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

“During the summer holidays I passed through Lourdes and spent several days with my camera in the streets. With the crowds staying away, I was able to observe, with a pleasant distance and tranquility, the structure, mechanism and social behavior of this famous place of pilgrimage.

In addition to the daily routine, full of rules and rituals such as the Eucharist celebration (in several languages) and the Marian procession, all kinds of agreements were also made about what people believe and accept as normal. For example, you agree that water from the Lourdes tap remains sacred, even if you use it at home or refill the bottle with regular tap water.

I get a little jealous when I talk to people about being religious, like in Lourdes. It must feel amazing, at a time when people are doubting the veracity of news, politics and the future, to be able to give a 2000+ year old framework to reality, step into this framework and say: this is my truth. I believe this. I get support from this.

This new work, in the form of a live (online) video essay, is a reflection out loud and an exploration through my gaze of what Lourdes is today. But while clicking and scrolling through the material, I am also looking for an answer as to why I was there.”

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