6 september - 18 oktober 2008
for English text see below
De beschrijving van de mens in het algemeen is al heel lang het thema van Ansuya Blom. In de tentoonstelling 'The Fall' heeft zij dit onderwerp benaderd vanuit de angst voor enge woorden zoals bijvoorbeeld 'guilt', 'anxiety' en 'sinn'. Woorden die sterk verbonden zijn met gebod en bestraffing. Zij noemt deze woorden "streng" en het liefst ontwijkt zij die zoveel mogelijk. In de tentoonstelling 'The Fall' maakt Ansuya Blom gebruik van de tekstpagina's van het boek 'The Concept of Anxiety' van Søren Kierkegaard, die zij op een manische manier betekent heeft met zwarte en roodbruine mieren. En bovenal mierenpoten. Hun lijf, poten en voelsprieten zijn door de kunstenaar over woorden gelegd die zij onaangenaam of soms zelfs angstaanjagend vindt. Een stilleggen van het gekrioel in het onderbewustzijn? Of vooral een bezwering van de "dizziness of freedom" die ontstaat als Kierkegaard's karakter Vigilius Haufniensis op de rand van een afgrond staat en de vrijheid heeft om ervoor te kiezen toe te geven aan de impuls om zich op te laten nemen in de diepte of om angstig snel rechtsomkeert te maken en daarmee een dodelijke val kan voorkomen.
Ansuya Blom heeft een geestige en ook menselijke oplossing gevonden door de angstoproepende woorden in 'The Concept of Anxiety' te schrappen met de lichamen en poten van haar getekende mieren. De mens heeft angst om verkeerde keuzes te maken en volgens Kierkegaard kan de ellendige mens zichzelf niet redden. Ansuya Blom wél; zij slaat de "strenge woorden" van zich af door die op te zoeken en te bedekken.
6 September - 18 October 2008
The description of the human being has been a theme for Ansuya Blom for many years. In the exhibition 'The Fall' she approached this topic from the fear of scary words such as 'guilt', 'anxiety' and 'sin'. Words that are closely connected with notions of command and punishment.
In the exhibition 'The Fall' Ansuya Blom has made use of the pages of the book 'The Concept of Anxiety' by Søren Kierkegaard, over which she has drawn black and red brown ants in a manic way. And above all legs of ants. Their bodies, legs and tentacles have placed over those words which the artist experienced as uncomfortable or even fearsome. A shut down of the swarming of the unconscious? Or mostly an exorcization of the ''dizziness of freedom'' which appears when Kierkegaard's character Vigilius Haufniensis stands at the abyss of freedom with the liberty to make a choice by surrendering to the impulse of being engulfed by the abyss or to fearfully make a quick turnaround in order to avoid a deadly fall.
Ansuya Blom has found a humourous but equally humane solution by obliterating those fear-invoking words of 'The Concept of Anxiety' with the bodies and legs of her drawn ants. The human being is fearful of making the wrong choices and according to Kierkegaard he is incapable of saving himself, however, Ansuya Blom is. She wards off those 'severe words' by seeking them out and covering them. In other works of the exhibition a white leg of an ant just barely covers a red surface, and ochre tentacles appear to attack a shimmering world of intestines. It is difficult for the human soul to avoid the fear of being attacked by words of others, or ward off other attacks from the external world. Choices are what we have to make do with.
