Le Temps des Choses / Les Choses du Temps
The Time of the Things / The Things of the Time
Translation by Anna and Adam Thorpe
For the viewer who fails to sense that, on the surface of many of Inge van der Ven’s works, something which doesn’t belong to rational vision is happening – is taking place, playing out, unfolding, being outlined – would then have to reposition themselves. Because when facing this work, a detached gaze, barely applicable to recognition, unconcerned with comprehension, a gaze which lies at the limit of optical precision, a shifting gaze, unquestioning, virginal, misted, a cryptic gaze, which opens the doors of perception and places the viewer under the arch of phantasia – portico of clouds – this gaze has priority. It is a first step, useful when encountering these works; it echoes the way Bergson defines contemplation: ‘to contemplate is to immerse yourself in the virginal way of seeing, hearing and thinking’. So, approaching this virginal sensorial immersion, as the works invite us to do, let’s make the most of and appreciate the game of playing with the senses, of impressions, of aesthetic experience.
It’s in the peacefulness of this relaxed gaze that the gathering of shapes, of materials, of colours, fully release their original scent. It’s in this floating gaze that all the small Van der Venian traces properly diffuse their dreamlike, oniric fragrance, part of a world in which objects also have their own life, an autonomous existence, a soul, and in which every work is a surety, becoming, so to speak, a true bodyguard for the spirit of things.
These works poetically and clearly invite the onlooker to place themselves in a time without optical precision, without any close attention to things, in order to acquire another vision, a better vision, a vision capable of identifying the singular liminal exhalation which many of Inge van der Ven’s creations undeniably possess. A superficial aura, a sort of invisible foreground installed on top of the material itself, is located at all but the same level of the work. The sensorial capture of this invisible entity, floating on the surface of the Dutch artist’s works, more or less resembles the capture of a subtle kitchen smell which would have been sensed from the entrance hall, straight from arrival, at the moment when the traveller sheds his/her calorific layers. A promising olfactory announcement, a Proustian finger click, the motricity of the work-in-progress, a brilliant thematic orientation – to understand that this delicate aroma liberated by the invisible coating in which the work is situated announces a thematic that runs right through the works of Inge van der Ven – namely, temporality (a thought which we will come back to).
Receptacles and envelopes – coherence and cohesion
Now placing ourselves underneath this aural layer, on the actual surface of the works, concerning the appearance of these ‘combine paintings’ (from Braque to Rauschenberg to the present, the Dadaist assemblage always bounces back), we can see that the inscribed figures are multiple, varied, perhaps even totally hybrid: trees, houses, cups, bowls, flowers, butterflies, sofas, chairs, bathtubs, clothes, bottles… all are represented here. These subjects could be thought of as being heterogenous, but in reality they aren’t so different as they might lead you to believe. These various referents actually constitute two large complementary and perfectly united categories: coherence and cohesion.
There are, on the one hand, these recursive sites for bodies and matter: beds, chairs, sofas, houses, bathtubs, tents, carpets, shoes, bottles, glasses, cups, bowls, vases… They form a whole, that of the receptacle, which diffuses the idea of a reception, a shelter, a welcoming, a cocoon, a cocoon of nests, of all types of maternal womb. And then there are also those membranes that envelop bodies and materials – diverse skins, as it were: fabrics, clothes, tights, cloths, rags, wallpaper, newspapers, felt, wool… These membranes form another whole, that of the cover which suggests the idea of clothing, of protection, of a sheath, of fur, of wrapping, of a hood. And we should observe that every part of these envelopes is perfectly adjacent to the whole of each receptacle insofar as, logically, the receptacle is close to the envelope, and vice versa. Their characteristics are thus shared. The two wholes commingle, intersect, are woven together, repeat themselves and revive each other – in and owing to – their twinning… coherence and cohesion again.
