Barbara Visser was awarded the Dr A.H. Heineken Prize for Art 2008 for her photographic and video work, notable for its wide-ranging form and content and consistently distinct signature.
Barbara Visser’s photographs, videos and installations disrupt our patterns of expectations, sometimes very directly and sometimes more subtly. Alienation from reality and the astonishing nature of reality are certainly not unfamiliar themes in contemporary art, but Visser uses them in her work in a distinctively creative fashion and with immense visual conviction. For A Day in Holland/Holland in a Day (2001), for example, she disguised Dutch actors as Japanese tourists and photographed them in the Holland Village theme park in Nagasaki. The result: Dutchmen in Japan who look like Japanese in the Netherlands.
In an earlier work, she stuck a knife in the upholstery of a Martin Visser couch, similar to Lucio Fontana’s slashed canvasses. She battered other familiar icons of design furniture as well, robbing them of their functionality but transforming them into works of art at the same time (Detitled, 2000).
She attracted attention with The World Belongs to Early Risers (2002), a series of photographs of a man sunbathing on the seashore while, a short distance away, photographers are snapping photos of a refugee who has washed up on the beach.
Barbara Visser has also created future postcards. In one work, she had an actress impersonate her giving a lecture while she dictated the text into a microphone hidden in the actress’s ear. She used the recordings for her next work (Lecture on lecture with actress, 2004), in which she worked with another actress who resembled her more closely. Differing realities, originals and copies are recurring themes in Visser’s work.
About the laureate
Barbara Visser (Haarlem, 1966) attended the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam and Cooper Union University in New York (1985 to 1991). In 1998 she spent a year at the Jan van Eyck Academy in Maastricht.
By now she has become a well-known name both in the Netherlands and abroad. Her work has been purchased by the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, the Museum for Modern Art in Arnhem, the Municipal Museum of The Hague, the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem and the Boijmans van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam. She has also taken part in exhibitions in Tokyo, Antwerp and Auckland, and exhibited at Büro Friedrich in Berlin and at the Sao Paulo Art Biennial. De Paviljoens Museum in Almere organised a retrospective exhibition of her work entitled Vertaalde Werken/Translated Works 1990-2006, accompanied by a publication (Barbara Visser is er niet).
Visser has received the Charlotte Köhler Award (1996), the Young Belgian Painting Prize (1999) and the David Roëll Award (2007).
— Interview with Barbara Visser in Akademie Nieuws (Dutch)