Since the foundation of its collection focusing on art made of paper, the Städtische Galerie Villa Zanders has been regularly showing works on paper. In 2007, with the inauguration of the "Wandelhalle" (Lobby), a series of exhibitions was launched, dedicated exclusively to drawing. Although "Re/pro/ducing Complexity", a presentation organized by and coming here from the Museum Dhondt-Dhaenens in Deurle, is not in the strictest sense a "Wandelhalle" exhibition, nevertheless it is in keeping with endeavors to provide drawing with a greater forum.
In drawing, it is commonly the line that dominates. It portrays a thing in its outlines, suggests a movement, or expresses an emotion.
Like time, the line is also a continuum, bringing home the time of its origins: A short line means little time and a long line stands for a lot of time. But this traditional notion does not do justice to today's works on paper. For quite a while now, drawing has been more than merely graphite on paper. Rather it is a self-confident, extremely versatile genre, on a par with painting or sculpture.
We certainly do no justice to the art of Nelleke Beltjens, Hedwig Brouckaert and Jorinde Voigt if we try to reduce it to interpretation, as though it were exclusively a reaction to the complex structures of all areas of life. One facet in the works of the three artists shown here centers on the phenomenon that is missing most for modern man: time.
Using delicate black webs of lines that aggregate to cloudlike shapes, Nelleke Beltjens has detached herself from the line as a continuum, meticulously dissecting it instead. From a distance still recognizable as a horizontal, vertical, diagonal and increasingly undulating line, from close-up the linear momentum turns out to be a fragmentation into hundreds of minutely placed marks, whose additions then suggest a direction, and thus a line. Even creating this art requires an exponentially increased amount of time. As a result of weeks and months of precise and disciplined work, the lines consisting of delicate individual elements take over the page. The microstructures, at times revealing a change in the hand when it tires of always repeating the same movement, display extremely fine, mostly parallel strokes redolent of seams or textile weaves. By means of a technique with which the continuous aggregation of marks is created by using another auxiliary piece of paper and then subsequently removing this again, only a part of what was drawn in effect remains. Hardly an "economical" way of working - a term that is actually not applicable to art - it reveals once again how freely and even lavishly the artist deals with time, since a considerable amount of the work remains invisible to the viewer and does not enter into the actual piece of art.
But also the viewer as a recipient of this art requires a different measure of time in order to grasp these works: viewing from a distance entices us to a gradual approach, to an exacting immersion into what is portrayed and its origins and leads to our taking a distance from the picture again. Nelleke Beltjens draws time in a powerful and even lavish form without making this into a clear theme. The aspect of temporality, however, becomes apparent precisely because her work demands that we intensively engage with it. As the density of the weaves and the undulations of the lines increase, it becomes all the more necessary for the viewer to move around in front of the work. Only from close up does it become clear that the abrupt ending of the stroke has not been made freehand but by using an auxiliary means.
Belgian-born Hedwig Brouckaert, who once did figurative sculpture, has remained true to objective art even today, expressly and metaphorically referring to phenomena from our everyday culture: She uses photographs from fashion magazines, catalogues and advertising brochures for tracing individual contours to make her drawings. In doing so, by tracing and copying she transposes individual body parts, material samples or hair-dos into abstract compositions, which for the most part only reveal memories of the original motif at the edges or margins of the works, through she always notes its origin in the title. By tracing the outline, the information is also repeated in the picture--she reiterates what is characteristic of the mass media in reproducing the contour. As if the artist had copied the identical individual pages of a fashion magazine one after the other, she condenses the production time of the printed material, reading time and the time of drawing so that the viewer subliminally recognizes and analyzes the various layers of time during the viewing. Whereas the individually traced line represents one strand of time, in the virtually black balls of lines a plurality of time becomes visible, which leads the attention from the moment of the line to the plurality and complexity of the condensed surface.
For years now, Jorinde Voigt has been taking a very different approach to the phenomenon of time by referring to it explicitly: She analyzes, constructs and ties together the most varied phenomena from everyday culture and from the realm of physics and geography, firmly establishing the element of time by noting directions of rotation, speeds or intervals in her compositions that seem like choreographies. This corresponds to the artist's working method of developing each new phenomenon in a critical process, verifying and implementing it in an energetic field. In particular, with the most recent works displaying collaged, colorful paper elements, whose rotation she determines in the notation, the expansion of the drawing into space and time is enhanced yet again. Each movement takes place in time; a rotation, or the length of an impulse always presupposes time as a picture-determining element.
Thus, for example the viewer follows the currents that the artist has created with arrows, transferring the individual parts that exist simultaneously in the picture into a successively orchestrated score. What seems like a jumble of information arranges itself in an order and transforms into a dynamic communication system between the work and the recipient viewer. In doing so, the direction in which it is read and the order of association may change with each contemplative viewing, which in turn facilitates countless ways of reading it or interpreting the score.
If we ask the question about the significance of these forms for portraying complexity and time, it becomes clear that it is impossible to separate the two phenomena. What defines complexity is that a simultaneousness of various theses, theories, phenomena, conditions and structures exists just as much as the plurality of various ways of interpreting, approaches and solutions.
For all their differences in approach, the drawings by Nelleke Beljens, Hedwig Brouckaert and Jorinde Voigt make clear the complexity of the reality of life. Without being didactical, they demonstrate how important it is for the viewer to get actively involved on his own: Nelleke Beltjens's complexity of the individual line, Hedwig Brouckaert's slightly shifted contours as well as Jorinde Voigt's score-like instructions demand complex activities from the recipient viewer. An artistic statement that is not to be experienced as a closed entity, but - in accordance with an inner logic - may only be completed in the act of the encounter and in the movement in time, is in keeping with the complex essence of a world geared to plurality.
by Petra Oelschlägel
Catalog essay for RE/PRO/DUCING COMPLEXITY