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Guido van der Werve, Nummer achttien, Act 10, Spice of life, Death drive, 2022

What does it mean to be part of nature? And is it possible to escape this? These were the questions I was left pondering after seeing the exhibition Palpable Futility by artist Guido van der Werve in Eye Filmmuseum. His films often contain overwhelming images of nature. They remind us of humanity’s insignificance and our problematic relationship with the natural world. Van der Werve gives us a push in the direction in which the human race needs to travel. But can we overcome our collective inertia and change course?

Guido van der Werve stands in a frosty white landscape, warmly wrapped from head to toe. In a series of speeded-up photos, we watch him slowly revolve around his own axis. The work Nummer negen: the day I didn’t turn with the world is a time-lapse sequence lasting more than eight minutes in which Van der Werve stands at the Geographic North Pole for 24 hours and revolves in the opposite direction from the rotation of the earth. We can see time passing by his shadow, which moves around him like the pointer on a sundial and which remains visible for almost the entirety of the film, as it never gets completely dark here. The world spins on its axis during 24 hours, but Van der Werve doesn’t turn with it. Thanks to a supreme physical effort, the artist was able to escape from the rotation of the earth for a whole day.

The relationship between him – as a human – and nature is also present in his other films. The artist can often be seen surrounded by stunning, vast landscapes marked by snow, mountains, woods or water. Landscapes reminiscent of how nature was depicted during the Romantic era: as an overwhelming, sublime environment of which humanity is just a tiny part. This impression of nature as ‘real’ and raw, where the influence of humankind can be seen only to a limited extent, is also recognisable in Van der Werve’s films. These are landscapes that seem far removed from our everyday, comfortable lives – but which we nevertheless are still part of.

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