Germaine Kruip's practice is rooted in the different yet interrelated worlds of the stage (theater, cinema, performance), architecture, and visual arts. Her works thus open and address a wider field of perception than is accessible with the eyes. For Rehearsal, we are notably asked to sharpen our ears–an unusual, even paradoxical situation for an exhibition, for sound waves do not belong to the realm of the visible. Or do they? It is a fortunate coincidence that the word 'hear' is present in the exhibition's title.
What might this 'rehearsal'–a cherished term in Kruip's artistic vocabulary–refer to? Are we not assisting an opening or a show, we might wonder, but rather a moment before it? Rehearsal, for Kruip, refers to a moment of play; to a moment in which the world, the work of art, or anything around us, is in a state of flux and becoming. Similarly, the meanings of works in such a moment are constitutively open and changeable. It's this moveable state of becoming that Kruip explores in her work and invites us to step into.
We might choose to enter Rehearsal in the Patio Gallery. Here, an in-situ intervention (Patio Untitled, 2022) continues Kruip's longstanding practice to mobilise the existing space as an active agent. By gradually fading out the natural light falling through the rows of roof windows, this work enacts the movement of daylight and daytime. The space transforms itself–and we participate in this work–into a stage for a play of shadow and light; into an action, row after row, of the day growing or fading. This performative intervention stages and encompasses the entire space, situating it, and us, firmly in the here and now.
The sculptural work Portal Brass Line (2022), a geometric polished brass frame developed with instrument-maker Thein Brass, doubles as an instrument and architectural passage, a transitional frame functioning as an entry into a mental field. We could place ourselves 'inside' this transitional space and 'play' the work, thus creating an almost tangible aural space. The spatial sound resonates in the body as well as in the mental space of the passer-underneath, gently activating a broader sensorium. As in Kruip's oeuvre in general, the work confers power (of creation, of interpretation) to the beholder.
After Image (2018), a fleeting, luminous, monochrome projection in landscape format, forms part of ongoing research that began in 2014 titled, A Possibility of an Abstraction. This research investigates and stages phenomenological events and effects through installations and performances, fusing cinema and theatre. In After Image, a film-like effect is produced without using cinematic means or a cinematic screen. The existing architecture becomes an empty canvas (including its grainy texture) for a filmic play of light and shadow, staging... its own components. As often in Kruip's oeuvre, the history of the building and place become part of the work, which changes in intensity and contrast with the changing light of day and becomes more theatrical as night falls. After Image oozes a meditative atmosphere, inviting a reflection on the notions of positive and negative, on the frames of our field of vision, our ways of perceiving, and duration itself.
In the absence of representation, as with all abstract art, and perhaps especially with monochrome abstract art, we tend to open our faculties of memory, imagination, and reflection. Emptiness in a place where we expect or desire representation triggers a search for meaning and interpretation–especially in a situation recalling the cinema. Emptiness also allows us to move our gaze across the entirety of the image. Inspired by the notion of Slow Cinema, After Image's visual simplicity adds the element of time. As film scholar Nadine Mai notes in her article Monochrome Painting and Slow Cinema': 'the duration of the long-takes allows us to take our time to move our gaze along a frame without necessarily getting focused on just one element.' By presenting emptiness in this way, Kruip provides us with a lens, a tool for looking actively, mobilising both our eyes and what we might call our mind's eye.
Kruip's works function as lenses for perceiving actively and tools for the emancipation and power of the viewer. These two terms, emancipation and power, resonate in the social-political realm and can be explored further by looking into the socio-political history of music, and the exhibition's relation to this history. Kruip's new series of works, The Concert (2022) refers to the eponymous painting by Vermeer (ca. 1663–1666), stolen in a still-unsolved crime from Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston in 1990. Vermeer's painting is equally missing from the present exhibition: in two black-and-white light paintings in constant back-and-forth movements, Kruip presents geometric reductions of Vermeer's composition scheme. These fading abstractions realise the semantic meaning of the word abstraction as they extract essence from an existing object, or, in this case, from a missing image: a work originally produced by a painter with a proto-photographic production process, whose compositions rested firmly on geometric shapes. Kruip's monochrome, geometric light compositions are reminiscent of hypnagogic images, those fleeting light shapes we see when closing our eyes, and call to mind the French philosopher Michel Serres' saying, in his book Eyes, that 'if you close your eyes, you lose the power of abstraction.'
The Concert invites us to delve into our personal mental museums and reflect on notions of the original, as well as meaning in general, which we are ever so keen to look for. Furthermore, the reference to a concert is significant. Next to representations of mealtime, the concert was the most frequently chosen subject for Dutch seventeenth-century interior painting. Before the advent of paid concerts in the eighteenth century, music had a strong ritual function, and in the private sphere, first and foremost it presented an occasion to play together in 'good society'. In Vermeer's scene, the musicians are absorbed in playing together in a moment of heightened attention and intimacy, even turning their backs to the viewer. In the viewer, such scenes can create an awareness of duration; they also symbolised a stable, harmonious society, and still provide a feeling of organised security for whomever enters the comfortable and well-composed intimacy of the harmonious interior. In this society, there is no call to emancipation, and power resides firmly with external authorities.
Not so in Kruip's approach to music (or art). If the brass instrument works can evoke the sphere of ritual, or even foster a therapeutic experience, the key element in the making of music in this exhibition, nevertheless, is composition. This composition is given over to each member of the public, not made by the artist. Here, there is no single, dominant code for musical expression, or for listening. For composition in the hands of the listener implies that listening to music is to co-write, or even rewrite it. Composition, writes theorist Jacques Attali in his book Noise: The Political Economy of Music, is a liberating activity "that is an end in itself, that creates its own code at the same time as the work.'
Music produced by an emancipated individual is music produced for pleasure outside of meaning, usage, and exchange. This approach to music, celebrated by Attali as a tool for a different form of society, resonates with Kruip's aspirations and work. For is not 'pure' music duration itself, a confrontation with the course of time? Music for the pure pleasure of making or listening calls forth, like Kruip's work, a comprehensive sensorial knowledge, residing in, and mobilising the entire body. It is up to us to sense and to make sense.
Press release courtesy Axel Vervoordt Gallery. Text: Merel van Tilburg, in conversation with Germaine Kruip.
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