Evening Primrose

Projector lamps installation
De Oude Kerk. Amsterdam. The Netherlands. 2006

There is a brothel street called the “Red Light District” in the middle of Amsterdam. All day, many women await customers by windows lit in red along this street, which has become a popular tourist attraction. Maybe it is because prostitution is legal in the Netherlands, but this scenery comes across as being free-spirited and even normal. But one must remember that the government closely follows and controls the life of the women involved in prostitution.
I had a chance to get to know some of these women in Amsterdam. They told me stories about their life, and it made me think if the “legal” nature of prostitution in the Netherlands was to better protect the rights of women or to better serve the government’s image defined by the term “tolerance.”
Through the lengthy conversations, I was finally able to listen to these women as individuals. They were no longer the “women” as we generalize them, but individual persons with different feelings and emotions. And this is how I began to think about a project that will allow me to project their voice as “individuals.” After a lengthy consideration, the poetry project in which poetries written by these women are shadowed onto the board blocks in the Red Light District, came to my mind.
I first consulted with Petra Timmermans, who is a coordinator at the PIC (Prostitution Information Center) of the Amsterdam Red Light District, and some of the women about my project because their opinions mattered the most in it. They said that the project would be very interesting and “sexy,” and they promised me their participation in it. I sent the project proposal to Petra, who forwarded the proposal to the International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe (ICRSW), International Union of Sex Workers (IUSW), and the Network of Sex Worker Projects (NSWP). Through the mailing list compiled at the ICRSE and IUSW, my project proposal was delivered to all the women in the world within the international sex workers’ network.
Within the period of one month, I received replies from 11 women of whom 6 sent me 9 poems voluntarily in total. Among them three specified their nationalities: two Americans and one Thai. Most of them used aliases to shield their identity.
After a careful consideration, I planned to install the lights in the interiors and on the outer-walls of De Oude Kerk located at the heart of the Red Light District in Amsterdam. After sending the church a detailed project proposal and two lengthy interviews with Herbert van Hasselt, the director of Oude Kerk, I was authorized to install the lights.
The Poetry Project of publishing poems written by the women in shadow took place inside and along the outer-walls of De Oude Kert for two days in the middle of June and beginning of July.
Once the project began, lights came on, and poems appeared in shadows, the women were not happy about it. They supported and even were fascinated by the project when only discussed in words, but the lights and poems in shadow made them uncomfortable in real life. Around 1AM, one woman came to me and asked to turn the light off, and that is how I put an end to the project.

Most importantly, I would like to express my greatest gratitude to those who sent me their poems voluntarily and supported this project.