The Fragment

Maria Schnyder, conservator Museum de Pont | twelve twelve gallery, The Hague | 21 April, 2018

Dear Karin,

We met each other in De Pont museum in 2012, while you were setting up your Part of Someone’s Diorama exhibition there. I was busy writing a thesis at the time to complete my studies in Groningen, but I was already living near Tilburg. I believe Hendrik Driessen, the director of De Pont, felt somewhat sorry for me, he seemed to think it rather sad that I was sitting there all day long in a small house, alone, recently immigrated from Switzerland. He offered me the use of a modest office that happened to be vacant, with the museum library within reach, and at least this way I would be among people for a change.

In conversation with Florette | 2011-2020 (photo Peter Cox)

I remember quite clearly how we met each other there for the first time, at the office entrance. And if I’m not mistaken, Hendrik introduced me right away as your biggest fan. Because I had indeed been immediately captivated by your work when I was allowed a quick peek at your exhibition that was still being built. I remember the emotion I felt while I was watching and reading the CONVERSATION pieces, pairs of speech balloons that were talking to one another, or rather: they were whispering. The works were a declaration of love to language in al its unreliability. In a moving way they represented the human desire to understand each other and its futility at the same time, and how we still keep on trying, with each meeting, with each exchange, over and over again. To me, the works addressed this pain, this Sehnsucht, but they were comforting as well. To actually see the difficulty, the impossibility to understand one another expressed this way made me, the viewer, realise that our perceptions do touch each other, that, when all is said and done, the feeling of being-by-oneself in this world is the thing we all have in common.

JE | (1988) 1990 | Jan Vercruysse | Collectie Van Abbemuseum

Looking at your exhibition in De Pont I was reminded of the work JE (1990) by Jan Vercruysse, one of the artists I was writing my thesis on at the time. An offset print, black on a white medium, two lines of text in the upper-right corner, a small rose at mid-bottom, in a black frame.

The first line was a quote from Arthur Rimbaud:

Je est un autre                       (I is someone else)

To this, Vercruysse added:

et vous aussi                          (and you too)

Part of Someone’s Diorama | Museum De Pont | Karin van Pinxteren | photo by Peter Cox

Your work touched me, it made me speechless. But did I understand it, could I explain it? After all, that was what you were supposed to do as a soon-to-be-graduated art historian. Not in so many words. A little while later I came across a text by the French philosopher Gaston Bachelard. Confronted with a poetic image, one must first and foremost “be receptive, receptive to the image at the moment it appears.” [1] Poetry has no need of scholarship: “rather than being a phenomenology of the mind, it is a phenomenology of the soul.”[1] The silence that follows upon experiencing an artwork is related to the experience of the intangible. Because art, good art, gives you the feeling of being temporarily liberated from the limitations of your own mind.

Following your invitation to give the opening speech here, we spent a long evening at your home talking about your work and anything that was even remotely related to it. The next day I was suddenly reminded of A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments by Roland Barthes, and how perhaps your works are fragments as well. Obviously your works often contain fragments of text, but I was wondering if the works in themselves are not also fragments, in the way they come about, how they exist in the world, how they relate to the viewer.

Gedicht in casino #1 | 2017 – 2018 | photo Peter Cox

Fragment comes from the Latin word frangere, which means so much as “to break”. The fragment, in a Nietzschean sense, is anything but a part of. Instead it has broken away from a larger whole and is no longer bound to comply with an all-compassing story.

“You are your own magician,” you once wrote. After all, you told me, even looking a bit surprised when you said it aloud, you have never entered an artist-in-residence programme with even the faintest idea of what you would be going to do. The verb that suits you is “to linger”. A work is not a predictable next step within a larger narrative, not a derivative of an a priori formulated point of view, but something that comes about through the convergence of both thinking and making, language and image, on a given moment, in a given context. Gedicht in Casino is the title of one of the works in his exhibition: Poem in Casino. There can be coincidence, there has to be, and play, and fun – and for sure this can be found, more than ever, in the pictorial language of your most recent works.

handspiegel words pronounced | Karin van Pinxteren | 2017s
Asymmetry is a gift – series | 2017 | photo Peter Cox

The fragment is a fragment because it is not finished, but is always followed by a blank space. You do not present us, the viewers, with a settled meaning that we are supposed to unravel. Like the fragments, your works cherish a bit of empty space – or room for the viewers, their experiences, their thoughts and images. “An empty floor is an invitation to dance,” you wrote to me in an SMS. This was already the case in your CONVERSATION series in which two speech balloons were facing each other, and is all the more explicit now in Asymmetry is a gift, where only one shape is whispering, works you call philosophical hand mirrors.

Maria Schnyder speech twelve twelve Karin 1
Maria Schnyder (r), Silvia Bakker (m), Karin van Pinxteren (l)

There is no clear-cut meaning waiting for us, so an encounter with your work is never without engagement. In the past you sometimes reminded visitors to your exhibitions of their commitment by stamping their hand at the entrance. Your work presupposes the art of give and take, which makes it both demanding and incredibly generous: we, viewers with our own imagination, our own reflection, actually matter.

A fragment never reaches its completion. Each time, with every meeting, we can fill in the space it offers anew. And that is perhaps the most beautiful quality an artwork can have: that it is never finished, that it will never be completely understood, captured or documented. The work, as fragment, allows – in your own words –  the “intangible and unintelligible desire that pulverises right in front of your eyes once you come close” to exist. And for this, I am profoundly thankful.

Maria Schnyder

[1] Bachelard, G., The poetics of space, Boston: Beacon Press, 1994 (1964)

translation Nanne op ‘t Ende