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Things Unseen
Things Unseen - TENT Rotterdam | Platform voor hedendaagse kunst

Things Unseen

Long read

Mariska van den Berg and Heidi Vogels discuss film as a medium to imagine what is unseen or unspeakable. In its striving for veracity and truth, documentary film often aims to access worlds remote from those of the filmmaker and viewer. But we need to delve further to better understand the full potential of a documentary approach. Deleuze already stresses that cinema may depict the world yet simultaneously produces a reality in itself, creating a space-time that can present ideas and ways of seeing that do not coincide with the world as we know it. Considering this, they discuss Heidi’s working methods and cinematographic narratives for presenting the disappearing gardens of Fez. The notion that cinema can make us think, see and speculate isn’t new but is currently given new substance.

This exchange around cinematic approaches is part of an ongoing conversation between curator Mariska and artists Katarina Jazbec, Lavinia Xausa and Heidi Vogels, which informed their exhibition series Joined Narratives.

Heidi’s 2022 film installation for this series, ‘Things Unseen’, part of her long-term film project ‘Gardens of Fez’, deals with the disappearing gardens in Fez, the former royal city in Morocco. She has been visiting Fez regularly since 2012, particularly the medina, its historic centre, and making film recordings with Rajae Drissi, who grew up and still lives there and with whom a friendship has developed. The stories and memories of Rajae and other protagonists shape the image of the city. The film evokes the gardens as they remember them and portrays Fez as a city where imaginary worlds of memory and the imagination are deeply intertwined with everyday reality. Vogels’ long-term research makes for a patchwork of stories. The project’s presentation in various publications and installations will culminate in a feature-length single-screen film in 2022.

Mariska van den Berg: Would you like to start by telling me more about the notion of the garden in the context of Fez?

Heidi Vogels: The garden plays an important role in Moroccan society. The traditional family home, the riad, essentially means a garden enclosed by a house. The houses in Fez face inward, away from the street and public space. In the bustle of the medina, these enclosed gardens, with a fountain in the centre, once offered an oasis of calm. They functioned as social and cultural spaces, where guests are received, and concerts take place on special occasions. Today, many of the city’s gardens are abandoned and dilapidated, a shift that began in the middle of the last century. After wealthier families moved to cities such as Casablanca, Rabat and Marrakech in the 1970s, new residents, who moved to the city for work, took up residence in the medina. The larger riads housed several families who often didn’t have the means to maintain them. During this period the rivers became polluted due to the introduction of chemicals into many of the traditional crafts. And when a new water system was built, the old system became neglected. Many of the original gardens fell into disrepair. They are ruins now, untouched and unrestored, reservoirs of time providing access to the past. In my work, I approach them as entry points into other worlds and other dimensions of reality.

The film hints at such other worlds. For example, when Rajae reads from Jorge Louis Borges’ List of Imaginary Beings, enumerating all kinds of magical creatures. With Borges comes the idea that imagination is part of everyday reality and a necessary component for its functioning. This is an essential subtext in my entire project.

MvdB: In Gardens of Fez, you strive to present a world that doesn’t entirely coincide with reality as it can be seen, heard, and filmed, but includes past times, personal memories, emotional life, and ‘spirits’ even. Underpinning the entire project is a sense of the mythical worlds that are still connected to the gardens. Your prelude to the video installation at TENT is an interview with architect Rachid Haloui, who talks about the old city centre’s labyrinthine and condensed street pattern, which follows the waterways of the originally agricultural landscape. He sketches a fascinating paradox between that organic layout and the remarkably ordered, geometric and inward-looking architecture built upon it, which he understands as prompted by the desert’s infinity and unruly nature. The garden, the greenery, and especially the water are vital in a desert culture. Ultimately, Haloui describes the original medina in Fez as an unspeakable abundance of life, with winding and shadowy alleys, the trickling sound of water in the fountains, mosaics, and scents. This quality is being lost. What Haloui misses most today is a proper ‘sense of the sensitive things in the medina’. This reminds me of what you call the ‘spirit of place’.

HV: The Romans coined the term genius loci which refers to how location, context, and community determine the specific spirit of a place. Over the several years I have been working on this project, the spirit of Fez has gained presence through a growing network of relations. I believe that through such research-based works – connecting place, people, stories, memories and imaginations – one can weave a fabric of relations that brings something dormant to life. For me, the camera opens a space within a place that can be lived and shared. The filmic image coalesces the present reality with memories, histories and other spaces. Gardens of Fez wants to be a conversation with this place. In this realm, the physical spaces – both indoors and outdoors – overlap with a narrative about the different dimensions of a shared reality and layered worlds within a world.

