Brent: Pop, peek-a-boo, poking around, of color that is not of this world, though worldly set in architectural places that can eat up the logic of their interior. Indeed you have for lunch many of the preconceptions of the formal. Your sense of order of space and how you color it physical is full of humor often playing up to our own inquisitiveness, how we are likely to navigate – how we and our body often lurch into understanding looking for an easy registration, and what happens when this is not possible.
Henriëtte: Well, I have been poking around for a while hoping to make people aware of color and shape, and of non-existing space. In Joint I transformed a little area into something new and unexpected, joking around with color and shape while not knowing where it would lead – just having fun, and working through ways that would perhaps mislead the audience.
I always trust myself to find the next step in the direction I am going, but this is also scary, I can tell you. But usually the work I’ve just completed hints to what is going to happen next, even if I’m not totally aware of it.
I like the idea of making something that nobody has seen before. Although I am aware that everything has been done already, it doesn’t matter. I am also aware that I’m working in a tradition, but that doesn’t matter either. Actually I think it’s a strength knowing that I am working in a tradition. There is a chance to break all the unspoken rules. And then you find out that what you have to do is invent new ones, your own rules, otherwise the work doesn’t work. And this is odd, and interesting, and matters.
But back to the little installation Joint: It was situated in the smallest of spaces, called the cupboard, at the exhibition space RC de Ruimte in IJmuiden, near Amsterdam. It was easy to pass by the space without noticing that there was anything inside. You had to pop your head through the opening to see the work: peek-a-boo indeed!
Brent: With Joint you went into the area and started from scratch, building up the intoxicating planes, the mischief space, along with decisions of color, while you were there. In a manner, Joint was built for the cupboard.
Your architectural use of space, the modernist sense of absence, the trace to Sol LeWitt that disintegrates along the way, the fold, the feel, the synthetic, even a sense of loss when an area is cut off or cut out replaced with a solid bit of air, then when on closer view the material surfaces, the color that sits on and bounces off and back, all tally trouble but also to structure.
What do you expect someone to do with this?
Henriëtte: In a sense my work is very clear. I like clearness. But the use of heterogeneous colors, which can hardly stand each other, and are on the edge, together with the use of preprinted vinyl makes the work even more mischievous. And of course there is the emotional connotation with those vibrant colors. So I hope when people step inside this small space and see the play with the flat and the three-dimensional, the play with the perspective and the triangular objects and how a painted piece of paper is disturbing their expectation, together with the strength of the color, that their experience will hit the roof.
Of course I know this won’t happen, but it is nice to think of it. The whole piece looked like a Fremdkörper in this particular surrounding. It wasn’t set up that way.
Brent: The dangerous liaison is with decision-making. But how does this all work? Do you first make models? Do you work directly in the space that is allocated? I’m wondering how Joint came together coupling the creative with the practical?
Henriëtte: I always make a model for an installation. I need to do this otherwise it’s not possible to know how the work will fit into a particular space. The scary thing is when you realize a work using a model that you think you know how it will work often this turns out not to be the case. In location, in reality, when following the model in very strict terms it turns out that you end up with no more than an enlarged duplicate of the model. The scale brings in specific qualities of its own. So the actual setting, the object in the space, dictates changes and amendments that need to be made for it all to work.
I hardly sketch on paper. When I see the space, the idea comes to my mind and when I sort of know what I want to do I start to sketch with colored paper. I have gathered a nice collection. I use it as my palette. Then I start to cut and glue, undo, redo and so on, till I begin to like it and become excited about the work. At that stage I always invite my friends to criticize what I am doing, asking ‘Am I crazy, or not crazy enough?’
In Joint I have combined three-dimensional triangular objects with a flat perspective play in a very narrow architectural space. The use of the triangular structures come from an earlier installation entitled Plissé.
Here’s a little background.
I was invited to make an installation in an old empty house; curators thought it would be inspiring for artists. I immediately had the idea to create the opposite of how the space looked, a Fremdkörper, clean, sophisticated. So yes, in that way it was inspiring. I had cabinets from an earlier project with English colleague Michael Wright that combined large mural installations and cabinets used to display Michael’s photos and videos. Under the name Wright and Van ’t Hoog we still on and off work together. Therefore I knew the disrupting effect of the combination of something three-dimensional and something flat with perspective play on a wall.
For Plissé I asked a carpenter to make three triangular objects for me. This was the starting point. The color choice wasn’t difficult. I choose one of those ugly and depressing colors already present in the house and combined it with fluorescent yellow and white to see what happens. Indeed it became a Fremdkörper, but it also looked as if it had been there all along, a kind of IKEA kitchen that someone had forgotten to remove when they stripped the house.
Back to Joint: I re-used two of the triangular objects as the starting point. They didn’t fit at all so I started ‘coupling the creative and the practical’. I put them in a certain constellation and made a connection between the two.
Brent: And it works.
With Plissé, and to a less extent Joint, the ‘visually deceptive’ slips over to the plain and simple. This is the case with the vertical planes of Plissé, and the interior drywall enclosure of Joint.
