The body untamed

Maaike Meinderstma – De kennis van het lichaam (The knowlegde of the body)

By Zrinka Grula

The body surprises 

With the aim of writing a curatorial article for the TEXT ME program at the Media Art Friesland Young Masters Exhibitions 2023, I arrived in Leeuwarden. Passing through the streets of the city, on the way to visit Luna Nights, my attention was captured by a flipped projection on the ground. Bare feet projected on the rocky pavement walking on their toes, graciously in front of me. 

When I visited the Young Masters exhibition the next day, I entered a room and was startled by the same bare feet jumping on a trampoline. Projected from giant beamers the feet were moving, jumping, and walking across four separate screens on the wall. These images playfully moved from one screen to the other making me wonder where they will appear next. They were behind me, in front of me and I turned around the room trying to chase them. What struck me further was the elegance and coordination with which the feet moved. The sound of them, coming from the speakers, clashing against the trampoline, or a wooden beam rang through my ears.

The body remembers 

“I think in the Netherlands, there is a lot of focus on the brain. You need to be highly educated and that’s good…and the body is sometimes something that you want to control and that is where it goes wrong. Maybe we should give our body more credit for what it actually does, than thinking we are actually only our brains.” said a young, 23-year-old, Dutch master Maaike Meindertsma in our interview. With her audio-visual installation, De kennis van het lichaam, the artist captures the complexity of “body memory”. She explored this topic in written form in her thesis when graduating from the Department of Fine Arts at Minerva University, Groningen in 2022. Utilizing her in-depth understanding of how our bodies store information, memories, and feelings, she was able to “materialize” her written work. This research and the artwork itself draw from her personal experiences as a gymnast: “I started gymnastics when I was eight years old, I think.” Maaike opened up about the time of her life that had an influence on her work: “At some point when I was more in puberty, I started getting better and better, but I also started to take it more seriously every single year, and at some point, I kind of collapsed and didn’t dare to do anything. Even skills that I had done when I was eight, I just didn’t dare to do it anymore. Later I got over it, but it sparked my interest…like okay…I knew that I could do it…but why was I in the way of myself while my body could still remember everything.” Her experiences gave the work another dimension, but of course, they are different for every individual in the audience.

The body reacts to space

One of the first characteristics that my colleagues noticed as part of the audience is the relation and reaction of the work to space. The composition of the work is simple, as mentioned beforehand, four white panels are placed on three white walls. The panels are situated at different heights, and they vary in size. The videos projected from the beamers on the ceiling, onto the panels interchange between the walls. The feet jumping from one spatial focus to another generate an element of surprise. Another element that I always find interesting, in relation to video works, is the concept of the space within a space. In the interview with the artist, she mentions how the spaces she chose such as the trampoline park or a fireplace were mostly improvised. Thus, in my opinion, the connection between the space in the videos and the display in the Media Centre manifests in the creation of an irregular rhythm and dynamic in her work. For example, the body is more dynamic jumping on the trampoline than slowly walking on the street. However, I recognized a certain coherency in the repetition of footage as well as the overarching motive- the feet.

 The body challenges 

Maaike started to experiment with full-body video recordings about two years ago for her education at the Minerva Academy, Groningen. When I asked her why she decided to show only her feet as the main motive, she replied: “The feet are smart…you know. I just got fascinated by how the feet reacted to the trampoline and how they move without us knowing how they are actually moving.”. Exploring her fascination did not come without technical challenges. At first, she tried to produce one whole video, however, she was unsatisfied with the two-dimensional outcome. Her process of trial and error continued as she tried to crop her body out of the frame in Adobe Premiere Pro. For the display at the Media Centre, she chose to work with MadMapper, a program specialized in projection mapping. Additionally, her graduate work at the Minerva Academy did not contain panels on the walls as the videos were projected on bare walls. The panels were a necessity for the space at the Media Centre as the walls were not fully white, disrupting the quality of the videos. Some videos are shown in slow-motion which relates to the theme of body memory. It gave me a feeling of satisfaction as the feet are perfectly synchronized when landing on the trampoline. 

The body interacts with the audience

Even though for the artist, the work is inspired by the correlation between sports and arts, for me it reminded me of my childhood. My colleagues had become my childhood friends. They tried to catch the moving feet just like I tried to catch my own shadow as a child. It became a collective experience. I was glad to hear that for Maaike that was the idea behind the work: “My idea was to have the viewer not know where the feet will appear.” Moreover, the audio component also gives the clue that there is constant movement everywhere around the room. The artist explained that the sound comes from the video footage itself, and was not recorded separately. I found this very pleasing to the senses as the sound perfectly corresponds to the footage, without any delays or distortions. The fluidity of the sound emphasizes the gracefulness of the movements. This captures the core of the artwork as Maaike herself states: “You cannot control your body all the time and sometimes letting go and trusting your body is a better choice than trying to grasp every detail of it.”

1] Zrinka Grula: In Conversation with Maaike Meindertsma in February 2023. Unpublished Manuscript. All quotes are from this interview unless stated otherwise.

Photos by Tom Meixner