Below is an interview I’ve done with Rineke Dijkstra for TrouwAmsterdam in 2012.

“A nightclub is a beautiful dream”

Tonight, March 29th 2012, Rineke Dijkstra will be back in a nightclub. This time not to make art, but to show it as part of Contemporary Art Club, Stedelijk @ Trouw / De Verdieping.

TrouwAmsterdam was curious about the story behind Dijkstra’s The Buzz Club / Mysteryworld and asked copypasteculture’s editor-in-chief to interview her. Fortunately, Dijkstra was kind enough to stop by TrouwAmsterdam on a sunny Wednesday afternoon to talk about her work, her relationship with the club-scene and the quest for authenticity.

Rineke Dijkstra (Photo by Daphne Channa Horn)

Plaid shirts and short dresses

“In 1994 I was in Liverpool to take pictures of school children. At that time I went out quite a lot and I had heard about the famous club Cream, at the time one of the most famous clubs of northern England,” says Dijkstra. “So on the last evening my assistant and I went to visit the club. But the queue at the door was too long and we had no desire to wait. So then we asked the taxi driver if he could take us to another club. ” And so Dijkstra and her assistant arrived at The Buzz Club.

Dijkstra soon became fascinated by the club. “The room was quite large and there was carpet everywhere. The boys all looked rather plain, with plaid shirts. But the girls were all dolled up with short flirty dresses. In those days, girls in the Netherlands wouldn’t wear dresses when they went out. That was completely new to me. And it’s fun for a photographer when something is surprising. ”

The decision to photograph in the club was made quickly. “It actually came forth from the project I was doing at the school. I wanted to photograph children in their school uniform and then to see how they distinguish themselves from each other. In The Buzz Club you could see uniforms of another sort. The nightclub attire obviously was a dress code too.”

Nevertheless, the specific atmosphere of the club was difficult to capture in a photograph. According to Dijkstra, there was more: “It was the overall atmosphere, but also the youthfulness of the visitors, the DJ behind the turntables people congratulating their birthday or directing someone to the exit – ‘Sarah Palmer to the front door please’- and the liveliness of the whole.” Video artist Gerald van der Kaap gives her the insight to capture it on video.

Van der Kaap, also known under the name 00-Kaap, was often VJ at the RoXY, Chemistry, Melkweg and Rauw nights at Club 11. With him was Dijkstra initially shoots videos in Vrieshuis Amerika and the RoXY. In retrospect those were trials to explore what video could do differently compared to photography.

“In Amsterdam, it was predominantly students or people from the academy of arts. In Liverpool it was different. The people at The Buzz Club were younger and many of them came from the working class. Don’t forget that the economic situation in Liverpool has always been much worse than here, “explains Dijkstra from. “Even though England is close to us, it is very different. Society is different. Sometimes you have to take a step back to be able to observe those differences and let yourself be surprised by things that you do not know.” That is why Dijkstra eventually went back to Liverpool with her video camera.

Forgetting the camera

“A club where it’s dark and has light-effects, is like a beautiful dream. I took people from that environment into a little makeshift studio, which I was able to set up in in an unused space of the club. There they stood isolated in front of a white wall, lit by my bright lights. And in those conditions I actually wanted them to forget the camera. That is almost impossible.”

Dijkstra had the challenge to create an uninhibited atmosphere. “I noticed that when I stood behind the camera, they would feel watched. So I just let the camera run and would focus my view on the monitor next to it. Then I would not look directly at them but they still had the feeling that I was involved,” explains Dijkstra. “That connection is important: they needed my concentration because in the end, they were there for me. Meanwhile, my assistant would chat with their friends and so we created a very relaxed atmosphere. They could forget about the camera, but at the same time be aware of. The artwork balances on that divide.”

Dijkstra doesn’t appreciate staging a scene: “I believe in authenticity. I’m not a creator. If you have a rigid preconceived idea of how things should go, then it often doesn’t work out. Something can only really happen when you open yourself up to it. I enjoy continuously adjusting my view and to relate myself to things. Trying to understand the someone, also in relation to myself and from a positive standpoint, that makes me happy. Then all of a sudden things start to happen which I could have never imagined myself.”

A photo-face

That Buzz Club / Mysteryworld is shown at Trouw, Dijkstra finds quite special: “It’s never been shown in a club before. What I like is that can be seen from the dance floor, but if you’d like to hear the sound, you’ll have to go into the smoking area. That is quite appropriate because in the video almost everyone is smoking.”

Dijkstra continues: “My videos look best in an installation. You can watch it at home on your computer, but that is very different than when view it as a large projection. I think it’s important how the viewer is able to relate to to the people portrayed. You should almost feel that you can walk around it, that it has depth. That has a very different impact. ”

What that impact should be, is not bound in a single representation. “I like to leave the images open imagination and interpretation. Film is photography, but with added movement and sound. Resultantly, you can show different things. I want to lift it to a level where the work becomes a metaphor, an icon for a movement or an era.”

Dijkstra would like to show that everyone is different, that everyone is unique. “Quite often it’s captured in a posture, in a glance. I am looking for the essence of what make a person a person. It is hard to capture because people always like to put on a photo-face. You know, everybody looks at you the entire day without resulting in inhibition. However, whenever you feel the presence of a camera, you tend to portray yourself differently from who you are in essence. Suddenly you become aware of yourself. While it’d be beautiful if people could relax and just be themselves, like when they do not really think about it.”

Text has previously been published on TrouwAmsterdam’s blog. Header photo by Ernst van Deursen. All work copyright Rineke Dijkstra unless otherwise stated.