‘But what are stories? Toys I twist, bubbles I blow, one ring passing through another? And sometimes I begin to doubt if there are stories. What is my story? What is Rhoda’s? What is Neville’s? There are facts, as, for example: ‘The handsome young man in the grey suit, whose reserve contrasted so strangely with the loquacity of the others, now brushed the crumbs from his waistcoat and, with a characteristic gesture, at once commanding and benign, made a sign to the waiter, who came instantly and returned a moment later with the bill discreetly folded upon a plate”. That is the truth; that is the fact, but beyond it all is darkness and conjecture.’
Virginia Woolf – The Waves
Dear Edith, you haven’t written me back, but instead sent a dossier with your ideas and designs for the solo-exhibition you're mounting in Les Filles du calvaire (Brussels.) Let that be your answer. Also this way you return the ball, throw it back in my court. You’ve said: I don’t necessarily have to be concerned here with this exhibition. I have free reign in this. And yet still you turn my thoughts in this direction. I’ve become the fictive visitor to an exhibition that at this moment still revolves around in your head, somewhere between dream and action.
It is with me as it is with Bernard, the character playing the central role in Virginia Woolf’s The Waves. He’s the narrator incarnate, not of the book, but as a person, in real life. He bursts with bubbling-over sentences. He spins his whole life long into threads. I'm overcome with similar sensations when receiving your dossier. Spontaneously, like air bubbles in water I reach a boiling-point. Bright-obscure, light and shadow, then again twilight, clear and dark, I immediately follow along with its cadence, the binary rhythm of your exhibition, whose title points to a verb form that is always seeking its own fullness: Present Perfect.
RAVING ON ABOUT LIGHT AND DARK
“ I would like one’s first impression to be that of nothingness, only the spaces between bright and somber”, you reveal in your e-mail.
My first impression is one of light that is at once added to and then again weakened, and the contrast between the two. If we should boost this experience with the power of velocity, then this is an exhibition that travels like a speeding train through an open gallery. Its first effect is a fatigued feeling in one’s eyes due to the continual alighting of one’s eyeballs on a present become past. The fluctuating play of light, stroboscopic almost, makes my pupils dilate and contract. Throughout the exhibit’s entire pathway you play a game with my eyes. The placement of spaces through the landscape, the rhythmical play of light; from these I can mark time.
In terms of palette these works flit by the retina as scudding clouds in the night sky. By the nature of their media they are white like light (projections), vapor (Vapor Drawings) or congealed water and thus transparent, White Shadows or Black. Dreamachine consists of three binary colors, which follow one upon the other so closely that we perceive them as white. You’ve given color a reprieve and the things assume or the faded mantle of uniform dark or make their appearance, through the application of light, in the foreground. Such are the clouds at night, this gray, wadded together against an ink-black background, and yet still sepia-colored by infiltrating rays of artificial light.
Moreover in your work Ground Control you seem to want to domesticate these night-clouds by artificially creating them. You inflate a bag made of dark material with a precise ratio of helium and oxygen, holding it in suspension. The visual heaviness of the black tint causes me surprise at the actual physical lightness of this thing that manages to hold itself floating on the moving air. But for how long? Only the ratio between the gasses makes it so that it remains balancing there. And these vapors are fleeting. It is again just a question of time before gravity gains the upper hand and the cloud begins to sink like the progression of a solar eclipse. Back to “ground control”. Time does not stand still. The clouds in the night sky attest to it. The present is always ripe, will not wait, drifts by us unceasingly.
THE SMALL "I"
I find it charmingly ingenious, Edith, how with this scientific vocabulary, how with patterns and materials derived from physics and optics, with visual light contrast and physical states such as fluid, ice, gas and vapor, you tell a tale that is of an other metaphysical order. In my last letter I designated this as the biographical element of your work, but in my opinion you yourself have a much better term for it: Universal research of subjectivity.
I can best compare it with the deep feeling of identification you get sometimes when you come across a phrase in a book presenting you with a situation or a thought not altogether unfamiliar, but in this instance set down into words with the utmost clarity. You perceive it so clearly, like an arrow striking its mark, how your own humanity feels. You admire then not only the author's razor-sharp description, but also that he or she has shared the same experience. Because usually it's about something personal, that you were just on the verge of picking up the traces of. That you had never put into the words to discuss with anyone. Or maybe the thought was so fleeting that you forgot it again immediately, or it was there, but now it strikes you for the first time after having seen it there in black and white with a familiarity so complete, that you appropriate it at once.
