'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
" DRIFTING / DÉRIVE "
31.08. - 28.09.2003
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