ESSAYS, INTERVIEWS & REVIEWS
Rein Dufait - 2012 - Despite Himself [EN, essay],
About Rein Dufait’s work
One of the first works by Dufait (°1990) I ever saw was a table tennis bat drilled through in several places. As the round holes were approximately the size of a ping-pong ball, the work immediately manifested a fine sculptural inversion (the bat can no longer hit a ball, or the ball has made a hole), which deprived the object of its purpose. A less gifted artist would have conceived such an intervention as a gimmick, and only have made one opening, probably in the middle of the bat. Not Dufait. He made several holes, which make it a real sculpture, a useless object that conjures up images, thoughts, emotions and stories. For instance, through placing the bat in an upright position, resting on the end of the handle, the silhouette of an abstract tree was created. An apple tree, drawn by a child! A mushroom with white spots! But then the veneer round the edge of the bat started to curl up on one side. And Dufait called the work Wonogirl. Suddenly what we have is a Warhol Marilyn Monroe or Jacqueline Kennedy… Extraordinary how that same object takes on so many different guises at the same time and conjures up so many stories… Extraordinary for one of the first works the artist made.
Dufait’s work comes into being in his studio, almost despite himself, like a virtually autonomous proliferation of the materials and tools a sculptor gathers around him. On numerous objects and materials we recognize the marks of an axe blade, which seemingly serve no purpose but sometimes produce the most unexpected textures. Two months ago I was in his studio and I admired a magnificent gypsum stalactite, with stunningly beautiful drip rings. Dufait told me that full pots of paint were concealed in the stalactite and that he was planning to drill holes in the gypsum and the pots so that the colour would drip out. When I asked about the result, a few weeks later, he told me that initially the sculpture had been really beautiful. He had cut into the sculpture five times with a hatchet and the paint had spilled out just as he had hoped. “What went wrong after that?”, I asked. “I couldn’t stop cutting”, he laughed.
What I like about the story of this sculpture is that it shows that initially Dufait must have been planning to make the gypsum sculpture lighter and to reinforce it by placing empty paint tins in the centre. However, because the empty paint tins in his studio quickly deteriorate into various forms of sculpture, there were probably none to hand, so he just used full tins. Only after that would he have had the idea of allowing the sculpture to take shape from the inside, in an uncontrollable manner.
Because Dufait’s sculptures are the result of a succession of sculptural operations, they also testify to their genesis and tell us something about sculpting. A good example of this is the Wespermes sculpture which was shown for the first time in the group exhibition Over de lach (Lokaal01, Breda, 2011). It consists of casts of rubber gloves piled up while still in liquid form, like hands forming a little tower. Sculptures are created by removing material from a volume or adding to a core. You saw that in this pile of hands, which were laid as hollow forms over each others’ round exterior. After that, however, the sculpture was ‘treated’ by abandoning it for a while in the studio, moving it, letting it fall, using it as a counterweight, rescuing it, kicking it around, caressing it, throwing it away and rescuing it again. By the end of this painstaking assault, almost all the fingers had broken off, so that the hands were no longer recognizable as such, but the sculpture (in a sculptural, ‘negative’ way) says more about the hands of sculptors and the origin of sculptures.
How can the magnificence of these early works be described? Perhaps by means of Rodin’s description of Rude’s statue of Marshall Ney. That sculpture works, said Rodin to Paul Gsell, because the soldier’s left hand is arrested in the air still holding the sheath to facilitate the drawing of the sabre, whereas the right arm, holding the sabre, is extended above the head to give the command to attack. Moore makes a similar observation about Rodin’s L’homme qui marche. He says that the walking movement is only suggested because you cannot see on which foot the walking man is leaning. “Movement”, said Rodin, “is the transition from one attitude to another.” And this is precisely what we see with Dufait. Because he does not feel the need to finish things or to push to an end point, they tilt gently into another attitude or position, where he sometimes discovers them and takes them into his protection.
We know that Rein Dufait grew up by the sea, where he often played with sand and mud, and we know that he grew up in a large house which his father never finished renovating because of illness, so that the boy grew up in a house where you found the secret signs of workmen on unpainted walls; a house where in places you could pull a brick and its layer of mortar out of the wall and put it back again, and where for twenty years a metal skewer bent double took the place of a missing door handle. As you pushed it down, it gave slightly, but then recovered its functional rigidity enabling you to open and close the door.
Artists are made from this kind of experiences, I think, and from divine gifts which are bestowed upon few. And even fewer manage to put them to good, meaningful and fruitful use, allowing beautiful objects to come into being.
Montagne de Miel, February 3rd 2012