boys painted by Caravaggio are somewhat more complicated. In her book Pictures of Innocence: the History and Crisis of Ideal Childhood from 1998, Anne Higonnet accurately describes how during the Romanticism childlike innocence was constructed through the medium of the image, inspired by shifting morals. Millais, Runge and Bougereau portrayed children in such a way that everyone would want to have them. They are desirable and therefore sensual. They were an appeal to the Victorian woman to devote herself to motherhood and to furnish a home as a fortress in which the purity of the child could be preserved. This image language has not lost its attractiveness, as the baby photos by Anne Geddes and the portraits often sent as Christmas cards can attest. Higonnet illustrates how images constantly change along with moral standards. In recent years we have been confronted with the far from sweet and innocent seeming children by Marlene Dumas, Larry Clark and many others. The Kiki Lamers affair drastically showed that a liberal approach to this theme stands under pressure. Art lovers usually take the stance against moral standards in these questions; the artists image is not up for discussion. It is admirable that Joanneke Meester does not take a simple position in this debate, instead incorporating the dilemma integrally in her installation. Hands off of art! Hands off of the children!

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