Young Artists Fill Empty Cinema with Sculptures: “It’s a Quiet Version of Life”

By Thea Bladt Hansen

Collage by Anna Sazonov

— Kriterion, usually a lively student-run art house cinema in Amsterdam, has been quiet and closed since December 2020. But three young artists and cinema employees have now temporarily converted the empty cinema building into a gallery with the exhibition Staat van Verval (State of Decay), which displays sculptures reflecting the state of humanity in a world of seemingly endless extensions of lockdown measures, limited mobility and continuing disappointment.

A creature best described as a mixture between a plant and a human skeleton hunches over a cup of freshly made ginger tea in the cinema café. In the big ground floor cinema hall, flashes of light illuminate the multitude of bodiless faces placed on the otherwise empty cinema chairs, all facing a screen which does not show a movie. These are the new inhabitants of Kriterion, invented by Lieve de Vreede, Marie de Vreede and Nick Ouwehand in an attempt to repurpose the cinema as an exhibition site until the government allows cinephiles to gather in front of its screens again.

Photo by Marie de Vreede

During the 76 years since former resistance members and students founded Kriterion after the Second World War, the cinema has focused on providing students with a place to work, meet and engage in discussions. Lieve de Vreede, member of Kriterion’s board and one of the artists behind the exhibition, explains that  Staat van Verval continues this tradition by underlining the consequences of shutting down cultural meeting spots: “We are all used to bizarre things right now, new norms, and we have mostly stopped caring. That’s what motivated me to make these weird decayed creatures.”

The initial idea for the exhibition came to de Vreede while she was caught up in feelings of anger and went through a depression, partially as a consequence of Coronavirus measures, isolation and loneliness: “I wanted to do something with my anger, so I started making these sculptures at my atelier.” Her sister Marie de Vreede also started making sculptures during the pandemic, and the two decided to combine their sculptures to fill the empty cultural space of Kriterion. Nick Ouwehand, who studies at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie with Marie de Vreede, was then included in both the process of making sculptures and planning the exhibition, as his artistic style fit the vision the two sisters had for the exhibition.

Photo by Marie de Vreede

Ouwehand and de Vreede wanted “to show how we think the state of man has become after more than a year of lockdowns. It’s really a half dead half alive situation.” The sculptures are made from materials commonly considered to be trash – newspapers, old clothes and other objects which make brief appearances in everyday life only to eventually be thrown away. In that sense, the sculptures consist of old news reports in the same way that our lives now revolve around news, press conferences and updates on Coronavirus measures. 

The exhibition, which officially opens today 22 May, has been gradually installed since March as the three artists finished producing the sculptures. Because Kriterion is a student workplace with several employees always working and hanging out, the placing of sculptures constantly changes. Ouwehand adds that employees working in the cinema café, which was allowed to reopen for outdoor service on 28 April,  keep serving the sculptures drinks and in that way the project has become an integrated part of the Kriterion community. Although this brings some life back to the cinema building, de Vreede says that “it’s a quiet version of life, because even though the exhibition changes, all the sculptures are still and static.”

The three artists behind the exhibition: Lieve de Vreede (top left), Marie de Vreede (top right) and Nick Ouwehand. Photo by Parvin Bungeberg de Jong

A new exhibition is already in the works and will come to Kriterion in June. But de Vreede envisions that pieces of Staat van Verval can remain in the cinema hall, as long as measures such as distance between audience members have to be maintained, to indicate how far apart people are supposed to sit when they are once again allowed to go to the movies. The exhibition in the Kriterion building on Roetersstraat 170 is open for visitors every day from 10.00-18.00 and you can enjoy both drinks and nachos, which Kriterion assures are as lukewarm and tasteless as before the pandemic, on the terrace in front of the cinema café.

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