MvdB: Your images of the city and the water seem to suggest that other spaces are enclosed within them. The garden, as philosopher Michel Foucault describes it, becomes a heterotopia.

In Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias, Foucault describes the oriental garden as ‘an astonishing creation with deep and seemingly superimposed meanings’. A heterotopia is generally defined as an in-between space, a space that mediates between others. It is a special kind of social and cultural space that interrupts the continuity of the everyday both in the sense of space and time. For example, a cemetery mediates between the dead and the living: it is a space with a clear function in society that simultaneously evokes virtual spaces. Whereas utopias are imagined places where everything is perfect, heterotopias are real spaces that reveal possibilities not found in everyday life. A heterotopia is a space between an ideal and reality.

HV: Foucault’s description of heterotopia as a space that is both open and closed, perfectly fits the enclosed gardens at the centre of a riad. In an article I wrote with philosopher Halbe Hesse Kuipers, we approached the garden as an ‘other space’, where worlds can come together and slip into one another to create new worlds. As a filmmaker, I continuously ask: What are the moments in which these spaces open up or flow into other spaces, including those of the imagination?

MvdB: Besides encompassing multiple spaces, heterotopias also seem to contain multiple layers of time. Foucault notes how heterotopia enacts a break from the normal flow of time. You once commented that time itself flows differently in the gardens of Fez. Film, of course, also has this ability, which is why Deleuze calls it a time-image.

Gilles Deleuze related cinema to the notion of simultaneousness – the idea that multiple concepts of time can exist side by side. His book on the time-image of cinema starts from Henri Bergson’s philosophical conception of time. When we think of the time captured by clocks, we think of each moment as a self-contained entity, separate from the others. Time is best illustrated as pearls on a string, with each pearl being a particular moment and each tick of the clock being a transition from one pearl to the next. Yet, for Bergson, this is a highly misleading representation of time. Clock time is no more than a human construct designed to help us act in the world. Lived time, by contrast, is time that both flows and endures, where the past and future constantly merge with the present in the form of memory and desire. Past, present and future are not closed entities. Both Bergson and Deleuze emphasise that focusing solely on what things are like here and now isn’t very fruitful, because the present moment is only a point in the ongoing passage between past and future.


When discussing cinematic time, Deleuze uses the terms actual and virtual to describe how past, present, and future are interwoven in the film image. While the actual is the present, the past is represented in the present through memory and the future through desire, with both inhabiting the virtual realm. Film images come in many shades of actuality and virtuality. Therefore Deleuze distinguishes three types of time-image: recognition, recollection and dreaming. He connects them with different states of consciousness. Recognition is automatic, a habit. Recollection is more deliberate and requires an act of reconstruction to make it present in the present moment. Dreaming has the greatest distance to the present and concerns images of reverie, memory, and fantasy.

HV: When I say that time flows differently in the gardens, I refer to the virtual realm, or a simultaneous past-present-future, in all its open-endedness. Past, present, and future are entangled, and we live in different realities simultaneously. In Gardens of Fez, I aim to unfold these layers. I consider the subconscious as part of the real and address it through metaphors. I also like how Deleuze presents the recollection image as a memory being reinvented, thus actualising memories and giving them a new moment. This is what Rajae does in the film when she is recollecting. Alongside an image sequence of a well, she recalls when she was a young girl, fetching water from a well in her grandfather’s house, and she saw water creatures and ghosts in the depths. The well functions as a metaphor, connecting the city’s upper and lower worlds. Water spirits, mythology, and memories make tangible the continuous shift between the visible and virtual. In the edit of the film, the spaces of the gardens, the city and the characters constantly shift in front of, over and through each other as moving patterns. The film is driven by my search for an interplay between documentary imagery and the imaginary and trying to capture the moment one slides into the other.

MvdB: Let’s return to Deleuze’s layered understanding of film. Cinema consists of images that refer to something outside of themselves; they depict the world and are related to it on a scale between actual and virtual. Simultaneously, cinema also produces a reality in itself, a specific space-time.

