ON THE CAUSE OF SILENCE, EACH ONE OF US DRAWS HER OWN FEAR – FEAR OF CONTEMPT, OF CENSURE, OR SOME JUDGEMENT, OR RECOGNITION, OF CHALLENGE, OF ANNIHILATION.1
No false modesty, let’s talk about it (...)
Ilse d'Hollander, a Belgian artist born in 1968 died in 1997 at the age of 29. She left behind her ten years of early work, including two striking pieces that formed the basis
of the monographic exhibition dedicated to her at Frac Auvergne from 8 October to 30 December 2016.
(...) it’s as melancholy as can be, but, the fact is, Ilse d’Hollander didn’t commit suicide after a life spent seeking visibility or struggling against unfavourable opinion; she didn’t leave instructions, no “last wall”2, not a single word, and she was no recluse outside of the art world either. No one saw her work, because she didn’t want them to. And this is a rather unusual fact to be taken into account: neither unfortunate nor “raw”, here was an artist at work who produced a “limitless” artwork by putting an end to it.
What can we make of that? Beyond any biographical or sentimental consideration, how can this desire for absence, this doubt, be exhibited today? It raises difficult artistic and museographic concerns.
After her death, Hollander’s artworks circulated from collective exhibitions to galleries but were not often shown together. We might have expected, outside of the commercial circuit, to see a more in-depth examination into the difficulty – as it is difficult – of presenting this unique body of work.
Left to their own devices, these artworks pose the question of their status. Are they studio artworks, phases of work, notes, are they completed, are they autonomous? Depending on the case, how can they be presented without betraying the artist? How do you exhibit a painting that didn’t want to be shown?
These paintings are autonomous (for us, but for her?) owing to their spontaneity, their frank liberty, their brainwaves, their presence as an act of painting – all of this is expressed; it is clear that they are more than just experiments and the careful reception reserved for them here helps us to understand their power and hesitations.
However, these artworks are liminal, on the threshold of something else, resistant to comfortable categorisation. A traditional mode of display places them in a circumscription of meaning that rings out like a full stop in mid-sentence, freezing them into something permanent while they suggest a temporary act.
This is the crux of the problem with these small paintings: they’re seductive, flat, and can be pinned to the wall. Three centuries ago, at the salons, there was only room for the clutter of large canvases alone, as becoming as sack-back gowns for those who don’t wear them. Today, their sole mode of exhibition is to let them breathe. Is that enough?
As for Eva Hesse’s “Studioworks”, which had been the subject of an exhibition at the Fundacio Tapiès in 20103, they had a precarious and very distinct status in the artist’s brief career; a “work” which didn’t necessarily become “a body of work”. They are about a profusion of production, a compulsive desire for repetitions, accidents, and awareness, in equal measure to D’Hollander’s small gouaches on paper.
It is in such objects that the actions of art become clearer. How can these actions be exhibited while respecting their impermanence, their resistance to display?
The “Studioworks” mainly deal with the artist’s concerns, with the various potential orientations of a work. Eva Hesse had opened up these objects to a broader situation than that of their context, she had brought them into her exhibitions but always grouped together and separate4; she took pains to not overwhelm them with the self-sufficiency of completed artworks. Presenting them in that way would have definitively lost them in either the depths of origins or among the remains, whereas it is important to feel their power at the point of sway between these two doorways.
What would these paintings have said about that if they could speak...?
- Audre Lorde, “The Transformation of Silence in Language and Action”, in Sister Outsider, essays and speeches, Crossing Press, 1984.
- The exhibition “Drift” by Raoul De Keyser at the David Zwirner Gallery (April 2016) was organised around a group of twenty-two paintings known under the name of The Last Wall , hung in the gallery exactly as De Keyser had installed them on the wall of studio in Deinze, Belgium. http://www.twocoatsofpaint.com/2016/04/raoul-de-keyser-loss-of-certainty.html
- In display cases, for instance. At the Fundacio Tapiès, the “Studioworks” were presented on tables.
- Audre Lorde, Ibid.