The work is done while you sleep – The Enigmatic Methods of Edith Dekyndt
BORDER CROSSING, Volume 19 number 2, Issue N° 74, Winnipeg, Canada
For Edith Dekyndt it seems that nowhere is the first place to look. Her work continually affirms places of perceived absence as sources of innate sensuality. “The ten thousand things are born of being, being is born of non-being”, the Tao Te Ching states. Dekyndt’s search for unions, contradictions and collisions between the ‘visible’ and the ‘invisible’ is revealed by her work with ephemeral gestures, unstable materials and the aesthetics of the mundane.
A number of works in her Plug In exhibitions, “probable Pieces” (spring 1999), utilised the aesthetic potentials of intangible or neglected qualities easily overlooked in the gallery space. For example, the latent humidity of the gallery was used in a wall-hung work made up of a section of cloth on a stretcher, embedded with moisture-absorbing crystals. Over the course of the exhibition, water seeped from this small piece to stain the wall around it. The work registered an invisible, ambient quality of the space on the gallery wall with an amoeba-Like blotch that maintained its unpredictable nature. Another piece used the entire length of the gallery (about 70 feet) to set up a fully functioning string and cup ‘telephone’. One person’s voice could be transmitted silently through space to someone on the other side of the room. These seemingly banal experiments deftly engaged the physical qualities of the space with a spirit of playful experimentation missing in much gallery work.
Another work involving video articulated this encounter with the tangible and with presence, above and beyond the traditional artist’s modes of symbolism or representation. A small room at the back of the gallery was staying ground for a work that displayed swirling, eddying dust continually moving on a T.V. monitor. A video camera was used to provide a live feed of dust particles caught in the light beam of an empty slide projector, located in the same darkened room. The images evoked such a complete world of their own, some visitors were surprised to realise the strange projector/camera set-up was actually shooting the haunting play of star-like objects in real time.
Dekyndt’s use of simple, elegant, practical apparatus to simple a selected range of unknown qualities begs comparison to basic scientific procedures. But, while traditional science employs reduction and objectification to predict and control results, Dekyndt’s operations have no fixed ends. They merely seek an engagment with the unknown-not to deprive, but to reveal in the subject of study their autonomy, charm, dignity, mystery.
The notion of mystery is invoked in its etymological sense: “the presence of what commons enraptured attention.” A kind of dream logic is engaged in Dekyndt’s operations, more similar to alchimical methods of the 16th century than to traditional sciences. “The alchemist’s essential activity was meditative not manipulative, seeking to transmute elements of common experience into a potential epiphany. Where experiments were actually carried out, their function was to act as a mandala-like focus for contemplation”, wrote Theodor Roszak in Where the wasteland ends. Like Dekyndt’s procedures, alchemical practice breaks down the chain of cause and effect in favour of an encounter with first-hand knowledge. No data, and no projected results-the change is inside you.
Ancient alchemy had a way of integrating subject and object in a practice who’s basic principle of seeking the ‘oneness of nature’ is not as far a way has we think of current strains of ‘scientific research’. The history of science has come full circle since the days of alchemists. The classic subject-object split, which held sway of a scientific fact since the time of Descartes in the 17th century, was exploded in the early part of this century. As quantum theory developed in the late 1920s, traditional research that progressed by way of expertise and accumulative objective fact (and the rejection of personal and creative experience) became suspect. It became clear that at the micro-and macroscopic levels, physical processes were essentially indeterminate- there is no objective reality. New mathematical processes like “chaos theory”, were, required to model reality. The inherent spontaneity in the life of nature, and the indivisibility of subject and object, were once again recognised by science.