From the entirety of the receptacles to that of the envelopes, the materials that evoke coating and packaging are numerous, except that here, in contrast to Christo and Jeanne-Claude, this kind of packaging avoids emphasising the shape of the underlying whole but suggests the emptiness of a vanished interior, something to be recovered, of an escaped interior to be regained, of a hollow space which is asking to be filled (a little like the Pompeiian anthropomorphic cavities which Roberto Rossellini installs in Journey to Italy, a great moment in the reappearance of a disappearance!). Neither sadness nor gloom is conjured in this convening of the void with which the Amsterdam artist plays; rather, just a little touch of melancholy which amplifies the call to completeness, the invitation to join the receptacle shape, and to let oneself be wrapped.
Thus, to sit looking at the image of a chair is to embrace a shape. To visually plunge into a bath, is to slip into a shape; to enter a house made of wool with one’s thoughts, is to penetrate a shape. To lie down with one’s eyes in a microfibre tent, is to settle into a cocoon, is to prepare oneself to become a butterfly, to get ready for a visual hatching and ascent. These two wholes, receptacles and envelopes, are undoubtedly intended for that purpose, they multiply stepping-stones for contemplation and therefore help to ‘immerse you in a virginal way of seeing, hearing and thinking’ – to go back to Bergson’s words initially referred to.
A flow’s punching machine
Inge van der Ven can be seen as a punching machine in a flow, a faithful heraclitean Panta rhei; she plays with time, she makes littles holes in the invisible continuum of temporality and restores her extractions in a distorted form. Confetti, for example, as colours of an extracted moment, coloured peelings, bark from around the world, teguments (to name things with even more precision) – the metaphor becoming here almost a metonymy. ‘The past only exists as a present memory, the future as a present hope, as for the present, it is elusive,’ wrote Jorge Luis Borges. Inge van der Ven is pursuing this intangibility, she tries to give it a form, shape, colour, colours, material presence… turning it into material, physical, tangible presences. Every one of this artist’s works becomes a little like the chrysalis for this quest, the residual punch for its progression in the time of things and the things of time.
Blossom, a mop tree with a confetti flowering, could be defined as a paradigmatic work for this temporal thematic in that you can find symbolically inscribed, on the surface (perhaps recognisable owing to the misty aspect, to come back to this liminal optical posture), diverse aspects of time. There is visibly on the one hand this cyclical time, the budding time, the unfolding of nature and its periodical return – Botticellian Spring with less bassa danza and more mop. Then there is potentially a suspended, frozen time, that of the fixed image, and Blossom is one of these. This work, like other works by this artist, especially her flowers Fleurs-plastique, Fleurs de thé, as well as other productions, show this suspended time. This time which Vermeer knew how to paint (cf. The Lacemaker, Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window, Woman Holding a Balance, Woman Reading a Letter…). Purely suspended gestures for Vermeer, immobile images of immobile people, monuments of silence, statufied movements in a run of colour, figures whose stillness invokes the eternal, in other words an exit from time – an inverted temporal relationship with regards to the flow but altogether a relationship with time. And then there is at last (and undeniably) this reunited, compiled, unified time, that of sowing, a necessary time for the covering of this ground cloth by these small colored buds, this confetti stitched there, one by one, with thread, delicately, patiently. This poietic time, that of making, is displayed in Blossom, making it graciously seizable. Like a contemporary Penelope, the punching machine of temporality, Inge van der Ven spins, because it’s indispensable to her, and essentially playful, as she knows very well – alongside Georges Bataille and not only from Georges Bataille – that ‘Art is first of all, and stays first and foremost, a game’. With Blossom, and many others, Inge plays, she plays with Clotho and Lachesis, two out of the three Fates, respectfully assigned to weaving and spinning the thread of life.
Beyond the work’s appearance, beyond the representational, and maybe owing to the above-mentioned misty view, we might note that the materials used also indicate with a subtle finger click, like a faraway echo, the work’s transversal thematic, i.e. temporality. Indeed, beyond recognizable shapes, identifiable objects and what we have already noted, many are the materials which return to this same temporal thematic – specifically newspapers, yellowed photographs, mops and used sponges, stained cloths, paper towel… Most of these objects carry in their own fashion traces of (their) lives as well as scattered characteristics, but they use (in other words, reuse), traces, memory, erasure, inscriptions, punches, imprints… To this we would add that with these recurrent referents – already returning to appearance – a specific category emerges, that of those referents with an ephemeral character… specifically, butterflies, buds, flowerings, fertilisations, all these little passing, light, fragile and coloured notes which the artist plays on the temporality score and for which a place in her work is clearly reserved.
