O.ff.s.p.r.i.n.g. MMX

De Ateliers, Amsterdam, the Netherlands
19 May 2010 - 30 May 2010 
Group exhibition with Marie Aly, Etienne Fouchet, Carl Johan Högberg, Axel Linderholm, Eileen Maxson, Rory Pilgrim, Siobhán Tattan, Raed Yassin
Curated by Suzanne Wallinga

The narrator of Norwegian Knut Hamson’s short novel Pan (1894) lives on the boundary between civilisation and the vast forests. The story uses extremely detached, matter-of-fact language to map out the protagonist’s tempestuous inner self. The characters in the novel are tossed to and fro between opposite poles: between love that is all-consuming, yet uncertain, and the safety of pragmatism; between social standing and a life in harmony with nature; between nature and culture. These contrasts produce great tension between emotion and intellect.

The characters from Pan inhabit the painted world of Axel Linderholm. In a series of complex, layered works, these allegorical figures assume different positions and simultaneously merge with the vivid colours and forms on the canvas. The characters return in several of his paintings. Using an almost symbolic form of expression, the artist presents the self-doubt and the questing search of the figures, mainly the men, in Hamson’s book.

Axel Linderholm, Pan, 2009, oil, gouach on canvas, 209 x 209 cm.

Linderholm’s paintings may be seen as palimpsests, in which Hamson’s original story, Linderholm’s interpretations and his depictions of these interpretations can be read through the painting, no matter how fragmented, disrupted or chaotic this might be. A palimpsest was originally a piece of parchment from which the original text had been scraped away so that it might be used again. However, the previous text often remains partly legible. Craig Owens used this term in an essay in contemporary art journal October (1980) as a description of art in which different layers exist and remain visible beneath the surface.

Linderholm recently created a wall painting for the Dr. Faustus exhibition at W139, featuring characters from Thomas Mann’s Doktor Faustus, surrounded by smaller depictions in the form of a frieze. Painting on walls is a technique that challenges him to integrate the different layers in his work. O.ff.s.p.r.in.g. MMX will present a number of his paintings in combination with a new wall painting. 

Axel Linderholm, Untitled (purple), 2009, oil, acrylic on canvas, 250 x 175 cm.

Etienne Fouchet’s sculptures are produced by the transformation of materials such as polyester, polyurethane and plaster. Physical processes, like shaping liquid substances by pouring them into a cast where they can harden and solidify under pressure, result in a change in the material that usually creates abstract forms. Stumbling Blocks (2009) consists of a series of large, geometric columns and a horizontal plate balancing on a semi-circular shape, defying gravity, yet at the same time appearing solid and monumental. Reclining sculpture (2010) is a more intimate plaster piece lying on the ground on a softly coloured, rather worn-out bedspread. These are hybrid objects; things that appear to be natural, yet are made by human hand. Aspects of the process that are beyond control combine with signs of physical intervention by Fouchet. The surface displays a contrast between the extremely carefully controlled methods and the random results involved in making a cast from a mould and pouring the liquid material, which creates a magnificent tension between the relief of the skin of these sculptures and their solid mass.

Etienne Fouchet, Reclining sculpture, 2010, plaster, bedspred, 63 x 218 x 174 cm. Photo: Gert Jan van Rooij.

Fouchet explains that sculptors long ago used to work in the half-light, so as to sharpen their senses. This meant that the artist developed a sensitivity that enabled him to make contact with the material. For Fouchet too, this physical connection is essential: the world as a phenomenon is interwoven with the perception. It is this attitude that allows new and unusual forms to develop constantly. The sculptures bear no resemblance to reality, but allow a new world to develop, in which chance and control, movement and stasis, can co-exist. 

Etienne Fouchet, installation views O.ff.s.p.r.i.n.g. MMX, 2010. Photo: Gert Jan van Rooij. 

Siobhán Tattan writes scripts in which truth and fiction merge, as she employs both historical and fictitious sources. She then uses these scripts to create installations, videos and performances. Tattan used Argentinean writer Adolfo Bioy Casares’s science-fiction novel La invención de Morel (translated as The Invention of Morel, 1940) to make a script for her installation Untitled (2010). This novel tells the story of a fugitive writer who has gone into hiding on an uninhabited island in Polynesia. When a group of tourists arrives on the island some time later, he falls in love with a woman he calls Faustine. The story takes a strange twist when one of the travellers turns out to have invented a machine that can record reality and replay it over and over.

Tattan’s script forms the basis of an installation in which spoken text and projections combine with objects such as chairs, stages and steps. The work is an exploration of the space in time in Casares’s story, where no linear development is possible. Fragments of softly spoken text and double projections intensify the experience of this space. The projections suggest the movements of the characters and the interaction between them, but the status of their presence remains ambiguous. 

