At the start of his book Ways of Seeing, the art critic John Berger says: “Seeing comes before words.” He continues, “There is also another sense in which seeing comes before words. It is seeing which establishes our place in the world.” Berger is referring to the depth of understanding attained before words are used to express our ideas, thoughts and experience. He is also noting just how important this depth of understanding or realisation is to whom we are and what we do. [i]
Before Words, 2010, is a new body of work by Christine Boswijk inspired by the multiplicity of thoughts and ideas that derive from the complexities of the human condition. The underlying trajectory is about our intrinsic desire to search for and share with others fundamental questions about our existence and our sense of purpose of what it is to be human.
The objects or symbols you see on the walls and floor are three dimensional objects used in a two dimensional way. They engage the viewer as a painting would. We ask “Is this a painting or a thing?” Instead of a frame they have an edge. But, yes-they are objects. The discourse is about the materials, the surface and the plane, posing intellectual questions – what am I looking at? These sculptures criticize traditional cultural aesthetics by raising questions about hidden meanings in visual images, the way we look and appreciate art and the way we understand and communicate our raison d’être.
Boswijk’s deliberate abstract presentation provokes a contemporary response to the meaning of Before Words. In this era of modern technology the excessive use of words and verbal communication can be counter productive to expressing the best of, the clarity and depth of, our inner most thoughts and ideas. We are also made aware of the importance of experiences which are more often than not realised in those quiet self reflecting moments which are either never expressed, or communicated to others verbally; Or are experienced in those moments before we use words to express them.
Series 1, 2010, references Russian constructivist artist Rodchenko who drew from ancient civilisations which strongly believed in the influence of colour on humans. The Russian revolutionists were very aware of the powers of symbols and colour in art and the use of art to further the cause of the peoples’ revolution. Here the sharp edges of the works fuse with Rodchenko’s red, dark blue and yellow to create a volatile mix. Yellow when seen against the multi dimensional dark colours of blue or black will be seen before red. This combination of colours, when presented on the confined space of a gallery wall, is visually commanding and sets up a strong degree of tension and dynamism.
Series II are the most like Boswijk’s previous works, Kisses, Crosses and Flowers, 2005-2008. These five white, black and terracotta clay forms, with highly textured and tactile surfaces, explore ideas of the non intellectual response humans have to heightened emotion. Be this love, grief or happiness, the use of symbols and images are universally understood to provide a vocabulary which has more credibility and persuasion than words to portray our identity, ideas and feelings.
Boswijk’s treatment of the earliest symbols in Series III includes the moulds from which they were made. The works unfold from their moulds posing optical, illusionary questions for the viewer. Their juxtaposition creates an intriguing ambiguity in which negative and positive spaces do not at first appear to match. The work themselves are earthy, worn, flawed and filled with lead, denoting life as a perpetual state of creation and flux. While these images are distilled to their most elemental states they provoke infinite meanings. It is their simplicity that invites this multiplicity of meanings. They draw on the viewer’s own life experiences and beg to be understood in a very personal way.
Series IV & V are as much about the space that lies outside of their form than they are about the forms themselves. These gilded symbols, the Sun, the Lotus, the Ankh, an Egyptian fertility symbol, and the Fleur de Lys, create spaces and a sort of ‘aura’ around them. They seduce their audience with edges that glow and create a space between their form and anything which lies out side of them. They pose the question, – “Is there even a need to represent anything?” The image itself can be an experiment in the aesthetics of form, texture and colour. Such an approach readily extends to the use of the negative space, the shape and area between the forms which begin to assume a primary role in the composition.
“There is something special, a quality which no postmodern or political vocabulary today can find a word for. The quality of a way of sharing which disarms the leading question of: why was one born into this life? [ii]
Looking, in order to appreciate a deeper level of understanding is essential to appreciating this installation. Boswijk communicates not through the instant impact of easily read or literal images but through the gradual absorption of details and the intimacy of experience and response. It is possible to respond to these works with a physical and emotional reaction which is about sharing the same space as the artist’s created forms. In looking, a depth of understanding, a way of seeing evolves which can never be fully appreciated when expressed in words but can be expressed and realised in our being and the way we relate, act and share our lives with others in this world.
[i] John Berger, Ways of Seeing, British Broadcasting Corporation and Penguin Books Ltd, 1972, page 7
[ii] John Berger, Undefeated Despair, page 7, January 2006, Open Democracy Ltd, London 2006, www.opendemocracy.net