A.B. Meadows

'Femmes sans ombres' (1994) - An Installation by Johann Creten, Shown As Part of the SPEELHOVEN 03 Exhibition 

Johan Creten's installation entitled  Femmes sans ombres consists of six baskets placed in a random way in a near empty room.
One side of this room (and it could be any other such room, in an old, more or less disused farm house anywhere in the country) is dominated by a fireplace, with traces of black soot very visibly displayed on the rough bricks. The wall to the left of it shows a wooden doorframe and the closed door as well as, next to the door, a chest of drawers.  Light falls through a window or windows in the wall on the right

One of the baskets which, we are told, are hand-made objects done by Roma women, has been placed on the chest of drawers. Unless we would step up to it, we wouldn't be able to see its content. From the position from which the installation is viewed, our eyes trace the five baskets on the floor from above, perceiving spatial tensions inherent in their diverse locations and thus, their arrangement.

Looking across the rim of each basket we see, hidden in part by its carefully woven texture, "human faces". They are the visible parts of sculptures, objects of an unknown material, perhaps clay, that portray female heads.  Is it true that these heads don't throw a shadow? At least it is clear that whatever shadow they may throw (or might have thrown), is submerged, drowned out or "eaten up" by the shadow which the dark, woven basketside closest to the window is throwing onto the inside of that respective basket. And thus, the sculptures in the baskets are heads without a shadow. Five in all, as - from our position of regarding the installation - it is not possible to see a head inside the basket placed on the chest of drawers rather than on the floor. But we may assume that another object representing the head of a woman must be there. And if that basket should be empty, it may simply serve as a reminder of the endless number of baskets and heads that might still be added. Empty baskets, waiting for another shadowless head to be deposited in them. Invisible baskets, with invisible heads, that simply linger and exist, elsewhere.

As the artist revealed to a critic and that critic did not fail to tell us in the catalogue, the title of the installation relates to the opera Frau ohne Schatten by Richard Strauss. But it is not only in that opera that the theme of a shadowless and, in fact, invisible existence has surfaced. The Roma women who have woven the baskets also remain in the shadow, being part of a group that continued to be marginalized and discriminated against, in the European Union. It is a U.S. writer, Ralph Ellison, who dwelled on the same theme in his novel, Invisible Man, throwing light on what was for long, and still continues to be in many ways, the 'shadowless' existence of Afro-Americans in their native country. What is at stake here is more than the question of identity ('identiteit') which the text in the catalogue refers to.  And the "story of the violation of respect" for concrete human beings ('verhaal over her krenken van het respect voor de mens', the text that has just been mentioned suggests) may not be a "timeless story" ('tidjlood verhaal') at all. It is here and now, in concrete, historical situations that our intervention is required. And it is here and now that Johan Creten, choosing for good reason to buy the baskets used in the installation from female members of a marginalized minority, has intervened by creating an installation that stimulates reflection among the audience. And this in a way that startles, surprises, creates an irritation and, needless to say, is faithful to the Surrealist outcry that pronounces the necessity to "change life". "Changer la vie!" Will we do it, will we begin, at least? 

* The quotations are taken from: Luk Lambrecht, "Speehoven '03: 'een mogelijkheid in een onmogelijkheid van een onvorstelbare efemere groene schoonheid'" (July/August 2003), in: SPEELHOVEN 03 [catalogue] 

Tentoonstelling / exposition
31.08. - 28.09.2003

[Participating artists:]
Karel Breugelmans / Johan Creten / Jorus Ghekiere / Allart Lakke / Michael Sailstorfer / Johan Slabbynck / Christophe Terlinden / Herman Van Ingelgem / Pieter Vermeersch / Jenny Watson

v.z.v. Speelhoven. Haferbeekstraat 90
B-3200 Aarschot, Tel.-Fax 016 / 56 80 03