HV: Yes, it is all about layering. On the one hand, a film is an intentional collection of scenes and storylines. On the other hand, in the act of filming, you are looking for a relationship with where you are and what is happening. For me, documentary filmmaking is an organic process of admitting reality, which involves a relational approach and thus a form of collaboration. As my friendship with Rajae develops, for example, she shows me her world through her childhood memories in the city and allows me to see through her eyes. When I get her to read Borges’s text in response, she also changes by becoming a character. The actual moment of filming opens a space for meeting and exchange, and that is quite different from following a script in which everything is already determined. A space is created that can be lived and shared. It is not predetermined. As a filmmaker, you create the opportunity for things to show themselves and unfold. You work with fragments of reality, but this is also relative because it is initiated as a relational process. The final film is the result of this process. It testifies, as it were, to a way of moving through the unknown and invisible and at the same time, it draws in the viewer to participate in the process.

MvdB: In preparation for the Joined Narratives project, together with Katarina Jazbec, and Lavinia Xausa, we looked at some image compilations you had previously made. We all had the feeling of exploring the city ourselves. In response to your way of filming and camera work, we concluded that instead of you ‘telling’, it is us looking.

HV: I try to observe what is happening from behind the camera with utmost concentration. I was an outsider and aware, things quickly become too beautiful and exotic in Fez, and then you remain on the outside. Instead, I wanted to go beyond aesthetics. I was always looking for intimate images, such as conveying the tactility of the walls or clothes, as if you are touching them, so that others can watch with me as I try to look through the eyes of my protagonists. I’ve mostly approached people sideways at shoulder height and you don’t see close-ups of faces. I didn’t want to bring about a ‘looking at’ but a ‘looking with’.

MvdB: In addition to the recollection image, Deleuze’s notion of the crystal image also seems relevant to your work, particularly in your approach to editing. With the time-image, Deleuze does not refer to ‘things happening in time’ but to images that provide ‘new forms of coexistence, ordering, transformation.’(1) In this way, cinema can capture, even produce, the sense of a simultaneous past-present-future in all its endless, non-actualised potentialities. This is the crystal image. By showing us the present, past and future – both the actual and virtual – the crystal image shows us the very workings of time. I recognise this in your editorial approach to the gardens and the medina in Fez, as you bring together different times, ways of being present and ways of looking.

HV: I look for a layered cinematographic language and structure within the possibilities of film. I try to let the intimacy of the image and the underlying concept of the garden as a heterotopia reinforce each other in the editing to create a flow that propels you as a viewer. When Rajae recalls the memory of her grandfather’s house, we see a young girl taking water from a well, we see the water, and as a viewer, you are drawn into it. Rajae’s memory takes over. The image takes over. This happens with the water in the well and in the wild streaming water of the river. In the arrangement of all those pieces and fragments, I look for the interplay between reality and imagination, an interweaving of the real with memories and sometimes a suggestion of the extrasensory world. I try to let sound and rhythm realise what I cannot capture in images, and exercise restraint to let the silence speak.

Film is a polyphony of impressions, shapes, emotions, landscapes, structures, details, rhythm, and silence, which you compose and give direction. As a rule, there is a hierarchy of signifiers, and language, for example, is one of them. What fascinates me is when that order starts to shift and when what is in the background emerges in the foreground, gains meaning, drowns out, and then falls back again. My perception of the city derives from the movement back and forth between foreground and background. At times, the camera meanders into the city, and after a strong transition, offers a view of the mountains or an overview of the city interspersed with gardens as green oases. The flowing rhythm of the editing, the use of sound to evoke what we cannot see, and the narrated stories of my protagonists and collaborators are the leading elements in a polyphony of voices. After all, the virtual dimensions of the gardens of Fez can only arise in the viewer’s imagination through the power of texts and stories.

I want the reality of what you see and the imagination to alternate continuously and that you start seeing the imagination within reality. It’s all there, and that’s the point. The story of Rajae’s daughter, Camelia, which will be part of my feature-length film, is a good example. She started researching her culture and tells how she took part in a lila, a communal night of celebration dedicated to prayer and healing. During this ritual of the Gnawa, a Sufi brotherhood, she saw an entity, the spirit Lalla Aisha who is associated with the water, and this made a deep impression on her. Once the viewer hears this story, they look differently at what follows. What was first viewed from a distance is now perceived with an informed eye that sees other things.

MvdB: To conclude, I should like to quote Pedro Neves Margues’s intriguing essay, Mimetic Traps: Forests, Images, Worlds, in which he reflects from an anthropological perspective on the image in different cosmologies and ways of seeing. He cites Yanomami shaman David Kopenawa, saying, ‘If images are central to mimesis, it is as shapes that shape ways of seeing’.(2) I take this out of context, but even then, this understanding of the relationship of the image with the world is telling. Images are not imitations of the world; however, they do produce and give direction to a way of seeing. We talked about Deleuze, who considers film to be a form of thinking. Kopenawa’s emphasis on ways of seeing struck me as even more applicable to your work.

