The Identity Builder

The Identity Builder website

In 2005 the artist was invited to participate in a six-month residency at The Blue House in the newly constructed urban area IJburg in Amsterdam (NL). The Blue House was a four-year art project by Jeanne van Heeswijk, Herve Paraponaris and Dennis Kaspori that welcomed artists and researchers from various disciplines to the Blue House in Block 35 to research the neighbourhood and community in the making.

Paes Leãos project Identiteit Bouwer (Identity Builder) was addressing the lack of community history. She understood IJburg as a typically Dutch project: completely devised, planned to the centimetre, regulated from top to toe and constructed entirely by people on an artificial island in a lake. But how does one construct of build the identity of a neighbourhood without a (shared) history? And how does this compare to the opposite, the organic growth of a town where the unexpected, flexible social values, that which cannot be planned, is the evolutionary force in forging character and identity without premeditation? Paes Leão conducted extensive video interviews with local people from all walks of life, capturing both the optimism of the IJburg ‘pioneers’ as they moved into new homes and the divisions that soon emerged in the community through living together and negotiating relationships in this shared public space. The resultant film, using excerpts from famous films such as Blue Velvet (David Lynch) and Mon Oncle (Jacque Tati) as a mirror immage, was presented at The Blue House in the summer of 2006 with the source material subsequently incorporated into an artist website ( mapping the diverse ‘living history’ of inhabitants of Block 35. The site is a journey through questions about identity, urbanism and social development, critically analysing the concept of building a neighbourhood and consequently a completely new community in one go.

This project as a whole was presented at The Blue House in February 2007 and at the closing symposium in 2009 and was on display at Kunsthal Weert in the section of New Media Art and at the Web Biennial ’07; a project of the Istanbul Contemporary Art Museum. The project reflected the artist’s point of view and was never intended to be a celebration or showcase of the community. Paes Leão: “Dutch people aren’t always comfortable with expressing opinions in public, however by showing different perspectives I hope the project can act as a starting point for building community relations.”

Screenshots of The Identity Builder website


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