Hans Theys is een twintigste-eeuws filosoof en kunsthistoricus. Hij schreef en ontwierp tientallen boeken over het werk van hedendaagse kunstenaars en publiceerde honderden essays, interviews en recensies in boeken, catalogi en tijdschriften. Al deze publicaties zijn gebaseerd op samenwerkingen of gesprekken met de kunstenaars in kwestie.

Dit platform werd samengesteld door Evi Bert (M HKA / Centrum Kunstarchieven Vlaanderen). Het kwam tot stand in samenwerking met de Koninklijke Academie voor Schone Kunsten in Antwerpen (Onderzoeksgroep ArchiVolt), M HKA, Antwerpen en Koen Van der Auwera. Met dank aan Idris Sevenans (HOR) en Marc Ruyters (Hart Magazine).


Emma Johnson - 2021 - Space, volume, colour, rhythm, scale [EN, essay]
Tekst , 2 p.





Hans Theys


Eloquent Emptiness

About some works by Emma Johnson


Firstly, Emma Johnson made the sculptural proposal Empty Extension, which consists of three parts. On the right, the ripped and stretched fabric demarcates a three-dimensional, sculptural space and connects the wall to the floor. In the middle, the sculpture crosses a corner of the exhibition space extending itself to the adjacent wall. This part of the sculpture is made on a domestic knitting machine. The extension then meets a second sculptural space: a repurposed bike tube. The stretched sculpture seems to pull the walls of the exhibition space together, touching the emptiness, desiring it.

The second sculptural proposal is called Three Loops. It comes from the wall and connects to the floor. A strong cord defines the starting point and the end point of the sculpture. Loosely hanging around this cord we see a multicoloured, knitted rope. Extended, this rope has exactly the same length as the cord. But when it relaxes, it takes on curved, hanging shapes. These shapes create a repetition of empty spaces, outlined in tones of blue, black and beige. The work divides the exhibition space as well. 

Both Empty Extension and Three Loops have dripping threads melting to the floor. These threads form drawings. They seem to be bridges between the material and the immaterial. 

The third sculptural installation, Elevated Fragility, emerged from a collection of eggshells that Johnson sourced from a Chinese restaurant. She wanted to find the tension in the materiality of the eggshells. Dropping them incessantly pushed her to elevate them: the tension is in their fragility, in the fall. “I elevated them with little hammocks made on a domestic knitting machine from extremely fine embroidery threads,” she told me. As a result of the weight of the eggs, the knitted fabric spreads or coagulates, creating different values of the same colours. These colours appear as solid, though their source is almost intangible. The tiny hammocks filled with eggshells are then placed in pairs of two bridged by a cord. She also placed full eggs in the hammocks, at times a single egg. The masses of empty forms contrast themselves with forms still withholding content. A balance is created between content and form, supposedly valuable and supposedly valueless. 

For the video Grandmother's House, Johnson hosted twenty snails or so in the wooden dollhouse of her grandmother. She watched the snails explore the space and fed them vegetables and water before returning them to a garden. The video is projected in the basement of an empty house, bringing the scale of the doll house to the scale of a real one. The size of the projected snails (as big as children) as well as the amplified features of the dollhouse make the image somewhat absurd.

As a woman, I am seduced by the bold presence of these delicate additions to space, these seemingly dismantled volumes, these attempts to render the potential of space. As an art historian who loves Marcel Broodthaers, I can appreciate the play with the eggs: condensed worlds, perfectly shaped fulness, eloquent emptiness, worthless and rich. As a lover, I can appreciate the tender holding of the eggs, the subdued reference to lingerie and to male body parts. As a writer, I can appreciate the specific spatial syntax of these installations. As an observer, I feel privileged to have witnessed the birth of this poetic universe.



Carla Van Campenhout, Fontaine d’Amour, 10 June 2021