Best regards from the studio

Letter to Manon Berendse, Frank Eerhart, Chris Manders, Ulco Mes and Maarten van der Vleuten | Artist in Residence project ‘Kurt’s Zimmer’ | published in Kurt’s Zimmer Publikation, december 2007 | translation Mels Dees

Vught, November 18, 2005

Dear Manon, Frank, Chris, Ulco and Maarten,

Seven more weeks in the workshop, time is melting in my hands. In the mean time every one of you has dropped by and we had some interesting talks. I thought it would be a good idea to present you all with a copy of the Book on the Pyrenees by Kurt Tucholsky. His observations are still quite relevant, engagé and to the point. Although he describes his wonder at physical life, the ironical charge of hierarchical relations can be made out very well and applied to current situations. It’s up to you whether you want to read it.

‘Kurt’s Zimmer’ is the second time I worked outside my studio for a period. The first time was in 2000, in Pofferd-de Nul in Antwerp. From this vacant apartment the work ‘Paranoid City Stream’ was created, which set the tone for a series of installations. The work developed out of an energetic interaction between the apartment’s private character and the city you can see from there. The light in the installation was on for 24 hours a day, the mirrored slide of the environment absorbed the daylight. As the evening wore on, the red light grew stronger until it radiated from the installation in total darkness. Energy from the nocturnal city. The soft morning light took over the tension the installation accumulated at night and calmed it down.

During this second working period, five years after the first,  interesting experiences and data are released again. Most of them never make it, some keep coming up and they are the basis of new works and the installation. A few of them, such as the two-dimensional stage, detach themselves from this working period; I take them back to my studio to be developed further.

The spaces are becoming more complex. In the case of the installation which is coming into being now, it is an enclosed space with ten equal sides with elliptical openings, without a true entrance. Because of this it cannot be entered, while the interior is visible. In the centre is a ten-sided column, circled by a band of yellow perspex ovals with a light behind them. The light is there, rotating slowly like a private eye. Like a light tower turned in upon itself, modest and personal. Because of its human scale and the rotating light a dialogue with the spectator will take place.

The entrance, the artificial light, the architectural space, ellipses and the dialogue remain topical themes in the work. There are indications that someone is present, but this person is never visible when you view the work. I’m interested in the cycle of daylight and darkness because of its relation with the subconscious. This theme also is the starting point of the series Commitments.

It is remarkable that Anne Vincent Dijkstra, a painter from Eindhoven, referred to Spilliaert in a reaction  to a studio picture of the two-dimensional work in Heeswijk, in February 2005. Two months later I purchased, on an impulse, the book ‘Sprenkelingen’ (‘Sprinklings’) by the Dutch writer K. Schippers, because I am fascinated by his texts. I had heard him lecture in the municipal gallery De Krabbedans in Eindhoven. In this book I came across a text about Spilliaert and Magritte. And I had bought a publication about the latter at the same time, because of his poignant work ‘The companions of fear’ which includes leaves growing into owl shapes.

To check K. Schippers’ text, I looked it up. I’ll quote the passage:

‘Spilliaert is not a master of light. He is no match for Claude Monet’s scintillations. He never bends the light like J.J. Schoonhoven did with small surfaces of papier-mâché. He would not know how to create highlights with charcoal. Magritte did not know either. The two Belgians got around their shortcomings and took refuge in images which, somehow or other, depended on a contradiction or an unusual point of view. More than fifty years before Magritte’s days and nights, in the beginning of this [the twentieth] century, Spilliaert painted the quays and beaches of Oostende. With him a single space is always allowed freedom.’

From: K. Schippers, Sprenkelingen, chapter ‘Traplicht’ ( ‘Staircase light’), page 43. Bought at the second-hand bookshop de Slegte on April 8, 2005.

That last sentence in particular: “With him a single space is always allowed freedom” is a fascinating statement,  I never managed to understand it completely.

I’m going to build the installation ‘Kurt’s Zimmer’ in the weeks to come and that will be the concluding work of this period. It refers to the house of mirrors and an idle merry-go-round and it will be all black. Kurt’s Zimmer scaled itself down from the studio into a space of its own where several themes meet. The vanishing childhood happiness which is displaced by ‘knowledge’, the play that cannot be performed because there is no space for the dialogue: a column in the middle hides the other side.

Here, from the guest studio which is five kilometres, as the crow flies, from the National War Monument Kamp Vught, I can relate to the past. Physically the German nationalist ideology took root there in 1943-1944. It had already proved fatal to Tucholsky, who had been one of the first to see it rise in Germany. Adjoining the National Monument Kamp Vught, separated by just a wall, is Holland’s maximum security prison. Two monstrous institutions linked together. Visitors of the prison and of the monument use the same parking lot. It is a violent location.

The circular plan of Kurt’s Zimmer, the merry-go-round, the mirror hall and the bullfight arena from the book on the Pyrenees – they are all spaces in which action emanates from the centre. In the centre of the installation a light rotates, a viewfinder, a telescope, a spectator, a private eye. Friend and foe in one.

A waltz is repeated in a fixed loop and turns Kurt’s Zimmer into a giant musical box for 2.5 minutes. Everything keeps on repeating itself, there is no vanishing point. Which makes me think of El Lissitzky’s axonometric projection. Shape as a moment on an endless time line. Now, back to work again.

Best regards from the studio,