Paulien Oltheten


Paulien Oltheten analyzes human behavior in public space, often in direct contact with passers-by. She unapologetically looks for situations in which she can highlight poetic or rhythmic details: maneuvers with clumsy luggage, casual ritual actions, striking body postures or repeated routines that leave visual traces in the environment. As a contemporary urban anthropologist, Oltheten documents such behaviors and patterns, often in subtle correlation with a purposefully chosen location or context. She then structures and comments on her research material into a perceptive narrative, which she shapes as photo and video work, publications, lectures and performances.

Oltheten studied at the Academy of Art and Design ‘s-Hertogenbosch (2000-2004) and the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam (2005-2006). Her work has been shown in, among others, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, Nederlands Fotomuseum (Rotterdam) and Galerie Fons Welters (Amsterdam), Jeu de Paume (Paris), Moscow Museum of Modern Art and Museum of Contemporary Photography (Chicago). She won the Dutch Doc Award (2012) and the Nouveau Prix Découverte des Rencontres d’Arles (2018), and was a resident at ISCP New York (2013) and Cité international des arts in Paris (2017), among others.

In residentie Lourdes

My photos, performances and videos investigate human behavior in public spaces. I create my own walking routines. I go to parks, squares and streets of big cities for direct observation, finding unique activities, repetitive gestures, routines, certain objects or design elements there. I then connect these events and create a story formalized in words and still and moving images.

Paulien is currently working on a film about Lourdes. The main character of the found footage film Lourdes TV watches the webcam images of the Cave of Apparitions for hours every day. She follows with fascination the strict routines of priests and nuns, how they prepare for mass. She recognizes returning pilgrims as old acquaintances. The woman with her purple-pink backpack, who waves at the webcam every day. Or the man with a beret, who tries to absorb healing energy in different ways. She sympathizes with the desire of visitors who want to touch the cave with their own hands. She watches live as the employee lights the candles every morning. For a year this marks her start to the day. It gives her a feeling of power that she knows what is going to happen. But why can’t she break away from that, from these people who cling wholeheartedly to the belief in the miraculous powers of the Virgin Mary?

Is there a woman she can no longer reach herself? A love that has eluded her? Is this where she hopes to understand her friend’s mystical delusions?

Gradually a personal story of love, letting go and loss unfolds. Pilgrims come and go: the comfort of strangers, 800 miles away.

project details