Willem de Rooij

Willem de Rooij’s work Index: Riots, Protest, Mourning, and Commemoration (as represented in newspapers, January 2000 – July 2002) consists of eighteen large format sheets, on which newspaper photos from the period mentioned in the title are placed. The selection of images is limited to themes in the title. They are images in which emotions are expressed in public. The reasons for these different forms of agitation are not recognisable, as the articles belonging to the images are cut off. Through this the tendential similarities of the expressions, independent of their respective political or cultural contexts, become visible. Grieving women, protesting farmers or students and militant demonstrators of different nationalities focus one’s attention on the problem of representation in artistic and mediated images, cultural-historical artefacts and social-political forms. The press photos, which are concentrated and reduced to one action or object, intensify doubt over the ‘image’ and initiate a discussion about our culturally influenced ways of reading events, about how we use images and how they influence us. Thereby the ambivalence of the image, the scene and what is presented come to the fore.

In the press photos compiled by de Rooij, human reactions to political situations find iconic expressions. The complexity of the conflict, the reasons for the demonstrations or revolts are neglected because of the immediate expressiveness and collectiveness of the emotions in these images that therefore always seem somehow familiar. What can be seen are ‘the people’ as they mourn, demonstrate or rise up against the authorities. Individuality retreats into the background as the mass is politicised. In the emotionalisation of politics, the fact that the reasons for the emotional reactions – grief, protest and remembrance – are not communicated cannot obscure the fact that a coverage of the world that uses visual arguments is not able to describe anything but a recurring conflict between politics and people. The formatting of the visible here insists on alleged evidence. With the reduction to the rhetoric of the emotional, it is, to be sure, only possible to squeeze in a small difference between the economy of images – in the political sphere as well as in the representation of the everyday – and their reproduction in the media.

By Vanessa Müller, translated by Eva May


"Index: Riots, Protest, Mourning and Commemoration (as represented in newspapers, January 2000 - July 2002)" (Installation in Magazin4, Bregenz, 2005) (18 framed panels, each containing a group of newspaper-clippings, that are installed in one line or in a tunnel-like constellation) Copyright with the artist, courtesy Michael Loulakis.