In complex arrangements Wendelien van Oldenborgh's films and slide installations examine questions of identity, historiography, and the voice. Her concern is to provide a framework in which discussions can develop along often very loose thematic guidelines and where multiple standpoints can be expressed. Very different versions of history are voiced together with accounts of how the past continues into the present. Complexity is not reduced to a central narrative or dominant viewpoint, rather it is generated anew and differently over and over again. The spaces in van Oldenborgh's works are polyphonous, the identities she deals with are compiled from history, hybridised from different cultures. They have travelled great distances, they speak many languages, they have many voices.
Van Oldenborgh returns time and again to the colonial history of her Dutch homeland to follow its traces in the present. She films in historically significant locations or has people read related texts, but she also intervenes with distancing effects to highlight the mediality of her scenarios. No False Echoes (2008) refers to radio politics in the colonial era. On the roof of a radio station Sala Edin, a Dutch rapper of Moroccan descent, reads out a critical text by the former Indonesian freedom fighter Soewardi Soerjaningrat ,while inside a modernist building the camera follows a discussion about the role of radio in the Dutch colonies. The medium of radio, which broadcasts only in one direction, becomes a space of conversation, an echo chamber in which, against the background of history, questions are asked about the role of freedom of speech and expression today.
In van Oldenborgh's more recent works the principle of discussion and the polyphony of voices are yet more pronounced. In Bete & Deise (2012), the final part of a trilogy that deals with changes in the workplace, two women – actor and politician Bete Mendes and singer Deise Tigrona – meet to discuss the role of public speaking. For Supposing I love you. And you also love me. (2011), van Oldenborgh brings together five young adults with the theorist Tariq Ramadan. Already formulated concepts collide with spontaneous expressions of feeling, everyday experiences with academia, without any form of hierarchy establishing itself. At one point Ramadan puts his finger on the problem: “Say whatever you want to say, but whatever you say it doesn’t matter. You are either not heard or something else is heard.” This is precisely what van Oldenborgh is working to counteract. All voices are equal in value and have the right to be heard.