That recognition is also the raw materials with which you commence things, Edith. However small, trivial or unnoticed these sometimes are. You have a sort of radar for it. And sometimes they're just staring you in the face. Others have typified your work as dealing with the ordinary, or that you work with home-, garden-, and kitchen- items. They're not entirely wrong, but it has to be more nuanced than that. In my opinion they're throwing light on just one aspect and not on the whole spectrum. Besides which there is more at work here.
In your work No “11” why do you use nails stuck into paper to form the letter O or the number 0? Why not just use a pencil? You have the heart of a writer and a story too, but you have no message in ink. You choose to play a game of references. Words are hardly used here, excepting those in the titles that leave broad hints. You then leave it to the viewer and their imagination to decode what you've said. Thus embarking them on the way toward their conclusions, you use more well-known, more or less familiar images and materials. Something from a bag of tricks.
With your unconventional vocabulary and a little imagination a biographical world steps out of the dusk, a world that is one of human questions and conditions glad to acknowledge the accessible by testing the limits of what is uncommon or anomalous. You are a seeker, a groundbreaker. Your work is fueled by questions and in turn fuels a person of sympathetic understanding with these questions. It is a portal along which you attempt to research the margins of our existence, our unconditioned being, our striving and trying, our successes and failures, that as a human you too encounter. Thus the comparisons with the above-mentioned experience of reading books. Your interpretation of the individual, of the little "I", finally touches the epicenter of whatever it is "to be human", Das Mensch, and on the difference in unity and the unity in difference. As a method your universal research of subjectivity has something of the biographical, since the orating of just one specific and anecdotal life-story illustrates the universal category of being-human. In metaphysical terms your pilgrimage which connects specificity with generality, the one and the many, as a subject would have awoken the fascination of the philosopher from Koningsbergen. “The result is that the judgement of taste, with its attendant consciousness of detachment from all interest, must involve a claim to validity for all men, and must do so apart from universality attached to objects, i.e. there must be coupled with it a claim to subjective universality.” Referring to the experience reading a book can evoke, your universal research of subjectivity allows the individual venture its subjectivity in the open gaze of something more objectively true.
WE ARE TIME
One isolated object does not always give up its secrets, but within the ensemble of your solo exhibition Present Perfect I see a pattern emerging that follows a reasonably coherent story line. Present Perfect is a verb form unlike any other in French or Dutch and specifies a particular relationship with time. An action or description in the "present perfect" has its beginning taken from the past, still refers to the present, and will only come to an end in the future. The past is still active in the "present perfect", the present is being inscribed and the future is already formed. This is time that does not revolve around an exact determination, on just one moment, but circles as a shadow does around a nail in the wall. Like the day sliding along a sundial. But this is where the perceptible ends. The head of the nail bears the microscopic engraving Present Perfect, invisible to the naked eye. The photo produced by an electronic microscope must convince us of this in any case. If one were to try to fragment time minimally in the hope of somehow isolating a “now”, into a nano-second for example, then it would loose its meaning. Present Perfect refers to the unresolved time of change, to a present constantly renewing itself, that must be understood not as a point but as a stream.
What is time anyway? And how directly can we experience it? For the most part it passes without us much being in it. And if we become conscious of it, when we perceive it, that mostly happens indirectly, because we suddenly become aware of the ticking of a clock, or through a sea of time (like in a waiting room), or through a lack of it (an appointment that we can no longer make). In juxtaposition, a perfect present goes by unnoticed and loses itself in timelessness.
A visitor to your exhibition will experience both. Their ears detect sounds from the earth whose intent is to unravel a time dimension at human scale. Collected on a golden record they were launched with the spaceship Voyager, as a message to intelligent beings somewhere out there, an encounter we can look forward to in about forty thousand years, when the capsule meets the first star. In forty thousand years not even the traces of our genetic material might witness to this present. One size too large then, time is.
And then there are the works in this exhibition that do not fit the time of the exhibition for how they attach to a proper timeframe. Ground Control has a designated time of expiration. Somnium refers to succumbing to an experience of time with its own logic: sleep. Sleep has everything to do with duration: dozing, the clock round, sleeplessness (Insomniac dreams?), oversleeping, sleeping in, so much so that we actually spend as much as half of our lifetime sleeping. Once I heard about a sailor crossing the ocean alone who could only fall asleep for thirty minutes at a time: since he could be overtaken by a ship equidistant to the horizon in that time.