Human Sampling, a work on paper acts on one level as a metaphor for the reciprocal relation of so-called subjective and objective systems. Made by filling each square of a dense grid with fresh blood, a rich, interdependent pattern was created. The variations of red tones complemented the underlying regular grid, creating a third pattern has the blood dried at different times and in different densities along lines of distress in the paper. Here the perennial question arises- how to order and /or obey body ? But this kinds of questions are irrelevant in the context of Dekyndt’s work. She neither asks nor answers questions of intend. Her use of unstable materials to exhibit states of transition yields a transformative process that disengages physical resolution typical of most art strategies. Instead she offers real time action for contemplation. Of course, actions have consequence- but Dekyndt seeks merely to re-contextualize the common, banal and everyday happenings in search of the quietest (and therefore the most engaging ) splendour. Not that rain will call off a war, but Dekyndt proposes continual play and experimentation, in an impossible but worth-while attempt to lift ideology from the psycho-geography of individual- for a few heightened moments.
In her most recent project, Programme for a cold place, Dekyndt displaced a domestic object to Churchill, Manitoba, from her native Belgium halfway around the world. This experiment involved filming glass bottles of spring water as they froze and exploded in the cold temperature of northern Manitoba. It wasn’t only the bottles that went thought a transforming process Dekyndt and her colleges were introduced to the practicalities of living in a cold climate. Part of the process was suiting up with winter-wear at Winnipeg’s Army/Navy survival store. The expedition involved the kindness and assistance of a wide range of stranger and supporters, and it is this openness to collaboration that allowed the experiment to succeed . The art work in this absurd experiment consisted mostly of the essence and insights of the people involved. The title of her loosely associated group of collaborators, UNIVERSAL RESEARCH OF SUBJECTIVITY, invokes (with parody and homage) an emphasis of the personal and of the subjectivity of perception. The exaggerated name suggests an aim to return the authority associated with institutions to the providence of the individual.
Coincidentally, an international conference concerning global warming was being held at the Research Station where Dekyndt was conducting her experiments. After talking to some of the scientists, Dekyndt learned that global warming itself is still a disputed issue and that the researchers all had their own independent reasons for being in Churchill. Dekyndt videotaped the participants of the conference answering her question :”Why are you here?” and was surprised to find how personal and subjective the responses were. Even at a prestigious conference, the scientists were more interested in the subjective nature of reality.
Like the conference, Dekyndt’s approach did not seek consumable results, but brought together disparate elements to re-examine shared notions. Her process was one which engaged important means to obtain random, unimpressive and unconsummable results- an approach were the means are in inverse proportion to the ends. A modest staging of cold explosion in Churchill doubly ironic when she realised she was carrying out a work in the shadow of a major rocket launch site. The basic premises of Dekyndt’s process art may seem ridiculous the casual observer, but that it what it is all about- you have to go through the process yourself, in real time and space. Their an deeply engaging beauty to this sophisticated “waste of time”, which seems much more redeeming than, say, the USA’s infamous Mohole Project of the mind sixties , a project that squandered nearly a hundred million dollars in a futile attempt to drill through the earth’s crust.
Dekyndt’s subtle critic of capitalist notions of productivity and of science and technology, continues the discussion of certain notion common to conceptual art, minimalism, arte povera, and even Fluxus. The encounter with the immediate over the mediated the emphasis on the perception of the viewer, and on process as well as the re-contextualisation of the everyday, are all combined in various ways throughout her work. Contingent and random factors are also important to her process but unlike much aleatory work of the 20th century, chance operations are not used to realise the unconscious. Dekyndt merely set up specific procedures that’s come to evoke unconscious participation in an unlikely chain of events. Dekyndt links the “objective” techniques of experimental sciences and the yearnings and obsessions of the unconscious, with an artmaking strategy in which even the most jaded viewer of the contemporary spectacle might delight. Maybe Dekyndt’s oneiro-critical methods are a way of measuring-using a rule of fascination-the distance we wander each night from the self we are in our dreams.
BORDER CROSSING, Volume 19 number 2, Issue N° 74, Winnipeg, Canada 2000
Rodney La Tourelle is writer and artist, he works and lives in Berlin.