Smuggling Award


video projects
Written by Irene Verhiel, Dagblad De Limburger; January 31, 2002
Normally speaking, the video projectors in bars are only switched on for major soccer matches, standing idle for the rest of the year. Artist Sabine Mooibroek changes all that.
She projects video images in a number of bars, in such a casual and inconspicuous manner that it simply looks as if the TV set is on. But those who happen to glance at the screen may be in for a surprise. It is for that reason that Mooibroek receives the Smokkel Prijs (Stealth Price) 2001 and one thousand euros for her idea. The award is an initiative of the Smokkel Foundation, organizer of special art projects. These projects are always about spontaneous acts that may take place in a street someplace, on a train, in a post office. The actions are never announced – no-one outside the foundation knows in advance what will happen where.
Swiss artist Mooibroek, who has been a resident of Amsterdam since eleven years, came up with the idea of doing something with all these idle video projectors in bars. Of course she was aware of the fact that most people go to bars and cafés to relax, and are not keen on being bothered with tiresome stuff. “What I show is a little bit tiring all the same.” On purpose she embedded her video images in-between MTV clips and regular broadcast programmes, creating the impression that it is just the TV playing in the bar. But those who happen to look up from their drinks and glance at the screen, will see and hear something rather peculiar: Dutch looking people who at first recite vague legal terms in a very foreign sounding accent and then start elaborating on them in completely different voice. The legal terms are from a glossary compiled to explain the immigration policy of the Justice Department and were taken by Mooibroek from the Internet “It is a peculiar list of very abstract and euphemistic terms”, according to the artist. “A term like ‘central reception’, for instance. What does it refer to? To people? To goods? Or a concept like ‘realistic future plans’. What that means is “to leave Holland and return to your home country”. Such euphemisms.”
Armed with the glossary Mooibroek went to a village in Friesland, to a celebration in the local art centre. There she asked those present what they thought some of these terms meant. Mooibroek consciously chose Friesians to speak out on this. “Because of the former murder of the girl Marianne Vaatstra in these parts, of which an asylum seeker was at first suspected, the impression one got from the media was that Friesians were not particularly fond of foreigners. That’s why.” The responses she got to her questions reflected very little of such an attitude, though. Next, the artist asked asylum seekers in Amsterdam to read aloud the terms of the glossary and edited their voices to the images of the Friesians. The result was Dutch folks talking about immigration policy in the Netherlands in rather bizarre voices.
Sabine Mooibroek will accept the award next Sunday in Café Aux Pays Bas in Maastricht, where the video will also be shown. True to Smokkel style other locations remain undisclosed, but Amsterdam and Antwerp are definitely two of them. Will she herself attend to see the reaction of the public? “Well, that would make me a bad smuggler, which would be unlike the Smokkel tradition.” No, Mooibroek rather smuggles in a friend who can tell her what happened later.