Afternoon Dust

Seecum Cheung — The Dutch Window

Seecum Cheung's The Dutch Window, large projection screen in front of a wall of orange curtains

Anyone who spends much time in the gallery of Birmingham visual arts space Grand Union inevitably falls in love with the windows that line the full length of two opposing walls, and many artists who exhibit there choose to make use of them in some way. Serendipitously, windows form a central theme and metaphor in British-born, Netherlands-based artist Seecum Cheung’s solo exhibition The Dutch Window, for which blinds and curtains have been installed to bathe the gallery in a soothing orange twilight.

A twenty-minute film made in the run-up to the 2017 Dutch parliamentary elections features interviews with political activists from across the ideological spectrum, alongside other representatives of Dutch civil society. Notable by their absence are representatives from major parties such as VVD, PVV, PvdA, and CDA; instead, Cheung focuses on smaller players such as Piratenpartij (the Pirate Party), GeenPeil (NoLevel), and Artikel 1 (Article 1). The only party with significant support to appear in the film is D66; as the election results presented at the end of the film show, they were also the only featured party to win any seats in the election.

On first viewing, The Dutch Window appears as a straightforward documentary about the election and its major themes, such as immigration and race. Those diaphanous orange curtains, billowing gently in the breeze, are a reminder to look and listen deeper past this surface. The incidental soundtrack for the film is a thrumming low-level drone, vague and indistinct yet palpably present, and it is matched by equally inscrutable footage looking at, out of, and into windows: amorphous shapes coalesce into silhouettes of neighbours moving around their homes; a huge wall of windows zooms out to reveal a still-partial view of a giant cruise ship; the flat, flat landscape seen from a train whizzes by too fast to lock on to any details, which in any case are partially obscured by reflections.

Windows offer a way to see out onto the world, and for the world to look in (especially when they are left uncurtained, as is the tradition for Dutch living rooms). Yet Cheung, through the above-mentioned devices by which she quietly establishes her presence as subject in the film, seems to suggest that such views are inevitably partial, veiled, and lacking in clarity, while respecting the sincerely-held beliefs of her interviewees. A transparency and willingness to talk about politics doesn’t necessarily lead to any clear solutions to the major issues facing a society, either for an outsider looking in, or for the central protagonists in that society’s unfolding story. If nothing else, The Dutch Window is an affective and subtly poetic reminder that people of all political persuasions have their blind spots and partially-obstructed vantage points — gently raising the question of where my own biases might lie.

Seecum Cheung’s The Dutch Window is showing at Grand Union, Birmingham until 22 July 2017.

Seecum Cheung
Grand Union