These short moments – to name them as such – providing the notes and double notes of the melodies that Inge van der Ven composes, complement and contrast this palimpsest’s ‘temps long’, the memory buried in materials and supports. These short moments, coloured butterflies, fragile buds, luminous flowerings, singular fertilisations, intervene like the revealing agents of the temporal thematic. Beautiful musical scores, fine rhythmical equilibrium, admirable melodies, exquisite music. And if a key must be attributed to these chromatico-temporal refrains, it would probably not look like a G, an E or – more mysteriously, and more logically too – like a mermaid’s purse, in other words a totemic element of the Dutch artist’s work. To ask a corollary, immediate and legitimate question: what is a mermaid’s purse and what is its shape?
Mermaids’ purses – a totemic shape
Sirens’ purses, beautiful little organic things which only measure a few centimetres, sometimes cream-coloured, but mostly brown, the ‘mermaid’s purse’ (to use the artist’s own terminology) is an egg which belongs to the category of chondrichthyan oviparians, rays, chimaeras, and other small sharks, which are thrown up by the foreshore.
To roam the beaches collecting the foreshore’s free windfall is a studio activity for Inge van der Ven, a source of inspiration even in a literal sense – negative ions, iodine, energy. The shape of the mermaid’s purse (to come back to the little things) is somewhere between a hammock negligently placed on the ground and the more rigid, stretcher-like symmetrical casing, in other words a sort of capital H whose central bar is notably thickened, the contours softened, and the volume delicately rounded. The humanoid connotation of the mermaid’s purse appears almost instantly. They very quickly become dancing bodies, small bellies that writhe, arms, wrists, fine fingers, which coil up and uncoil, there is between them a link, connection, life – the Three Graces’ bassa danza installed in Botticelli’s Allegory of Spring is truly present – organic choreography, world dance… Natura. To talk about mermaid’s purses with Inge van der Ven is to bring her face to life, to make her eyes shine.
‘To live, is to find a shape’ reckoned Friedrich Hölderlin. Inge must know this, not from encountering and reading a poetic fragment but through an acquired intuition, a confirmed feeling. She has indeed found a strong symbolic shape, poetically open, malleable, exploitable, a totemic shape, a source of art.
Tearing apart the chairs – flow of reality
Many are the drawings, paintings, cuttings, prints, or even just physical constructions of chairs to be found in this northern artist’s work. An additional ever-present referent whose bidimensional shape looks like that of a mermaid’s purse. There is a certain logic here, a certain continuity in this.
Chairs, chairs in question here, because they recur in Inge van der Ven’s work like rain in Holland – chairs to increase the bulk of the receptacle, but what to do with them? Bring them back to Vincent van Gogh, for example. Why? Because van Gogh tore one apart in Arles with his paint brushes at the start of the twentieth century, and this deconstruction helped to change the public’s gaze and its way of seeing. Van Gogh chose a chair as a helpful referent to his shaking up of perspective. Inge van der Ven has clearly retained this lesson, she has been able to see objects like a poet who, in this Arles room, opened the doors of modernity and questioned representation. Her crooked chairs with their wobbly perspectives could be seen as a homage, even over a century later, to this frenzy to paint clear in each of van Gogh’s strokes as much as in the deliberately shaky Flemish perspective – that of Jan van Eyck, Petrus Christus, Rogier van der Weyden, Hans Memling, or other Flemish painters. A perspective wonderfully unconcerned with mathematical accuracy, which in no way aimed for reality in representation as much as representation in representation.
When you ask Inge van der Ven, ‘What is a chair?’, her reply is direct, simple, clear, straightforward and naked as she bursts out in Batavian: ‘A chair is something to sit on’. Implacable. However, if the question was rephrased to ‘What is a represented chair,’ or ‘What does a represented chair become?’, the artist’s response would be less prompt, less horizontal, and certainly not verbal, it would be more of an image, a collage, a question – a reply in the shape of a mermaid’s purse, perhaps…?