A.B. Meadows

'Training': A Series of Drawings by Jenny Watson

Jenny Watson, another artist taking part in the SPEELHOVEN 03 exhibition, is showing a series of delicate works named 'training'. As Luc Lambrecht notes in the catalogue, it is a playful evocation of two activities: training horses and riding trains. The polysemy of the word 'train' has triggered a playfully conceptual and at the same time, associative approach that materialized in a number of drawings. And thus it seems that one has to agree with the critic quoted who has summed it up by stating: "Het is een werk dat zinspeelt op het onderbewuste en op de kunst in het zog van het surrealisme." (It's a work the meaning of which plays with the subconscious and with [a form of] art [that is] influenced by surrealism.)

A number of fresh, almost joyously childlike, more or less sketchy drawing have been created. With a single exception, each one is like a drawn postcard, a message sent to the audience. A drawn line, interrupted in places, demarcates it at the top and bottom, the left and the right. Another, vertical line, divides this space in the middle. The left part shows a scribbled text (the verbal message visualized), the right part is showing an image that represents a fragment of a factual or imagined 'reality.' There is a relationship between both the 'verbal' and the 'image'-based message.

In one such drawing, we see, as if blown up to considerable size and isolated by this very process, the eye of what must be a horse, surrounded by sketchily indicated parts of the large head of the horse, presented in fact by no more than the hair around the eye inside which the tiny silhouettes of two human beings, a woman and a man, are visible. They are carefully drawn, not as abstractly as icons, but not in any naturalistic way either. Not quite like kids would draw them, and still with the innocence and casual imperfection found in their sketches. 
The scribbled note opposite reads: 
"I dreamed I 
was crying
about an old
boyfriend. In the
dream I took my 
dog for a walk
+ sat on the 
steps of a pub."
The loneliness of the two people depicted in the eye of the horse, as they stand there, still embracing each other, in what may be the moment of finally saying good-bye, correlates with the sadness and loneliness the dream story is breathing. The moment caught or remembered is not identical, but the emotion is a very similar one. In both stories told, the image-based one and the word-based one, we are surprised by the intensity owed to an unpretentious simplicity. 

Another work, again postcard-like and again divided into an image-based part and a word-based part, shows the improvised drawing of a woman's face. Is it the face of a person of indeterminate age? A young woman's face, or a girl's face? The large, sad eyes, the nose, the long hair, the curved, pretty outline of the mouth give us no clue - they leave it, significantly enough, entirely open to speculation.
The text juxtaposed in spontaneous handwriting reads:
"I had just arrived
in Paris. I had an
appointment with a
gallery. I went to the
small hotel I had
been going to for 20
years. I took a shower
and washed my hair.
On deciding to go
for a walk and 
leaving the hotel a
man asked me to
go for a drink."
It is completely left open whether this is an invented (and perhaps dreamt) or a remembered story. A touch of the autobiographic seems to enter. If invented, it still lends the story an air of immediacy, of subjective relevance, a freshness the viewer can relate to and perhaps recognize his own subjective emotions in. Whether the 'artist' in this story accepts the offer to accompany the man and "go for a drink" is left open.  But the hair, a symbol of female attractiveness, and the undeciphered age, occur in both the image and the story that could be another dreamt story. To be asked by a man to "go for a drink" with him could underline an existing (and reveal doubts about a persisting) attractiveness. In a way, the "invitation" expressed at the end of the story could represent a wish, a desire we all know. Faintly aware how it  persists in us. 

