Universiteit Leiden

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No Place Like America, production still, Bombay, IN, 2007

The magic of projection

Video projections in contemporary art are convincing not because they depict reality, but because they show new possibilities within that reality. Artist Sophie Ernst demonstrates this in a thesis and an exhibition. She defends her PhD on 8 December.

Projection depicts new reality

Video projections and moving images are a prominent feature of contemporary art. Sophie Ernst researched how these images can be used. Projections convince the viewer, she argues in her thesis, not because they depict reality, but because they show new possibilities within that reality. Her art, which forms her PhD research alongside her thesis, adds weight to this argument. Ernst’s work depicts the concept of ‘home’ from the perspective of refugees who have been forced to leave their homes due to political persecution. Her exhibition Memory: Architecture of Belonging comprises four artworks and is on show at the Royal Academy of Art The Hague.

Magical experience

In her thesis Ernst distinguishes between immersive and augmentative projections. Immersive projections are projected onto a surface like a cinema screen. ‘Where you are at that moment has little to do with what you see. You literally step into another world.’ With augmentative projections the place where you are is more important. The artist projects a moving image onto a three-dimensional object, such as a sculpture. ‘I use this form a lot in my work. I think that in this type of projection the reality of the object and the reality of the projection merge, allowing them to be experienced as magical.’

Projection of hand drawing

Ernst conjures up this magical effect in her exhibition, for which she interviewed refugees in places such as Pakistan, India, Indonesia, Palestine and England over a period of six years. The exhibition consists of the works The Silent Empress, No Place Like America, Home and Paradise Lost. In Home one sees models of homes. The person who used to live in each home explains why he or she had to leave. At the same time Ernst projects the person’s hand as it draws that home.

Memories shape identity

‘Do our belongings play a role in shaping our identity? How important are memories here?’ These are questions that Ernst asks in Home. ‘Often, memories do not correspond with reality,’ she explains. ‘In the exhibition people draw their former homes and talk about them. And even if that home is still standing and used to be theirs, it is never exactly as they remember it. But that isn’t a problem. Your memories are part of your identity. As with the augmentative projection, it’s not about what something is but about what it could be.’

Exhibition in Royal Academy of Art The Hague

Ernst’s exhibition can be viewed in the gallery of the Royal Academy of Art The Hague until 8 December. Ernst will be in the gallery to talk about her exhibition on 7 December.

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