Mental freedom: Ansuya Blom's House of the Invertebrates series, 2002
The work of Ansuya Blom is rich in its material evocativeness and facture, its content, and most of all its abiding sense of the complexity of the mind's processing of its moods and understandings. It makes use of different strategies also -- collaboratively made films as well as a steady practice in the studio. But whatever the form her work finally takes, a communicative pressure is felt that can at times resemble the receiving or the finding of a letter; the narration of the film Dear… makes particular use of the letter form, though leaving the addressee and the writer of the letters unlocated and unnamed. When considering Blom's work, the important questions are those of its meaning, for when communicative and expressive urgency is found in an artist's work, our first thoughts are, what is it that is being expressed? And the situation which governs what we consider the meanings to be is not simple. It could be said that her works excavate a potential space for communication and intimacy within a public sphere regarded at best with suspicion and sometimes (in the letters of the film Dear…, for example, though they cannot be regarded as a proxy figure for the artist's own views) as an outright source of hostility, force and insinuation. Although her working life has been mostly in a western democratic state, it is significant that amongst European literature the artist has had cause to revisit Georg Büchner's fable of the soldier-murderer Woyzeck, and also the story of Kaspar Hauser, which gave rise to the series of drawings titled …daß dieser Mensch…(1992). Both stories return us to doubts about the reach of European and Enlightenment definitions of humanity.(1) If I were to presume one factor governing the overall meaning of Blom's work, it would be that it is an inescapable part of freedoms won (and enjoyed) for thought and for speech as for law that they can also be lost, and therefore require a constant effort of nurture and vigilance. That counts as common knowledge outside the overdeveloped countries, but is not always so present to thought within them. (2)
How to connect the theme of freedom with Blom's works themselves and their methods? The sense of transience in her drawings and her use of unorthodox materials -- making drawings by means of the destructive properties of flame, for example, in a series from 1993, The mute house -- might be interpreted not according to unknowable speculations about personal psychology, or even with reference to the changing rhetorical role of gesture, authenticity and mark-making in recent art, but in relation to that basic provisionality and unfixity of freedom, both psychological or political. It is the very affecting intimacy of Blom's achievements that causes me to argue here for a sense of their wider political situation. But a strain is evident in this attempt at assigning a single strong meaning to the sense of impermanence in the drawings. The formal continuities in Blom's work would need to be looked at more closely before such an interpretation could be made. It is never inappropriate to defer, for a little while, the discussion of meaning in order to see where a concentration on formal questions -- spatial conventions for example -- leads. Discussion of meaning in art, though essential, leaves us too frequently bereft of agreement, and may lead to a somewhat despairing sense that meaning must be irrevocably consigned to the realm of private speculation; 'private' in the withered sense that anything goes, rather than that a fullness of perception or expression has successfully been conserved within larger strictures.
The series of works made by Ansuya Blom during her residency at Wimbledon is a good place to think more deeply about some formal aspects of her art -- and about some distinctions between different understandings of drawing. The first thing to say about these drawings, all given the title House of the Invertebrates, is that they are made on the surface of ink-jet images derived from photographs of corridors, printed in a single blue-grey, not quite the colour of architectural blueprints, and in negative. They are drawn with a white gouache pen, and the gouache is absorbed a little into the matt surface of the prints; you have a sense that the line binds with the material structure of the paper, while remaining visually distinct from the photographic image it makes use of. Windows, a desk, hanging light fixtures, beds, baths, sinks, clothing and plumbing are visible, often linked together as though with hanging threads, though some works (no. 5, for example) lack any specific objects and simply employ a swathe of drawn lines, almost resembling fur or hair. Drawings made with flame have already been mentioned; these works use an unfamiliar white line which frequently suspends itself or makes connection with the dark areas of the prints. So there are questions of how lines relate to light -- a lightswitch itself is visible in no. 3. Perhaps there is a Beuysian sense that drawing is being used to dramatize areas of energy: the dark source areas are often lights in the original corridor, but in negative their energy has become a paradoxical 'dark light'. But it is more basic questions about drawing I want to focus on.
First, think about how drawings may represent space. Imagine you are making a drawing of a room and its furnishings. How would you start? Most probably with an idea of space described by the conventions of perspective, in which the crucial factor is that the space taken up by solid objects and bodies is accorded an equal value as that taken by the air between them. Nevertheless, in grappling with the communicative function of drawing, you would be likely to exaggerate the size of solid forms, or at least we could say that you would use them as the way of locating the space around and between them -- unless, as in many Renaissance paintings, there was a handy checker-board marble floor to do a lot of that work for you. The House of the Invertebrates drawings are somewhere between perspectival space (they hang themselves on the camera's automated version of it) and a depiction of space that admits evidence of other senses than the eye, notably touch. The separate objects and fixtures that make up these lived-in, domestic spaces are unusual in that they are connected and traversed by lines that sometimes hang as threads or string would, obeying gravity and falling in loops, and sometimes follow more obscure paths. Here is another way of representing solid bodies and the space between them, and through these interconnecting lines, not through the ususal resort to obviously architectural lines of recession or checkerboard floors. The drawings do not simply pose tactile or pre-perspectival space against camera-recorded space, the tactile against the ocular; they make their own convention for space, and it is post-perspectival, overlaying the view of the camera.
