Until Easter you can experience a specially for the project Art Stations of the Cross designed site-responsive installation in the canal room of the Onze Lieve Vrouwekerk (Church of Our Lady) in Amsterdam. This new work of art by artist Güler Ates is called Water no longer dances with light. The title refers to the sea, nowadays often the background of traumatic stories of immigrants who take exceptional risks to reach a safer place.
For months the artist collected the experiences of numerous displaced persons. She gave them time and attention and listened to their moving accounts. The stories of ‘in-between’ are written in many languages and printed in a letter type that reminds us of the great stories of Western cultural history preserved in ancient codices. In a wavy movement they fill the canal room of the Church of Our Lady.
The chamber is entirely covered with a torrent of words. Some visitors are literally unbalanced. Many sit down to be able to process the overwhelming impressions.
Amidst the tidal wave of poems and chronicles (some translated and brought together in a booklet) there are images of a veiled woman photographed in this house of prayer that is used by a Roman-Catholic as well as a Syriac Orthodox congregation. The latter call it the Mother of God Church. The enigmatic ‘middle’ in the oeuvre of the artist appears here too, the place where East and West meet.
A veil prevents classification because it covers up, while at the same time it reveals a lot. It is used in many cultures, think about the sari, the burqa or the bridal veil in the Western culture. In cultural history a veil often meant a higher rank in society. Here it can also refer to the depiction of Mary in the art history of the West.
In this contemporary art pilgrimage this work stands for Station 6, ‘Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus’. In the Stations of the Cross, Veronica is the woman who helps Jesus persevere. She confronts us with the classic question: In whom do we invest, convinced that the person can make a difference in this world? Who can lean on us?
Güler Ates became friends with a group of displaced people. She invested in their stories and created a work of art based on their narratives. The meetings were encouraging for all (as a curator I was sometimes present) and the contacts will go on. Relationships matter.
This mysterious figure can stand for Veronica or for the woman this church is dedicated to or for an encounter between Eastern and Western cultures. Several different interpretations are possible.
But she does open a window to another reality where the deluge of words drains away, serenity and sanctity prevail, and all cultures approach the altar welcomed by a safe and familiar embrace of light.
Image: Güler Ates, Water no longer dances with light, 2019, new site-responsive installation, wallpaper and photography. A performance during the opening was also part of the work of art. www.gulerates.co.uk
Güler Ates grew up in the mystic tradition of East Turkey. She is based in London and works with video, photography, printmaking and performance. One of the core elements in her work is cultural displacement. She studies the interaction of Eastern and Western cultures. www.gulerates.co.uk
Anikó Ouweneel is a cultural historian and art curator living in the Netherlands. She has curated Art Stations of the Cross together with Marleen Hengelaar-Rookmaaker.
This visual meditation was published on 24th March 2019 on ArtWay.