Siobhán Tattan, installation view O.ff.s.p.r.i.n.g. MMX, 2010. Photo: Gert Jan van Rooij.

Tattan says, “The devices deployed by Argentinean writers such as Jorge Luis Borges, Adolfo Bioy Casares and the Basque writer Miguel de Unamuno in their act of relaying tales of complete and complex environments […] permeate my practice. With their writing, you seem to be aware of existing in a dense insular environment while dually residing in its outer strata. You do not belong there and then you gradually realise other parallel environments exist. It is this relationship of you as a reader to these multi-faceted conditions […] that concerns me in my approach to writing and filming." Her work exhibits no direct relationship to the source she employs; she adapts her source to create a restaging in language, movement and theatrical props. By doing so, she allows a world to develop in which formal instructions result in a fragmented story full of allusions and associations.

Siobhán Tattan, installation view O.ff.s.p.r.i.n.g. MMX, 2010. Photo: Gert Jan van Rooij.

Rory Pilgrim ingeniously combines musical composition, singing and conducting choirs with investigation into political structures, social issues and the design of the public space. His works frequently refer to a religious context. He intervenes in communities by providing some kind of service or a simple gesture, thereby creating works that function at the interface between the visual arts, music and cultural sociology. In 2007, for example, he acted on his own initiative to make a website for the towns of Haapsalu (Estonia) and Weymouth (United Kingdom), so that the two places might see each other as twin towns: www.weymouthaapsalu.com. The site presents the demographics of the two towns, tells their history and shows photographs of similar places in both locations. A small section of the site is also set aside for teaching phrases in English and Estonian and inviting local people to make contact. Pilgrim combined the development of the website with writing a play and a piece of choral music, both of which could be used during an official celebration.

Rory Pilgrim, installation view O.ff.s.p.r.i.n.g. MMX, 2010. Photo: Gert Jan van Rooij.

In 2008, during Sculpture International Rotterdam, Pilgrim recruited a number of local choirs to take turns singing the composition A ee el u? in front of the town hall between eight and nine o’clock in the morning. The words for the piece consist of unrecognisable sounds, but they end with the question “Can we help you?” Pilgrim says, “With no audible words expressed by their voices, the offering ends upon a simple question to the public […]. A question that may seem mundane or even ridiculous, but which nevertheless is a question that shapes all such institutions and areas of life. It is for all such spaces, from city hall to school, hospital to shopping centre, public or personal space, for wherever and whoever in the world that piece is sung and heard by.”

For O.ff.s.p.r.in.g. MMX, Pilgrim creates a relationship between the decision-making process of a small group of people, invited by the artist to discuss specific topics in the exhibition space, and a musical composition played on the bells of the city of Amsterdam. Whenever the group reaches a decision to reject or accept an argument, an appropriate composition will be played. 

Rory Pilgrim, installation view O.ff.s.p.r.i.n.g. MMX, 2010. Photo: Gert Jan van Rooij.

Raed Yassin employs electronic media to manipulate existing images and sounds and present them in a new way. As well as creating photographs and videos, Yassin regularly appears as a musician, DJ and performer. He takes excerpts of Egyptian films and places them in a new sequence or adapts them to create videos that ridicule and criticise the traditional stereotypes of Arabic cinema. His work The New Film (2008), for example, presents a montage of excerpts from the past thirty years, all featuring the portrait of President Hosni Mubarak. This portrait hangs in the background as Egyptian citizens visit officials to air their grievances and bosses yell at their underlings. The rapid succession of very similar scenes is almost laughable and emphasises the Arabic film industry’s grotesque and stereotypical treatment of script and narrative.

Yassin also employs icons from Arabic pop culture to investigate his personal history, at the same time veiling it in mystery. The video Final Destination (2009), for instance, deals with Yassin’s position as an artist. In the video we see a figure from behind as it slowly disappears into the sea. At the same time, digital manipulation creates interference that increasingly disrupts the picture. The original images are from a film by the innovative and respected director Mohamed Khan.

O.ff.s.p.r.in.g. MMX presents Disco (2009), a video of approximately five minutes in length, featuring a scene with the famous Arabic actor Mahmoud Yassin. The artist is showing this film in combination with the video Tonight (2009), a family portrait, thereby creating the impression that this famous actor is his father. The photographic series Who Killed the King of the Night (2009), which is on display in the same room, makes the relationship between Yassin and the figures in the videos all the more enigmatic. In this series, Yassin shows excerpts of a whodunit, turning the viewer into a participant in a layered and complex story.

Mary Aly, installation views O.ff.s.p.r.i.n.g. MMX, 2010. Photos: Gert Jan van Rooij.

