Thursday, September 13, 2012

Jeroen Witvliet show “Days” reviewed by Debora Alanna

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Entering Days, Jeroen Witvliet’s epic drawings loom, overpower any thought brought to the Slide Room Gallery threshold, drawing one completely into his disquieting and imposing work. Drenched with charcoal biting stark, thick white paper, attentively drawn distressed entanglements emphasize spectacle, vistas of loaded feelings conspicuous in heaps of tousled matter and defeated branches. There is a line in Aristotle’s poetics Part IV that this work embodies, ‘Objects which in themselves we view with pain, we delight to contemplate when reproduced with minute fidelity’. ([1]) With commitment to detail, Witvliet produces contemplative stanzas of a tragic poem. Days drawings are knotty discussions about ruin providing startling lucid factious narratives. His imagery taunts our perception of how days of time influence disaffecting internal conflicts.

Unlike Webster and Noble's trash pieces that create coy figurative shadows projected from the waste configuration, Witvliet’s debris piles, although seemingly rendered as haphazard, are judicious figuration explorations as well as suspended ground, a composite relation. With the intensely described veneer of ruin the remnants of civilization’s abandon and forestal foray figuratively repose as mounds. Versed in quantification and evaluation of remains, Days untitled drawings exhibit a range of possibilities for correlated dissemination, while considering its impact, and resolve, heroically complex.

From Russell Perkins', Adorno's Dreams and the Aesthetic of Violence. Telos 155 (Summer 2011). :
Adorno is never merely a passive bystander to suffering. [...] we see that insight into violence only becomes possible when neutrality is foregone for standpoints of ambivalent participation, and thus that the suspension of the category of witness becomes the very condition of possibility for testimony.
Theodor W. Adorno, (1903 –1969), German sociologist, philosopher and musicologist, known for his critical theories of cultural industry, with Max Horkheimer (1895–1973), had insight into the passive danger imposed on human needs by mass consumption.([2]) Compositional vocabulary, whether sound or visual composition, relates the audience to cultural dissonance when presented with intense scenarios as seen in Days. An Adorno like metaphor, the passivity of elegant debris ambivalently engages is a witness to violent disregard, a poignantly portrayed testament - Schoenbergian atonality personified. With Days, we see that Witvliet also is not a bystander to suffering because his work is a demonstration of universal untamed forces that disseminate within us all. Days is evidence, imagery dishevelled with violent overtones.

Witvliet’s Days has uncanny erotic tension within the load of implicit piles of expressive remnants’ and/or broken branches coexisting, memories upon memories tangled. In Ralf Waldo Emerson’s poem, Days, he speaks of his ‘pleached’ garden. Witvliet’s pleached wreckage, woven with civilization’s discard and denuded trees is the Garden, reverential intimacy scorned. The politics of duplicity is inscribed in the torn and stinging lines he makes whipping up from the white paper wasteland, spilling shadow.

Orgone, Reich & Eros, Wilhelm Reich’s Theory of Life Energy by W. Edward Mann, on page 159, quotes from an article by Richard Martin, “Be Kind to Plants – Or You Could Cause a Violet to Shrink,” in The Wall Street Journal, Wednesday, February 2, 1972 to substantiate Reich’s claim that ‘orgone energy pulsates through all living systems and that all are interdependent, existing in a kind of energy ocean.’ Wilhelm Reich called his hypothesized universal life force orgone. He claimed orgone is imparted from all organic material, which ostensibly can be captured with a booth-like device to restore psychological health.

Two of Witvliet’s drawings are plants under glass, or see-through boxes and there is another drawing of a seemingly abandoned greenhouse snugly enclosed by a mishmash of forest debris – the residual forest darkness standing distant. Hans Haacke's "Condensation Cube" (1963), displays transformative energy as condensation, collected or at least contained, without vegetation because Haacke has transplanted weather indoors, detached from growth, and presumably orgone. Witvliet’s greenhouse rendering, with this theory, is a very big organic energy collection box with a spiritual aesthetic seen in Gerhard Richter’s Iceberg in Fog (Eisberg im Negel) (2002). Human interaction has forced the forest surround into submission, while the trees still stand behind the greenhouse are expectant reminders of how energy can be cultivated, although, directed by human foible amassed energy can also abuse, destroy. Witvliet measures our collective psychological health and tells us the forest is shrinking, and our energy ocean is as segregated and minimal as a Haacke condensation cube. This is not a theory.