Still another drawing departs from the post-card-type structure.  I see a large, drawn frame within this frameless work. Inside it - a drawing, showing a woman riding a horse. Outside it, linked by an arrowlike line, the words, "painting on fabric of me riding". In other words, the constellation of text and drawing suggests that this is draft, a sketchy design, a conceptual presentation of another, painted work that may never be realized. And this because the concept or sketch in itself has all the strength and validity of a work of art and may in fact surpass any imaginable painting of this subject matter. Thanks, I may add, to its improvised, fleeting quality that seems to reject aspirations of being 'eternal art'. And perhaps even thanks to an attempt to reject commodification - although such surpassing of the status of a commodity of the type which might at least potentially circulate in the art market is probably impossible to attain, under present circumstances. At the lower, left-hand edge of the frame surrounding rider and horse we see another, partly overlapping, frame-like, drawn object, with the word 'Training' inscribed in it, and a second, arrowlike, pointing line connecting it to the words "Premade small stretcher". Below the suggested draft of a horse & rider painting, a circular toy railway line with goods train riding these tracks, supplemented by what may be a station, two miniature 'trees' that come with such railroad settings, and a tiny person have been drawn. In the right-hand lower edge of this work, the words "train set" have been scribbled. They are connected again with the set in question, by a pointing line.

Then, again, there is another post-card-like drawing divided in the middle. Again, a sketchy face of a woman. Again, the scribbled note juxtaposed.  This time, the text says:
"Watching the U.S.
open on TV
made me want
to be in Manhattan in
the evening
rather than 
Melbourne in
the morning."
I was tempted to mispell morning by adding a "u": "mourning". Is is because I sense I sadness once again? This time, perhaps, the sadness of a person nowhere at home. Haunted by some inner restlessness. By a search or deep unhappiness or dissatisfaction in the face of the cornucopia of objects, events and mirages projected onto some inner screen that endlessly mirrors a world of advertised longings, the rush of flickering cinematographic images, the dizzy lives of flat people caught in a plastic screen, framed by the colorful frame of a ceaselessly mumbling TV set. What, after all, are the U.S. opens or the tournament at Wimbledon  to a car mechanic, a truck driver, a bar man, a salesgirl in a Manchester supermarket? Manhattan and Melbourne can be just a wish to fly up up and away. By why? What is so unbearable, so boring, so difficult to face, in our real lives? Why this desire, again & again, to be elsewhere? (We know an entire branch of commerce, an entire "industry" called "tourism" lives on it.)

Again, the drawn 'postcard' shows the head of a horse. Not just a large, isolated eye and the patches of horse hair surrounding it. No, it's the nostrils! The raised ears that harken to the sounds of the world, of the wind... And, yes, the watchful eye on the side of the head turned toward us - how it regards the observers!  The mane, the long neck, gives way to the breast and back. How sharply observed it is, the aware, watchful look of the horse that observes the world! How nonchalantly and yet, precisely the artist caught it - with a few lines of her pen!
The small window which the drawing in the right-hand part of this post-card-like work opens onto the world of a horse, is confronted to a scribbled note again. And perhaps it is at this note that, confounded by it, marvelling, marvelling for a quiet moment, the horse is gazing. The note speaks. Speak to her who wrote it? To us? To the horse? Make up your mind, decide it for yourself. The note, at any rate, reads:
"I was listening to
talk back radio about
dreams. A woman
rang in and was
describing a dream
about standing on
top of waterfall
looking down. She
described very
clearly the feeling
of the cold spray
coming up from under
her toes."
O, I thought, reading it: Perhaps she dreamt it. Dreamt of a woman ringing in to "talk back radio" in order to narrate her dream. The feeling of cold spray coming up from under her toes. The bodily sensation of it. More than tickling. Does it make you feel so very light? As if flying? As if riding on a horse, flying flying above its back as it hurries on with a speed never experienced before? 
I know I saw the horse just looking on, skeptically, distanced, fully awake, on its guard. Perhaps it knew what she was talking about. And  took "none of it", as they say, for more than a phantasy. A phantasy, is that "a dream"?

Perhaps we can look at Jenny Watson's Belgian project, "Training", as a dream diary. Diary of dreams, sketchily, dreamily evoked by a playfully proposed, polysemic word. So lightly (but also lightheartedly?) drawn, these images. And scribbled - these notes. And yet, such a moving series of strong, equilibriated, and yet tension-filled drawings. They move the heart. Touch the breathing dreaming animated body. Stir - the mind. 

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

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