|'Jahresdruck', Els Patoor called this quite recent work
which she printed at the lithography workshop in Eichstaett, Germany.*
me, this work is of a startling intensity. Hieronymus Bosch comes to mind,
the era of the late middle ages, of early modern times, with their witch
hunts, the dance of death, wars and persecutions. Disquietening, isn't
it, to view a contemporary work of art that calls up such memories, such
worrying associations? Is it because we are, again, in these days, facing
an era where torture has returned, where wars are as brutal as ever, and
where persecutions and forms of discrimination abound even though they
are generally overlooked?
This work is, I would say, the work of a "constructeur."
And this despite the fact that it shows "the unconscious at work." An intuitive
constructivist approach, can that be? CAN I SPEAK OF MONTAGE, something
in me has demanded to know from that faculty, within me, which claimed
that this is an intrinsically modern work of art, a work of art that, like
Brecht in his plays, and Eisenstein in his filmic work, uses "material"
from different sources, combining it in the creative process that brings
forth the unity of a work of art as well as its disturbing or unsettling
effects. Els Patoor writes that she printed the work in a single instant,
rather than three consecutive printings. But three sources can be deciphered.
The first is obviously one of these "gravures" that artists in the 16th
and 17th century liked to produce, especially in the "Holy" German Empire
and the Pays Bas that were ruled by the Habsburg dynasty since the days
of Charles Quinze (the so-called Low Countries or Netherlands which included
Belgium at the time). Els Patoor mentions that it is a "gravure" by Merian,
done in 1627. The second is of unidentified and, at least for me, unidentifiable
origin. It is a dense, somewhat repetitive structure, perhaps a detail
that was, in a different context, "depicting" parts of a "sky" or of a
"water surface." It seems, in other words, like a "blown up" (greatly enlarged)
segment of an image. "And the animal I found on a postcard, one of these
cards that depict fossiles and that can be found there [... in Eichstaett].
It's not the archeopterix. I have probably emphasized its expression and
neglected scientific precision." (Els Patoor)That we see an ossified fossile,
the trace left by an animal that died at a time when man had not yet made
his appearance on earth, is immediately perceived. What is not immediately
perceived is the accidental, casual discovery of a trivial object, the
postcard, and how (like the startling objects singled out by surrealist
artists in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s), it propelled something. And thus unleashed
a creative impulse in the artist, Els Patoor, that instinctively made her
integrate this image in the course of a work process that (consciously
or not) relied on combination, on montage, without blurring the boundaries
of the combined images, as major Hollywood filmmakers, in opposition to
Eisenstein, always tended to do. It is quite true that overpainting, in
a mixed media work, could have amounted to a similar camouflage of the
combinatory approach that integrates basically heterogenous "material."
Perhaps it is the increasing preponderance of black in
the lower part of the middle segment and the entirely black background
("in front of which" the fossil stands out) which help "blur" the line
of contact between middle and lower image to some degree. But that three
distinct "layers" or strata (that owe their existence to three different
image "sources") exist in this work, is clearly recognized. Is there a
significance inscribed in this recognizable existence of "layers"? I think,
yes, it is indeed meaningful. I tend to read the "urbs" (the bird's eyes'
view of a "town" embedded in a landscape) as a metaphor for a world, a
"human universe" (as Charles Olson called it), a representation of "our"
society (or rather, in a global context, "our" societies), "our" contemporary,
threatened existence. The middle section, the largest of the three sections,
suggests, quite concretely, "depth": I read it as the "underground", the
subsoil, that is, and I read its graphic structure as a representation
of geological layers. Very deep down, in the deepest, darkest "inside"
of the earth, the "underground" or "subsoil", the animal seems to be "at
work", opening its jaws, spreading its wings or spreading out its arms
as if ready to surge upward, into the open air. Read metaphorically, it
embodies all the looming, quite clearly existencing dangers to our human
existence, and the anxieties suppressed in us that are called up by such
Looking at this 'Jahresdruck', I cannot help seeing in
it a work that by employing both an old technique (lithography) and
a new one (the combination of pre-existent, 'found' material - thus, montage)
combines age-old fears traceable to the drawings of the neolithic, to
biblical mythological texts (that still echo in the Middle Ages and Early
Modern Times) with contemporary concerns which are characteristic of
the specific historical and social conditions we continue to face today.
Perhaps it is to this dual 'signification' that we must
attribute its unsettling, subversive effect - an impact that can stir and
move the viewer, triggering a flow of thoughts and emotions that continue
inside the mind when we have already turned away from this work.