In a video performance, a reinvention of Allan Kaprow’s Art is Life (1964/2008), at The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA) presented by Outpost for Contemporary Art on April 19, 2008, a segment called “Household Revisited”, where (according to MOCA) ‘Peaceniks, Treehuggers and other Believers’, in the midst of household debris (some human size), chant:

We lie where we will
What if every cell in our body is in dialogue with all there is?
Imagine the world you can’t imagine.
Imagine being accepted.
Junk, piles of people.

Household remnants strewn and piled in a field was a rebellion against the accoutrements of banality, while the Believers implore for liberation from the idea that people represent themselves by what they own. Witvliet’s immobilized masses of liberated stuff, many pieces laded in handsome adjacent squares, networks of distribution, and even muddled masses spare the association of ‘Junk, piles of people’. Figurative, yes, but his imagination has been long liberated from literal references, enabling mottled shreds of interactions to blanket the mounds.

On 11 September 2012, The UK daily, the Telegraph reported ([3]),”the massive floating islands of garbage, some almost 70 miles in length, caused by last month’s tsunami in Japan, which are causing chaos in shipping lanes in the Pacific Ocean, as they slowly head for the west coast of the America.” As Witvliet’s piles seem to float, they do incite a kind of chaos, blockage, a revelation of a disturbance and trauma. In his artist statement, he refers to the image within his refuse drawings as, “A raft lost at sea.”

In Jorge Luis Borges’ preface to "The Invention of Morel", a novel by Adolfo Bioy Casares, about an island of intrigue, he writes that full freedom leads to full disaster, global warming’s weather demise contributing, as the news item above attests. What Borges calls the fictitious nature of politics as a means to freedom through the ordering of society is punishingly unable to originate mysterious, and reasonable facts the author, Casares can contrive. We have to wonder about the politics of materialism that the floating ocean island of debris in the news above created, and what disorder allows the menace to continue to pollute. Witvliet’s islands of dishevelled matter are the result of unrestrained loads, where chaos has created the enigma of mess and confusion. What Witvliet creates is a delicate wisdom, as Borges would say, to transcribe intangible, mysterious veracity. Magritte said, ‘The mind loves the unknown. It loves images whose meaning is unknown, since the meaning of the mind itself is unknown.” ([4]) Witvliet, akin to Borges’ Casares, renders the unknown as archetypal insight and with his mindful power of depiction, articulates the mysterious with demonstrative candour.

In Edgar Allen Poe’s poem, Enigma, hiding the name of a fellow poet in its text, to express how she was unacknowledged in her lifetime, he writes, “through all the flimsy things we see at once”[...]”Trash of all Trash”. [...]”But this is now – you may depend upon it –/Stable, opaque, immortal – all by dint/Of the dear names that he concealed within’t.” The enigma, here being the baffling unknown reason his friend’s poetry was not recognized in spite of her profundity. Witvliet’s drawings, too are veiled gems, enigmatic discourses on life’s inconsistency and the mortal need for rapport. As we, with ambivalence render our vision opaque, we are reticent to see the concealments of powerful, universal truths in perilous collections of thought as his piles of debris describe. Witvliet’s Days is significant, enduring memory that pictures weighted introspection. His denouement of our collective tragedy, the revelation is confrontational pain. Through the mourning of Days, we are wakening.

[2] Adorno, T. W., with Max Horkheimer. Dialectic of Enlightenment. Trans. Edmund Jephcott. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2002. 242.
[4] René Magritte (1898-1967), Belgian surrealist painter. Quoted in Suzi Gablik, Magritte, ch. 1 (1970).
Slide Room Gallery
Vancouver Island School of Art
Victoria BC
August 2012

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