HV: Deleuze speaks about how cinema builds a language for thinking what has not been thought before. But thinking is not my main interest. I’m particularly fascinated by the relationship between the seeable, the sayable and the senseable. The seeable is essentially different from the sayable, which Deleuze also recognises. Words express something other than what images allow you to experience. At this stage in my project, I want to create more breathing space for images. That’s why realising a video installation at TENT was interesting. It is easier to embrace a purely visual mode of storytelling in the context of an exhibition space than in a documentary film meant for the cinema. This also offers the viewer more freedom to look for themselves. This work is about expanding the scope of what images can tell and what they are allowed to tell.

Heidi Vogels presents her film installation ‘Things Unseen’ (2022), part of her long-term film project ‘Gardens of Fez’, at TENT from 18 March to 8 May 2022 as part of Joined Narratives, an exhibition series curated by Mariska van den Berg.

About The Dialogue Room

How can we make time and space for sharing thoughts, inspiration, and the things that currently occupy our minds? From this question we have initiated a series of ongoing conversations with divergent Rotterdam-based artists. The Dialogue Room is an editorial platform where we publish these conversations as long reads, with online access to related artists’ projects. The platform simultaneously functions as an impetus for both contributors and readers to slow down, and to give time to enrich our perspectives and our imagination. Independent from exhibition and event calendars, the conversations held in The Dialogue Room provide an occasion to delve into the ongoing research, lived experiences, references and reflections running through artistic practices.


Mariska van den Berg studied Art History at the University of Groningen. She was a curator at SKOR – Foundation for Art and Public Space – and currently teaches theory at the St. Joost Master Institute of Visual Cultures in Den Bosch. Her writing is published regularly, and she initiates diverse projects, such as publications and the exhibition series Joined Narratives at TENT (2020–22).

Heidi Vogels is an Amsterdam-based artist and filmmaker. She studied Fine Arts at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy. Her multi-layered stories in film and photography explore the interstices of what she calls ‘the different sets of the visible’ and often extend into programmes and events in exchange and collaboration with participants and colleagues. For several years, her work has centred on heterotopic spaces, specifically the garden, in film projects in Morocco, both in the medina of Fez and the oasis of Tighmert, and the city district of Amsterdam Nieuw-West. She has recently exhibited at le18 in Marrakech, Jut Art Museum in Taipei, Van GoghHuis in Zundert and Bureau Postjesweg in Amsterdam.


1. Bernd Herzogenrath, ‘Stange Topologics: Deleuze Takes a Ride down David Lynch’s Lost Hightway’, in: Film as Philosophy (ed B. Herzogenrath), University Of Minnesota Press, 2017, p. 165.

2. Pedro Neves Margues, ‘Mimetic Traps: Forests, Images, Worlds’, 2017,


Sources and Notes

Nancy N. Chen, ‘Speaking Nearby: A Conversation with Trinh T. Minh-Ha’, in Visual Anthropology Review, Volume 8, Number 1, 1992.

Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 2: The Time-Image, University of Minnesota Press, 1989 (oorspronkelijke uitgave in het Frans 1985).

Donato Torato, ‘Deleuzian Film Analysis. The Skin of the Film’, Volume 6, Issue 6, June 2002.

Michel Foucault, ‘Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias’ (1984),
in Facing Value. Radical Perspectives from the Arts, Maaike Lauwaert and Francien van Westrenen (eds.). Amsterdam: Valiz Amsterdam & The Hague: Stroom, 2017.

Bernd Herzogenrath, ‘Stange Topologics: Deleuze Takes a Ride down David Lynch’s Lost Hightway’, in Film as Philosophy (ed. B. Herzogenrath), University Of Minnesota Press, 2017, p.161-179.

Lutz Koepnick, The Long Take: Art Cinema and the Wondrous, University of Minnesota Press, 2017.

Laura U. Marks, The Skin of the Film: Intercultural Cinema, Embodiment, and the Senses, Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2000.

Pedro Neves Margues, ‘Mimetic Traps: Forests, Images, Worlds’, 2017,

Heidi Vogels and Halbe Hesse Kuipers, ‘Of Other Worlds: A dialogue on the disappearing gardens of Fez and the different worlds they foster’, Journal of Urban Cultural Studies, Volume 3, Number 1, 2016.