Spellbound Sappho Sappho Spellbound
17.04.21 – 13.06.21
Gert Verhoeven is a charming artist. Listening to him speak about “the source of inspiration”, “the absurdity of communicating through art” or “the necessity of humour in art”, appeals to the same feeling as attending a lecture by a pioneering scientist or an inspired politician. In their opinion, they have developed useful insights during their professional career and try to pass these over to others, as is to be expected from – ahum – an intellectual. However, there might be a slight difference: Verhoeven isn’t any of these and he prefers not to communicate as these honourable professions often do, namely through bone dry lectures with one-sided and ego-glorifying reasoning. Nevertheless, throughout a short, vivid lecture, he is able to shed light on his insights.
Visiting his exhibition amounts to participating in his view on art – at least for the duration of the visit. In fact, participation could be one of the “signal words” of the exhibition. First of all, when entering, the visitor can choose between three entrances (participation of visitor/artist/art space). Second, the sources of inspiration are shown in the doodles and communicated through the visitor’s sheet. This demystifies the production process of an artwork (participation of visitor/artist). Third, contrasting materials such as sophisticated glassware and unpolished rock are used in the Whiskey Ikebana sculptures (participation of individual artist/chain of people used for industrial production). Fourth and foremost, the video-installation Spellbound is determined in openly giving up the authorship of one single artist (participation of Gert Verhoeven/Alfred Campenaerts/Filip Anthonissen). Striking is also the extensive list of acknowledgments. This consciously superseding of individual authorship is in line with other projects in KIOSK the last few months, like the group exhibition x where only the work of anonymous artists was displayed.
Verhoeven discusses the ontological, communicative power of art or as he says himself: “The works are not really constructions or realizations of new ideas, but objects trying to free themselves from ideas. They demonstrate the absurdity of art as a means to communicate or convey information”. Semantic clarity seems to be irrelevant. This becomes clear in the three different types of work showed in the exhibition. The doodles show the amount of hesitation while creating and they therefore demystify the singular, elevated work of art. How can something with so much recalled decisions have clear answers? The Whiskey Ikebana sculptures are opaque and alienating through the encounter of antagonistic materials. Spellbound proves that one can get hypnotized by modest but certainly mysterious forms. What there is to be said is not clear. Verhoeven states that art is about “giving the feeling of an experience”. Giving the feeling of an experience… I don’t understand what this is and that’s the crux (I think? Maybe?) I’m not sure. Should I cite John Cage here for credibility? Or would it be too predictable or misplaced? I think I have reached the limit of what I could say.
Ahum, ahum, ahum. Now that I have said all of this, a confession is itching in my throat. Personally, I think that I can’t contribute something new to the discourse around this exhibition. I’m just a student with mediocre grades, an insecure intern with doubts about his abilities. Therefore, I will parasite on an authority. I will say my piece by using her words.
I did the following acts and had the following thoughts in this order during the preparation of this text.
1) I drink the last bit of water out of my glass and turn down the volume of the music by the wonderful Toumani Diabaté. It becomes very clear that a peaceful mind is required.
2) I stand up from my chair and walk to the bookcase behind me. Ad random I select a piece of poetry by the Archaic Greek poet Sappho. She’s been an inspiration to me my whole life. As I have nothing left to say at the moment, but I speak anyways (I think?). I need this poetry right now.
3) I browse through the pages without a specific poem in mind. This page flipping, this poetry picking happens with the same mindset as the one with which a draftsman sketches: searching for something undetermined. One of the poems should be somehow appropriate, shouldn’t it?
4) Nothing in particular seems to be appropriate. I groan and snap at my roommate. The walls seem greyer than yesterday. I continue the reading.
5) No. 30! I have found it! Ten times the number of the Holy Trinity (it’s a sad thing that people have lost their connection with numbers). Sappho says:
“I don’t know what to do: I am of two minds.”
All the other words of the poem have vanished over time: engulfed by the Aegean Sea or maybe burned by an angry Christian (how would I know?) and will never be read again. We have to thank our friends the archaeologists for preserving the remnants this poem. Of course they have been completely isolated from their neighbouring sentences, but are now comfortably surrounded by an all-embracing lacuna. This neutral but suggestive void enforces the energy of the lonely sentence … a linguistic white cube? I’m sorry. I will get back to the subject.
6) Believe it or not, but reading this one-sentence poem feels closer to visiting Verhoeven’s exhibition than one would assume at first sight.
The first parallel is the collaboration between multiple professions present in the lack of other sentences: fishermen or shepherds were hired to bring archaeologists to interesting sites; Copyists wore out their quills in secretly passing Sappho’s sensual poetry to next generations; Linguists and hermeneutic philologists held endless debates and conferences about the authenticity of the fragment and its attribution to Sappho; Translators made the sentence understandable for the few people who don’t understand Archaic Greek; A book designer troubled himself with the fragmented poetry. All these people collaborated over time for giving us “the feeling of the experience” of Sappho through a very simple sentence. In this, we could find the same logic as we find in Gert Verhoevens’ demystification of the sole artist-genius and the takedown of inspiration as a sudden revelation of an idea. The artist is many people and the artwork is fractured over time.
Sappho doesn’t know what to do (she says), maybe as I am in doubt about writing about art? Verhoeven rejects the lecture – “not appropriate” – as well as the artwork – “absurd” – as a communication tool for an artist. It is this questioning of art as “science and method” that I appreciate at the exhibition. Verhoeven declared sympathy for Lee Lozano’s statement about art and humour, which is also fitting this train of thought. Humour appeals to the same feeling. Everyone who once tried to explain a punchline or a funny situation, will admit that the joke of it died in their sad attempt.
7) I finish the leftovers of my roommate’s dish. I don’t know what it is and, according to the taste of it, maybe that’s for the better.
8) Somewhat dazed by a slight food poisoning, I close the book and start to write. I use my notes which are written in an unreadable handwriting, somewhere between cuneiform script and a list of barcodes.
9) The result seems different from what I had written in my notes (I think?).
10) Ctrl + S.