Kunstfort Voices #6
Paulien Oltheten, Lourdes TV, 2020 (ongoing project) (artist contribution)
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In this edition of Voices, Paulien Oltheten tells how, in a year of isolation, she found something to hold on to in Lourdes TV. The webcam footage she collected and categorised are the foundation of a new film project she is currently working on.

On summer holiday I passed Lourdes and spent a number of days wandering the streets with my camera. Now that the crowd stayed away I was able to watch the structure, the mechanism and the social behavior of this famous place of pilgrimage with a pleasant distance and tranquility.

Apart from the daily routine, full of rules and rituals such as the eucharistic celebration (in several languages) and the Maria 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 will remain sacred, even if you use it at home or refill the bottle with regular tap water.

I get slightly jealous when I talk to people about being religious, like in Lourdes. It must feel wonderful, at a time when people doubt the veracity of news, politics, the future, to be able to place a 2000+ year old framework on reality, step into this framework and say: “This is my truth.  I believe this. I’m getting support from this.”

A character I have built a close relationship with is ‘The Waving Woman’. I call her Theresia. She is easy to recognize because of her colorful purple-pink backpack. She is one of the first visitors that steps into the picture frame, every day around 8 o’clock. She stands motionless for a while between the row of pews, and prays. After a while she gets restless and starts rocking her body back and forth. Then she makes the sign of the cross, turns and waves at the webcam. Sometimes she also blows kisses to us, the gazing crowd behind our computers.
Who is this woman waving to? Does she know I’m watching her? Her ‘One minute of Fame’? I waited for her every day and sometimes waved back.

This new work, a live (online) video essay, is a form of thinking-out-loud and casting a tentative gaze on the meaning of Lourdes in this age. But by clicking and scrolling through my materials, I myself am also looking for the reason why I chose to visit this particular place. 

Watch one of Paulien’s observations in Lourdes on Vimeo when she was there with her camera in the summer of 2020.

For each Kunstfort Voices, another artist or creative maker is invited to share a textual work, poem or story. This can either be their own work or that of somebody else.

Paulien Oltheten, Lourdes TV, 2020.

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