Crossed Out Title
Wouter Venema, Marijn van Kreij, Dina Danish and Nickel van Duijvenboden
29 May - 5 July 2015, Galerie Rianne Groen
Text by Vincent van Velsen
Fiction is in many cases a censored version of actual events. A form of self-censorship as strategy can lead to new insights and possibilities to create work. Self-censorship can be a working method, a way to shed new light on the existent. It can also be a way to interpret a relationship with reality in different ways. When an artist shows this way of working transparently, the spectator can be asked to reconsider political subjects such as privacy and choosing position. The exhibition Crossed Out Title tries to place self-censorship in a positive light and shows works in which this political subject is made personal. The initiative of Crossed Out Title derives from Wouter Venema, who wanted to investigate how a plurality of communicative means, such as speech, language and images, could take shape within the realm of an exhibition.
An important starting point for this idea was the work of the Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935). Not only did he use fiction, he also constructed at least seventy-five heteronyms during the course of his life. A heteronym is a form of pseudonym in which the author creates a fictitious writer-personality. The difference between a pseudonym and a heteronym has been described in the following way: “a pseudonym is a different name for the individual I; a heteronym is an individual name for a different I”. The heteronyms of Pessoa all knew an autonomous and developed biography, philosophy and writing style and served different audiences and different goals – of which some practiced unpopular or extreme worldviews. Their only real similarity seems to lie in the body that produced them.
In general, such poli-existential attitude of the author is radically opposing the commonly used genius cult in contemporary art, resulting in art(ist) branding. However, it can be said that pseudonyms and heteronyms protect these brand names; though it also opposes the usual author-centred thinking in artistic areas. The expected clarity and anticipation of rectilinear development that accompanies this can hardly be avoided. Artists using different media are now common ground, but artists using different subjects, positions and handwriting are still regarded as problematic.
For Pessoa, creating heteronyms was a way to cover different subjects and positions, but even more so he found it a necessity. Pessoa wrote about the non-voluntary takeover of his body by external entities, that were in this way contributing to his oeuvre – and in that sense also have their own personality. Here we can find a clear similarity with the Californian poet Jack Spicer (1925-1965). He saw himself as a medium, wherein he imagined the poet as a kind of radio, with the gift to receive transmissions from different worlds, opposed to the idea that it was the poet himself that created work with his ingenious mind. Spicer considered text not only as a communicative means, but also as an autonomous object: this made the maker into a medium. With this viewpoint Spicer, like Passoa, rejected the autonomous genius.
Dina Danish’ current research is largely connected to Spicer’s work. Not only did he write about the maker as medium, he also stated that language is an autonomous subject – separate from its meaning. Derived from this thought Danish made her Fake Documents. These sheets show characters seemingly originating from an unfamiliar language. The meaning remains unclear as the work contains a fictitious language. Our idea of language is being projected onto signs that are on paper in a certain layout. The fictitious writing makes the spectator conscious of language and its inclusive and exclusive workings, which is being increased by the markings that add importance to the characters. This idea reflects on our human perspective and the handling of the written and the evocative, its abstraction and possible interpretations. As the work is about a visual entity without any (linguistic) content, Danish makes it clear that language, despite its immateriality, can work as a barrier.
Where Danish appeals to the intangible aspect of language, Nickel van Duijvenboden attempts to make language material. Through his personal handwriting he offers the spectator an insight in his personal correspondences. This also appeals to the earlier mentioned idea that language can form a barrier, but in Van Duijvenboden’s case it can also lead to entrances. His work is currently characterized by research into the borders of the private and the public, and the exchange between individuals.
The approximately ten current correspondences of the artist form the leitmotiv of his work. These correspondences are often hand written but can also consist of objects or photocopied artworks and texts. Until recently, Van Duijvenboden only showed the letters he sent himself due to privacy considerations. These were always translated, as a way to share the original messages in an indirect manner with the viewer– most of the time as an image. Thus creating a new object through the process of translation (either linguistic or visually), which also constitutes some distance to the original. Here, the viewer becomes a co-reader, spectator to an exchange, bystander of a correspondence. Although, because only one side of the story is shared, a different obstacle is constructed towards the viewer. Only fragments of a larger interaction are presented, thereby references cannot always be placed and understood; even though reading along might seem to provide access to an intimate realm. An alienating ambiguity exists in the fact that being part of a personal interaction can coalesce with the inaccessibility of prior knowledge and context that always puts one in a position of the outsider.
The tangibility that is present in Van Duijvenboden’s work - or perhaps a tangibility which he produces - also creates a consciousness of perception. Where nowadays contact is mostly immaterial, here the partially handwritten and reproduced communication becomes a way of making the viewer aware of the meaning of tangible contact. An example is Van Duijvenboden’s correspondence with Marijn van Kreij. Recently, Van Kreij sent a corner of his work shown in the exhibition (Untitled (BRESFSI1013, Postcard)) to Van Duijvenboden. The envelope used to send the piece is present in the drop box on the floor (the original corner is now on show at A Tale of a Tub, Rotterdam). The work by Van Kreij is based on the pattern on the inside of an envelope. He enlarged it to such an extent that it became an autonomous abstract image, seemingly unrelated to the original object. His painterly action has the consequence of originating multiple possible meanings through repositioning and recontextualizing an image, which also addresses the relationship between abstraction and realistic representation – the relation between fiction and reality. Besides this interaction with the image, which is literally bringing the inside of an envelope to the external world. The correspondence with Nickel van Duijvenboden has resulted in a part of the work temporarily going back to its original source; while also making the private correspondence public. During the exchange inside and outside collide and change positions, with the envelope as its metaphoric matter.
Having different parts and positions within a process also plays an import role in the work of Wouter Venema. In it, the absence of a clear identity is a central theme in which images do not form a vehicle to tell a story, but are the way to convey an experience. The work that Venema shows in this exhibition relates to the writing under pseudonym. The hand in the image is the object on which writing itself depends. While on the image you can see it falling apart in different segments and colours, in reality it is one object. When the colours of the spectrum are combined, they will form the colour white again. This silkscreen print Prism (Pseudonyms) shows a photo of a photo that was earlier transferred directly onto a wall. The sequential transferring constitutes the effect of creating white spots within the image: imperfections brought into the original photo by the wall; these were then recorded by the photograph. In different places, on different moments the same appearance causes different imperfections and slight changes, resulting in different colours and positions, while residing from one solid image. These colours show the same object and are part of the same spectrum, but each contains its own (visual) identity, like Pessoa’s heteronyms.