They Live In Us (I Am A Very Detailed Person)

Sylvie Zijlmans & Hewald Jongenelis

Beautiful Distress House, Amsterdam

Van Riemsdijkweg 41-A

September 25 – October 25 2020



Note: changed opening hours! The exhibition is only open after sunset: Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenigns from 8:00 PM till 10:00 PM

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They Live In Us, the latest project by Amsterdam based visual artists Sylvie Zijlmans and Hewald Jongenelis is a short film about the mystery, the fear, and the charm of the realization that you can never be sure of the image you get from the reality. Together with new life-size inkdrawings they show a preview of this film in the exhibition “They Live In Us (I Am A Very Detailed Person)”, which can be seen from 25 September to 25 October in the Beautiful Distress House in Amsterdam. The exhibition can only be visited after sunset, on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings.



They Live In Us is a visual and auditory spectacle that gives a compelling image of this fearful uncertainty. It is a poetic message from the dark world of doubting who you are and the despair of how to interpret signals from the outside world.



I Am A Very Detailed Person



Sylvie Zijlmans and Hewald Jongenelis were guests in the Beautiful Distress residency at Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn for three months in 2019. As artist-in-residence, they lived on the seventh floor of an vacated building of the hospital and worked daily with staff and patients of the day-treatment of the Behavioural Health Clinic. They gave workshops, participated in the therapy program and joined meetings with former patients (“They live in us” and “I am a very detailed person” are statements from patients they often saw).



These experiences were the starting point for short scenes that tell stories of a confusing reality. In the scenes, the impressions that Zijlmans and Jongenelis gained in the psychiatry department are mixed with their experience of living and working in the haunted, abandoned building on the campus of Kings County Hospital. The fantastic and sometimes terrifying scenes were performed and filmed on location, together with the hospital staff.



”They Live In Us” takes place in a building in Brooklyn, against the backdrop of a poor city district with the sound of sirens blaring 24-7 from ambulances approaching and arriving. The building is a metaphor for your own thinking, which you cannot escape. It’s like an organism in which you are trapped. Signals come in from the outside, sounds, sirens, wind, but nothing goes out. Sometimes you can justify something in your head, disprove it, or wait for it to pass or for something else to demand more attention. But there is no way to get out of your own head. That’s why all the scenes from “They Live In Us” take place inside the building. The sounds that penetrate from the outside into the building give rise to imaginations, fantasies and new storylines. The only way to get a view of the reality outside the building is to look through a high window. The world that then becomes visible is at a great distance and appears fluid. What’s going on there is compelling, but not very reassuring. They Live In Us shows that there is great beauty in all this confusion. And it shows that this confusion can root anywhere. Also in your own head.



Zijlmans and Jongenelis stayed as guests in Kings County Hospital in 2019. While back in their Amsterdam studio, they were compiling the story of “They Live In Us” from the huge amount of video material, the Covid-19 pandemic spread. Kings County Hospital became one of the hot spots in New York. Everyone, including us here, ended up in a situation where the relationship with reality was a lot less obvious.


Many of Kings County psychiatry’s patients live permanently in conditions that have a similar effect. Conditions that seriously hinder daily functioning: poverty, poor and noisy houses, being disadvantaged and black. People are close together yet isolated and lonely. The lock-down has made us much more aware of the effect of social isolation. “They Live In Us” shows that, in addition to alienation, there are also reasons for connection and reflection. Sometimes with unexpected effects, such as in the scene with “a man who can not feel his face” in which a man, to make himself more intelligible, yells loudly through a hole in a plexiglass window at a receptionist and then runs off , after which the receptionist philosophizes about his well-being in a long monologue.

In this project, Sylvie Zijlmans and Hewald Jongenelis have worked closely with staff and patients of Kings County Hospital. In recent years they have also realized many other projects in collaboration. In 2015, together with a hundred residents from Amsterdam-Noord, they created performances around social themes in the project “The Magnetic North”. In 2016 they collaborated with the staff of the Penitentiary Institution Zaanstad to create a monumental photographic work for the new building.
In 2017 “The Magnetic North” was on show at Museum Boijmans van Beuningen in Rotterdam. The videos of the performances were shown in a spectacular installation with life-size ink drawings. In 2018 the ink drawings were shown at Andriesse ~ Eyck Galerie under the title “Manifestations of Optimism”.

to Zijlmans & Jongenelis main page

video-still from They Live In Us (2020)
video-still from They Live In Us (2020)
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video-still from They Live In Us (2020)