ESSAYS, INTERVIEWS & REVIEWS
RE - 2010 - Like Quiet Thoughts [EN, review],
Like Quiet Thoughts Spoken out Loud
On an exhibition curated by RE:
Yesterday I saw a wonderful group exhibition organized by three artists: Maarten Dings, Joachim Naudts and Egon van Herreweghe. What gripped me immediately was the way the works of the participating artists (Alexandra Leykauf, Anouk Kruithof, Claudia Weber, Dominque Somers, Edward Clydesdale-Thomson, Eva-Fiore Kovacovsky, Jimmy Robert, Katleen Vinck, Michèle Matyn, Sara Deraedt, Saskia Noor van Imhoff, Tania Theodorou and Valérie Mannaerts) engaged in a fascinating dialogue with each other. Colours, tones, objects, subjects and images were recaptured and repeated, like a fugal conversation between people who listen to each other. The result is extraordinary, especially when one considers that the organizing artists had not chosen a single work but had given the artists carte blanche (with the added bonus that most of the works are new or on show for the first time). At the same time this does not surprise me, because the organizers are a collective, and master the art of holding differing opinions and making beautiful things together. In 2008 I saw their splendid exhibition 'Een foto zegt meer dan duizend woorden' (A photograph says more than thousand words), which was notable because of its cautious, precise and poetic approach to the exhibited works and the exhibition space. These men have a formula that produces very fine exhibitions.
Their intentions are described on an accompanying pamphlet, printed in light-blue ink on card. The starting point is an interrogation of photography and all its possibilities, limitations, applications and other perversions, including the possibility of approaching the photograph as an autonomous object and not as a sort of road sign which refers in an aesthetically pleasing manner to an aspect of the so-called reality. All trained photographers, the organizing artists are particularly interested in how artists develop and continue to develop a body of work. They are interested in hybrid forms. In temporary solutions. In questions, comments and aspirations which take the form of visual work. “Artworks”, they have Valéry explain, “are contingent steps in an intellectual process, which can be manipulated, prolongued, altered and destroyed ad infinitum.” Maarten Dings says how much he has enjoyed the studio visits and how bereft he feels now that the exhibition is finished. But only by finishing things can you fail, succeed, grow, formulate new things and go on learning. Drudgery and processes that lead to nothing concrete are no use to anyone. And now this exhibition is lodged in our memory as a successful throw of the dice.
The accompanying text contains several other strands of thought, which present the exhibition as an attempt to think openly about photography and exhibitions. Each of the observations is apt. “We want to try and communicate something about the subject of the exhibition we have made instead of showing artworks which have to represent a subject.” So what could the subject of this exhibition be?
If it is true, as some claim, that form and content of an artwork are not separate entities but one and the same thing, just as a mussel makes its own shell and can never move house, then, judging by the superb cooperation between the different participants which has resulted in a harmonizing, but also asymmetric, dancing form, we could assume that the subject of this exhibition has something to do with finding a place for oneself in consultation with others.
We say that artists try to impose a new order on the world, even if it is just by adding an obstacle, or something that attracts our attention or draws our attention to something else. This is how artists make room for themselves. They feel at home in a certain activity, but also in a world furnished with personal, even constructed images, thoughts and stories. By showing their work, they demand the right to be who they are and to do what they do. The exhibition space becomes an extraordinary place which accommodates images that call attention to specific ways of being or making art.
Four months ago the artists came together for the first time to explore the space and its possibilities. In the last few weeks before the opening they trickled in one by one to create or build their work in situ.
How can we tell that these artists have worked together and given consideration to each others’ contributions in the nature and placing of their own work? The first thing you notice is the absence of bright or contrasting colours, the dominant tones being black and white and the colour of wood. Sara Deraedt shows three almost black & white photographs of car driving-seats taken from outside. An artist like Michèle Matyn, who until recently only exhibited colour photographs, shows large prints consisting of several bands in muted shades held against the wall by means of diagonally placed, untreated wooden curtain poles. The photographs show haystacks which are themselves supported by slanting poles. These haystacks are covered at the top and put us in mind of tents or hiding-places. The subject of the cave as a refuge or secret place returns in various works. Sometimes the form turns inside out and we see a mountain, a hill or a heap, as in the work of Katleen Vinck with the polystyrene imitation rocks, or in the work of Edward Clydesdale-Thomson, who shows a pile of gravel rendered shiny black with oil and had a photograph of a mountain landscape described by someone who describes images for the blind. Saskia Noor van Imhoff created a wonderful miniature landscape, partly of paper, glass, sawn off pieces of metal beams, an ostrich egg and, sprinkled in a corner, white powder of a sort normally used to extinguish fires, which has spread over a large part of both exhibition spaces as an almost completely transparent gradation. Alexandra Leykauf shows a superb16-mm film shot in a museum of antiquities in which artefacts bathing in golden light appear in glass display cabinets which seem to glide by in the green gleam of a myriad of reflections.
The photographer Clydesdale-Thomson asked someone to describe a photograph that already existed and in that way reminds us of the project ‘A photograph says more than a thousand words' for which a number of people were asked to write something about a photograph they had found and regarded as special. In this exhibition we see a sculpture by Valerie Mannaerts for which a fragment of a printed photograph was scanned and printed enlarged. The rhythm of this print returns in Anouk Kruithof’s pile of newspapers, in which we are confronted by dozens of close ups of her own sweaty face. In a publication by Eva-Fiore Kovacovsky we find a similar repetition in the form of photographs of leaves of grass, printed on coloured paper. Elsewhere we find a work by Dominique Somers: black line drawings created by registering the eye movements of people looking at pornographic films, each printed on slightly different coloured paper.
Landscapes, hiding-places, images turned inside out, gentle interventions, proposals, reflections, accents: a circumspect landscape unfolds here like quiet thoughts spoken out loud.
Montagne de Miel, 12 September 2010