Somnium plays with condensation as a temporal phenomenon, lasting on a slide only a while before disappearing, exhausted by the projector's light and heat. In Vapor drawings our breath makes drawings on a black surface. These last but momentarily. What matters is not the drawing on the surface, but the experience of our breath. Time and breath, what blood brothers these are. Breath allows time to give existence its want. Breath produces rhythm, in and out. Time and breath are most congenial if they happen automatically, without much emphasis. At its condensing on the black plate we can mark time by the journey of a breath. Visual witness, shadow of the temporal. Present Perfect has a shadow, XY is the dancing shadow of fine nylon thread moving about in the air rising from a radiator. White Shadow grasps the shadow of warm air rising from a candle. Indecipherable, doomed to disappear, shadows constantly travel. Anyone wanting to lurk in shadow, cannot sit quietly, but must accompany her through time.
One work concerns itself literally with time - but didn't make the cut for inclusion in the exhibition's final selection: The size of time2. It could have been the subtitle to Virginia Woolf's novel The Waves, where each chapter begins with an interlude. Each time she is sketching the plane of a sea view reflecting variations in the sun’s position assumed over the course of a day. It does seem, Edith, that there's one image that you would have liked to throw into that mix. In your video the universal time 01:02:03:04:05:06 is inscribed on a recorded maritime landscape of rolling waves during the night of May 4th, 2006. You've determined this split second by illuminating it, interrupting the dark flow of nighttime. Time contained in an image and yet, what more does this one second signify than any other random one? An experience of neither too little, nor too much time, but rather of an indifferent time? Is time a fabrication to which all of us eagerly participate or from which we can never escape? Nature bustles with rhythm, in regular tempo and in chaos: revolving day and night, motions of waves, hunger and satiation. But are there truly datum, hours, minutes and seconds in reality? Does the sea view allow us to measure the importance of the moment made eternal?
And the eternal itself? Also a human projection? The concept allows a lot of water to flow out to sea, but is it reality-worthy? Here we are treading terrain that strains human as well as god-like aspirations. The temptation toward immortality, transhumanism, alchemy, and other fascinations are great. In this text I'll let this ground lie waste, aside from the question whether human hands ever successfully produced anything eternal? Perpetuum Mobile. Throughout the entire history of time this question has never refrained to actuality. Your ordered an object to be produced, of remarkable simplicity and form, in transparent glass. It was designed by Robert Boyle such that once filled with water, a circulation would ensue that could never again be put to rest. The man soon let his dreams fall by the wayside, even before the reservoir itself was ever realized - and then all at once a few centuries had flown by. Or maybe this is a plan he abandoned for a better design that did work and is a constituent part of a closely-guarded secret that mere mortals such as we will never encounter. Maybe this is the object that throws handful of sand in our eyes.
What do we make of a date cited on a phosphorescing wall by a projector? For a moment it remains hanging there on the paint only to later dissipate. So it stands engraved in our memory. In differing degrees of intensity. They can come to mind with clarity or their trace goes lost. Until it is once again illuminated. This is what I want to believe in. That loss is not unrecoverable. Preferable to a linear conception of time with a defined final destination, in which every present becomes a past, I want to inhabit a cyclical time that affords the opportunity for reliving and renewal. I want to conceive of time as the revolving carousel of a projector. What else is a good memory and the experience of it useful for, than to look the future straight in the eye and to maintain a friendship with time?
You've said about Present Perfect that one's first impression must be one of an nothingness, both light and dark. As if there is nothing. That makes sense. Maybe it is that you want us, the spectators, to see at first nothing other than the bright-obscure of the spaces, because it costs us time to discover what really is. Because maybe there is only time, the confrontation with the present, perfect, that does not instantly bare itself to our perceptions .
Edith, in reality I've never laid eyes on the majority of the works in your exhibition. Actually you haven't either, despite the fact that you are responsible for their ideation. This was a welcome fact on which to let my imagination run wild. I've traveled through the fore- and back- ground chambers of our minds, the light and the dark, on a trip where my desire has been only to make your intentions and my imaginations cross paths a couple of times. I’ll gladly find out whether they do, even though I have the impression after this journey that this exhibition will take you all of your time.
Best regards, Charlotte