Marie Aly focuses on periods of work, creating series of paintings that form a group on the basis of their formal characteristics. This results in collections of paintings that share a particular style, similarities in the use of colour or a particular motif. She works directly on the canvas, without making preliminary sketches and the process of painting and over-painting results in the nuance and complexity that the artist aims to create. Usually Aly starts with two different formats, which she works on at the same time. She uses a smaller size of canvas to paint portraits and larger ones for landscapes and fantasy worlds. Aly’s work combines a rather primitive style of painting with an expressive use of colour.

Jan Verwoert says in an essay on painting, “[…] painting, on the basis of its irreducible inner differentiatedness, produces its own form of rationalism.” What Verwoert is saying here is that neither the intention nor the intuition of the artist define the work; a painting shapes itself on the basis of rules that are not predetermined. And so in Aly’s work, correlations develop during the painting process between the various portraits and the larger canvases, as Jesus figures, porn stars, cowboys, rock musicians, medieval knights and exotic creatures feature in landscapes that appear both dreamlike and frightening at the same time. The portraits are all front views; the landscapes create an impression of desolation. There is scarcely any action; these images appear to be frozen moments of the kind that we know from dreams and memories.

Eileen Maxson, installation view O.ff.s.p.r.i.n.g. MMX, 2010. Photos: Gert Jan van Rooij.

Using often morbid humour and a visual language that is reminiscent of the 80s and 90s, Eileen Maxson considers the role and function of communication and the creation of identity in her videos, performances and installations. She appears in her own videos in a variety of guises. She could be a nervous weatherwoman or give an in-depth interview as a cheated internet dater with a skin condition or recite the words of a song by the Smashing Pumpkins as though making a serious announcement in the role of a press officer. Maxson takes everyday objects such as playing cards and double-exposed photographs and transforms them into relics. She also has a YouTube channel where she presents not only her own videos, but also a collection of strange amateur films that she has come across. During a recent exhibition in Houston, she baked an artificially coloured cake with flour that had reached its sell-by date, then used Facebook to urge people to come and eat the cake that same day.

By playing melodramatic characters and combining simple gestures with surprising medium-specific interventions, Maxson undermines the way in which we are accustomed to dealing with media images and objects from consumer society, particularly from America. Her way of working appears to be a strategy that Jörg Heiser would describe as “slapstick”. According to the critic, this artistic method is a way of simultaneously inflating and puncturing the authority of a person, institution or object. “[It is] a sudden jolt in a smooth sequence, an absurd attack of hiccoughs in everyday life and world events, allowing us to catch glimpses of the truth about ourselves and our relations with others. There is something liberating about this, and something moving.”

In O.ff.s.p.r.in.g. MMX the visitor is greeted in an entrance hall with an open fireplace, in which Maxson uses VHS videotapes as blocks of wood. Smoke is supplied by a smoke machine. In the basement of the building Whitney Houston sings “I Will Always Love You”, while a video declaration of love scrolls across a screen, against a background of fireworks and bright red and pink hearts.

Eileen Maxson, installation views O.ff.s.p.r.i.n.g. MMX, 2010. Photos: Gert Jan van Rooij.

Carl Johan Högberg combines paintings, prints, posters and objects to create installations in which a construction of meanings develops through syntactic structure. Högberg employs the characteristic qualities of a medium to demonstrate formal relationships and intrinsic connections. The installation is a cross between a collage, in which fragmentary and associative meanings may be discovered, and a narrative whole, in which logical relationships exist between individual elements. However, the juxtaposition of different styles, materials, dimensions and contexts results in the moment of “objective” interpretation constantly being delayed.

The installation Health Through Sports (2010) consists of a vase, two paintings, a print, a folding screen and a bronze object. The title is an allusion to Max Ernst’s collage La Santé par le sport (1920). In this work, Ernst combined a classical figure with surprising elements such as a butterfly mask and a golf club. Högberg’s painting of a young girl in a bird mask is derived from this collage and also alludes to Max Ernst’s nickname, the Bird Man. The print is an optical illusion; elongated geometric shapes turn out to be words that refer to Högberg. The bronze ping pong bat lying on the floor shows the imprint of a ping pong ball. The image is surreal in appearance and could also represent a moon in the sky at night. The vase, like the folding screen, serves to reinforce the exotic atmosphere and features in many of Högberg’s installations.

Carl Johan Högberg, installation views O.ff.s.p.r.i.n.g. MMX, 2010. Photos: Gert Jan van Rooij.

The images that Högberg employs come from a variety of contexts, like documents that function as pieces of evidence. For example, in the installation She Who Speaks (2010) at Bonniers Konsthall (Stockholm) he brought together a number of paintings and objects that related to the history of the medium Hélène Smith. Högberg intelligently combines allusions to her personal story with sculptural elements. Through a continuous process of interpretation and reinterpretation of the relationship between the images, he creates a tension between subjective experience and a more objective consensus.