Sometimes artwork forces us to evaluate our critical surroundings, to seek out a comfortable place for observation. Can we accept that we are being given almost nothing in terms of solid footing, no firm landing but a narrow ledge? And if we shift our balance, accept the arrangement and submit to the unresolved tensions of an artwork, can we end up in a less precarious place - perhaps not on level ground, but somewhere we can pause and take in the view?
In Martin Hendriks’ Almost Nothing and Almost Everything at Martin van Zomeren, large wooden panels printed with UV pigment straddle a line between abstraction and representation that initially leaves us searching for that something to latch onto. Where is the foothold that offers our minds a place to rest, providing the unwitting satisfaction of recognition? The printed, collage-styled works appear entirely abstract, yet the readymade texture of the wooden panels and the fragmented photographic images trick us into thinking that we can figure it out, that there is indeed some reliable image from which we can interpret and unpack meaning.
As in his previous work, Hendriks uses found images, though here the works’ photographically printed elements are layered to the point where original referents, if there were any, have been negated. The unintelligible image is reduced to shapes and textures. Of waves? Ice? Terrain? A tunnel? We can’t be sure. Hendriks’ signature techniques of layering and removing, at once destructive and constructive, are present in these works, yet unlike his previous projects, these pieces do not seem to reference anything in the real world or media. New associations emerge that address art itself.
Hendriks’ characteristic unproductive gestures might not be instantly recognizable, but we find them in the striking graphic details: the white shapes that censor ostensible content, the nearly impenetrable black panels remaining after layers of exposures. Positive and negative shapes vie for our attention and we find ourselves again in an uncertain position as the panels are left almost exclusively with formal elements: contrast, line, texture, shape. The works document the translation of reality and artistic process into a sort of monumental formalism. They open onto the legacy of minimal abstraction, achieving an ad hoc aesthetic relationship that exists visually, if not in the conceptual foundations of the artwork. Our desires for literal content fall away and we find our privileged position on the plastic bridge between art history and art present.
~Andrea Alessi, a writer living in the Netherlands.
(Images: Martijn Hendriks, Untitled (Something other than itself), 2011, UV pigment print on hardwood, unique, 122 x 174 cm; Untitled (01 + 02), 2010, folded pigment print on archival paper, 54 x 65.3 cm (each, framed); Courtesy of the Artist and Martin Van Zomeren)