‘Mankind is a workpiece with no well-defined shape’
(Pico della Mirandola 1463-1494)
During a studio visit – an attic space in a former urban farm in Utrecht – I see objects in the semi-darkness hanging from soft, shiny polyurethane foam, sagging and yellowed in colourful polyester nets. The polyurethane foam penetrates the network and yet is partly held back by the fine braided structure. It appears to be a strange display of artificial organs, artificial proliferations that are gradually taking possession of the attic space. While somewhat repellent, they draw my eyes to their hybrid beauty, their soft shape, colour and lustre.
Linen cloths are unfolded. Body shapes of polyurethane foam and wire appear, twisted; they have grown out of their skin, are turned inside out …. Some of the foam curves are dotted with colourful, transparent cones that shimmer in the light like reptile skin. Together we look, touch forms, feel our way along with words.
How did you come to choose polyurethane foam as a visual material? ‘It started with a sense of dissatisfaction with my work as a jeweller. I was working on sculptural collars and headdresses made with braided wire as an extension of the body. But they were still decorative adornment. Something was gnawing at me and I realised I had to return to the body on a very basic level. On impulse, I started cutting into the first body I came across: a polyurethane foam mannequin.’ As it turned out, this was a revelation. ‘I had, to my mind, removed too much material in some places, so I bought some polyurethane foam to stick on pieces here and there and add material. While I was doing this, I got the idea that the body could be more than something that is limited in form – something could grow out of it that transcends the boundaries of the body. That’s how I discovered polyurethane foam as a material. It has enormous expansion and is very difficult to control. This uncontrollable expansion of the material was also consistent with my instinctual desire that something had to come out, that I needed to look for a different artistic form. During my experiments, I saw how the material spread out. The forms that emerged were so organic, they literally even looked like organs. So I fairly quickly came to the idea of bringing out and showing the body, and the organs that are within the body. I have always been fascinated by the tension between the body as a vulnerable entity and quality as a tool of communicating with the outside world. I saw both strength and vulnerability reflected in the work I began to create using polyurethane foam.’
Body as landscape
The sculptures and wire objects from the Brutal Growth series are an ode to the body, and at the same time a visual dissection in which mental and physical aspects are intertwined. Where does the body begin, and where might it end? Does it flow into space? The wire sculptures, an examination of the human and sometimes vegetal silhouette, form transparent volumes that open up and dissolve in space. Body becomes landscape. Sometimes they look like images from a dream – such as the spherical shape with blister-like protrusions, which is reminiscent of inside-out tumours or imaginary thought spaces bursting from the body.
The body is an unwavering miracle ‘about which we can only stammer’, a ‘lived space’ that precedes our thinking. These are the words of the French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1908 – 1961). Merleau-Ponty was concerned with the realisation that the body is not a fixed entity but a living microcosm that changes in constant communication between perception, psyche, feeling, emotion and intellect, and the interaction with the outside world. Merleau-Ponty also played an important role in the revaluation of sensory perception as a source of information about the world, not only in philosophy but above all in art. ‘The work of art can surprise us, not because it portrays something very strange, but because it can make something that is familiar to us appear in a new, strange way. Through the perception of this strangeness, our gaze is drawn in and questioned.