OPENING WORDS Emeritus Professor BRIAN CATLING, RA.
3 November 2017
The magnet at the core of Anet van de Elzen‘s work is porous, generous and profound, its energy shifting in currents of reflection, making a restless procession of human identity. Her images of fractured people caught between poverty and transcendence are at once recognizable and disturbingly original. They are never allowed to be self-portraits or glimpses of the artist’s identity, that vanity is far below Van de Elzen’s purpose. These figures that are animated by shuddering light or performed in dislocated time, are emotional denizens, genies of our anxious condition. They have been caught and exposed in self operated traps at the periphery of our knowing. Prophets on a lonely road.
Van de Elzen is not engaged in a gameshow of ego, where the artist becomes the victim of their own brand. She skillfully looses sight of that thin costume before she loads the film, opens the clay or walks into an audience. True, her photographs and performances are painfully inspired and intensely directed by her experiences of grief, joy, alienation, comfort, hurt, doubt and all the other hungers that gnaw our souls into the recognition of mortality. Her tribe of stained inventions are denser and more genuine than autobiography, they are bred in a greater enigma. Their genius of imperfection slips and overlaps personality through a series of blurs and disguises. They sensually embrace and dissolve the contours of gender and race in their desire to celebrate the weird frailty of their tiny moment of existence.
The shadow prints here on the gallery walls are also dark mirrors, reflecting passages of time from another place and working like stepping stones to the chamber where ECHO THE NOW is playing. They are not artefacts of the actual past years, when she shaved the camera’s lens back to its basics, but also a glimpse of the strangeness of the photographic process itself. These blurred stains of anguish can never speak with a digital tongue. They barely recognise the photographic dark room in which they were born. The light and time that captured them has been smothered and boiled through clay and acid, milk and charcoal to expose their recognition of our trembling humanity for a fraction of second in an eternity of underexposure.
The echo that haunts this intense film is not coming from the future, even though the opening scene looks like a post-nuclear landscape. A beach that Cormac McCarthy’s road might finally reach in exhaustion. The echo is of the past finding its way to now through labor, female toil and the isolation of rural time. But this is not an historic drama or a costume re-invention of what is gone. It is a ritualized performance of the constant; all of those things felt through the artistic body. A recording of the personas and installation that Anet van de Elzen as worn before. Savage, lost and heartfelt. In this cinematic gathering she herds them together to pretend there is a narrative, so that we might attempt to retell those legends and rumors. But only find a description of atmosphere and longing.
While you are mesmerized and questioning under the gaze of her screen remember to let go of the time you arrived with, because it has no currency here. It is the wrong kitchen. The cuts, close-ups and pans in this light occur at a performance pace, wedded to a distant rural book of hours that demands to be in exiled from the chattering speed of the cities electronic banter.
If you see ECHO THE NOW’S screening in random glimpses and snatched samples then you will miss its heartbeat. True that each image is potent and unique, that’s what Van de Elzen always does. But it is its flow, its time sequence that is so different and so rare.
For those of you who have not sat and watched this film in its entirety, I can only encourage you to do so, because what occurs in its shifts of sensitive duration is a reversal of absorption.
The film watches you. So that when you leave you carry its need. And find it impossible to describe the sublime loss that you have experienced. So beware! like all profound works of art, it is dangerous. And might just connect you to the depth of memory instead of the frantic surface of corporate forgetting.
Emeritus Professor Ruskin School of Art
University of Oxford