You have made murals painted directly onto the wall. The murals particularly draw attention to the flatness of the surface you are working with, also to the flatness of color when it is set to a single plane. In Cubes (2007) you have this working again, yet this time in new and strange ways. The ‘models’ are just as the title suggests ‘cubes’. They read open or closed and are painted directly to the wall, to fold onto the floor, or bend back with the above ceiling duct. They are cubes, not particularly complex in their reading, and as cubes allude to volume. Yet they also bring to attention flatness and openness. Unlike Plissé or Joint, Cubes appears easy to navigate optically; the [A-beam structures] being the thing that physically needs to be got around to see, again making use of the restriction. But you have created a whole new space.
Henriëtte: You have given an intriguing account of Cubes, thank you. In my head I was still busy creating something three-dimensional together with something flat. But in this case the three-dimensional was already there, that ceiling duct, that in-between ceiling. The exhibition space used to be a modern Protestant church, with a peculiar shaped wall. It has very beautiful light from above. I didn’t have to add anything, but could just use what was already there. The whole work is based on parallelism. The diagonal is in the same direction as the direction of the beam. When you walk along, the perspective changes all the time, a cube changes into a trapezium or into an impossible geometric shape.
Cubes is made with fluorescent paint. The shining adds something poetical, something not rational, something you don’t know forehand. There is a contrast between the initial formative idea of this mural and all the more intuitive connotations it brings along. The vibrant colors make an appeal, calling ‘Look at me’, and the ‘shining’ gives a sense of vulnerability to the object.
Cubes and all the other site-specific installations I did were temporary. This is strange, they exist for a shorter or longer period and then, boom, they’re gone -– only some pictures remain. It gives me a forlorn feeling…I had changed the space, and then it’s back to ‘normal’.
I think Cubes was crucial to the development of my work. The last couple of years, before I made Cubes, I had only made site-specific work. I hardly had any work for sale, besides a nice series of abstract watercolors. But they were different, on paper, and had nothing to do with perspective, not yet. When I saw the illusionistic perspective of Cubes, I decided to make those strange shapes in the ‘real’, meaning make them three-dimensional, as with Inner Glow I. The first couple of pieces were executed in MDF, all other Inner Glows, Corner Pieces and Fotons are in zinc. The ones made of MDF were a little bit robust because of the material, but the size fitted to the material. I am very conscious about size and scale of the work. For the next series of work I was looking at the delicacy of the material, the material had to be there as support for the color. And I chose zinc.
Brent: Did you have in mind that you were about to embark on a very different way of working – studio work, where all the decisions are made? And when a ‘piece’ moves out into a new location, more decisions, of course, but this time the object is easily transportable, and is saved. Was this a conscious decision, a natural next step after Cubes?
What stays the same, of course, is that you need to make models first, similar to your installation work. Though these models don’t need to fit somewhere other than in the space of your experience, and in your studio? You then send these models out to a fabricator?
Henriëtte: Yes, it was as you described, a conscious decision, a natural next step.
I was happy to make studio work. The fabricator works in my studio building, is an artist himself, and understands what I am doing. He also was able to help me to refine the hanging system.
But something even more interesting was happening: Looking at the Inner Glows (which are actually convex), the optical illusion is that it can be read either convex or concave. And when you look at the Fotons (which are actually concave), it is working the other way around. This becomes even more giddying when you negotiate the objects from different positions, or even walk along past. I hoped for something optical like this to happen, but had not expected the visual power of this – wow!
The back of each work is painted. The reflection on the wall is an important part of the work. And while the object is ‘transportable’ it is very much dependant on a wall, one that needs to be white to reflect the color. The intensity of this ‘glow’ depends on the color, of course, but also the use of light. All colors produce a glow over a short distance, so even when I’m not using fluorescent color you still get the desired impression. While this optical flipping is nothing new I feel the way I am using it, the play of form, adding my own personal color spectrum, offers a whole new field for creating more mischief.
Brent: And you continue to make site-specific work as well. Have the small portable pieces had any impact on that practice?
Henriëtte: Yes, the site-specific installations had a big influence on the small works. However for this to also happen the other way around with the smaller pieces impacting on the site-specific installations is new. I make both simultaneously. When you look at Spandrel II, perhaps difficult to see in reproduction, I have painted MDF panels both sides, which sit about half a centimeter out from the wall. The outline thus appears somewhat diffused. This, for sure, comes from working with the newer small convex pieces where, in their case, the hanging system gives the impression of them floating just off from the wall.
Brent: Spandrel II has a very clear feel. There is this play with flatness. And while you employ MDF board instead of working directly onto the wall the space reads very open and clean. This, for me, offers even more play. I’m relaxed with the simple shapes and color and the planes they sit on. But I’m also intrigued with what’s going on.
Your latest portable pieces, Inner Glow (corner piece I) 2009 and Inner Glow (white, blue, gold), both 2009, also work opening towards a clarity, a playing fast against slow. The read is very simple. Each uses the physical traits differently. Color is there, and there. The impression is less in the trick or the illusion. They expose, hold back some, and then gently declare – I think that way of experience is worth the distance.
Henriëtte: I know by looking at others’ work and also by looking at my own earlier work that there often is a kind of a wave. One starts with complexity and often the evolution is towards simplicity, then back again toward the complex. My direction at this moment is simplicity – looking for openness and clarity. When I read over our conversation it appears that you have gently suggested this process through comments about my work.
But we never know what comes next.