Return to the decisions that you make when drawing. To draw any bounded object within space, most of us would jump immediately to the decision of what kind of line to use -- hesitant, broken, feathery or firm. But this is actually to skip a stage of decision-making we may not realise we are making, which is whether or not to draw using outlines at all. Our drawings would turn out feathery or firm, but they would nearly all depend on the convention of outlines. Outlines have a purpose and our experience of objects as bounded is reasonably expressed by using them. Diagrams, on the other hand, make use of a purer mathematical precision, or use conventions that mean we can reconstruct what is depicted without ambiguity, or sometimes drastically simplify, neglecting outlines for inner structure. They have a different kind of objectivity, and a useful one, but tend to omit the sensual aspects of space. If you look closely at Ansuya Blom's drawings, you will see that in some respects at least, they are closer to diagrams than to outline drawings. Of course it would be hard to reconstruct their spaces, especially as, quite unlike diagrams, they often demonstrate a need to go over a line with many many others -- though it should be pointed out that this is not done in a spirit of revising or approximation, or as though drawing from observation. The diagramatic approach can be seen in how in drawing the pipe that leads to a shower-head, for example, she uses one line to depict the hollow pipe, not two. It's the idea-aspect of the thing rather than the visual experience of the thing. Although the overall effect is very often tactile and delightfully so because of the quality of the line and the conventions for making space used, at the level of the most basic decision-making we are in the realm of the diagram rather than an outline drawing from observation: we are in a mental space, but one that has sensual aspects.
Form is properly considered as 'inner content', and was defined as such in German Romanticism. In any art that engages us form and content can never be fully separated, though for purposes of discussion we can train ourselves to think about them independently. Beyond the type of space made in this new series, and the kinds of line used, line does here take on a meaning of its own; it becomes a motif. There is not so much modern art that makes use of Blom's kind of line, that is simultaneously idea and embodiment; one example that could be looked at in comparison would be the white lines that organise the black and red areas in an early work by Philip Guston, The Tormentors (1947-8, San Francisco Museum of Art). The space there is much flatter, but the lines have an ability to change their meaning: now stitching, now describing a cowl or the sole of a shoe, while always demonstrating the involvement of figures in the space around and between them. Line in Guston's early work does become content, though never entirely, and the motif in Guston's late works are not separable from the continuing drama of how those works were made; they represented no apostasy from what he had learnt as an abstract artist. Blom's repertoire of identifiable motifs is, like Guston's, not large; but the meanings of the motifs are continually inflected in a comparable way.
Whatever comparisons we bring to Ansuya Blom's House of the Invertebrates series, and whatever meanings, finally, we think her work expresses, I hope this account has said enough to indicate how some formal questions in her work can be looked at, with a view to the theme of freedom, mental and political. By realizing that the consensual, shared space of linear perspective is not finally cast off or wholly rebelled against in these works, we can begin to see how the strong ability to invite the viewer into a particular world -- not, perhaps, any longer merely a 'personal' world, but one demonstrating awareness of others, and of other forces -- is arrived at.
(1) Woyzeck (see John Reddick's translation for the Penguin Büchner) is referred to by the artist in the interview with Stuart Morgan in Ansuya Blom, Let me see, if this be real (NAi Publishers, Rotterdam, 1999), in the context of a discussion of irrational commands that must be obeyed. Motifs that recall Woyzeck are to be found in several of Blom's works. Kaspar Hauser, the sixteen-year-old who stumbled into Nuremberg in 1828, having been raised in the virtual darkness since the age of four, is a much debated case in the literature of language acquisition and psychology; but his murder in 1832 was also significant, and was described by Anselm Ritter von Feuerbach, the German jurist who first wrote up the story, as constituting a whole new category of crime, 'soul murder'.
(2) Another way of raising some of these questions would be to point to the difficulties involved in assigning Blom's work to a tradition of Dutch art, and to make clear how international it is in awareness and sympathies: jazz, blues, Cree and Sioux poetry. See also Ansuya Blom (Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, 1994); Stuart Morgan, 'The Secret Life of Belly and Bone' in What the Butler Saw, ed. Ian Hunt (Durian, London, 1996), reprinted from Stedelijk Museum catalogue of 1990.
Ian Hunt writes on art -- most recently on Pamela Golden, Aaron Williamson, Lily Markiewicz, Mark Wallinger -- and is the publisher of the poetry imprint Alfred David Editions, which publishes his story The Daubers in English and German, as part of a collaborative book with the Swiss artist Andreas Rüthi, Still Life Paintings.