Amsterdam, Feb. 2012 - Dutch painter Aukje Koks’ work is full of puzzles. In her unique visual lexicon, mundane objects become potent symbols that pull us back and forth between reality and illusion, between what we can see and what is merely idea. When considering her artwork we first need to know what exactly it is we’re looking at.
Some of Koks’ puzzles appear as trompe l’oeil, little jokes that tease us into meditation on what’s real, the signifier versus the signified. Other mysteries manifest themselves as unresolved narratives, painted intimations of some event that has perhaps met an abrupt end. Or do we have it backwards? Has the artist tried to hide something from us and made a mistake, let something slip? Quiet revelations abound in these guarded vignettes.
The forms Koks’ paintings and three-dimensional works take often come from her own life and studio. Hardware lying in the studio becomes impromptu assemblage becomes painting of assemblage becomes painting of a painting of assemblage. Her oeuvre cannibalizes itself, moving in ever new directions as it rehashes the familiar, dressing it in muted colors and visual and verbal puns. Koks’ painterly investigations fuel a perpetual motion machine, conflating the real and the imagined. An echo creates its own echo into infinity.
Aukje Koks, Domestic Tunes, wood, slippers, oil paint on book covers, 2011; Courtesy of the artist
Andrea Alessi: Painting appears to be the core of your practice, though it’s clearly not all you do. Do you consider yourself a painter?
Aukje Koks: I do consider myself a painter. Since painting has such a long and strong history, it always seems to me like a very conservative medium. I find this part of painting interesting and try to use this as a tool. Either I go away from it, or I come back to it.
The Dordrechts Museum was writing about a ‘painter’s family’ in the catalogue for the group show What’s Up! I guess they are right about that; a painter belongs to a family with a large history. Maybe I am in puberty then, doubting whether I want to be part of this family or not.
I would not describe my work as ‘painting in space’. It is more like the presented paintings go into dialogue with the surrounding works. They refer to each other, and are in some way or another connected.
AA: How important is the studio space to your work?
AK: My studio space is essential to my work. It functions as a décor, and it even provides props, things that I find in the studio can end up in my work. To me the studio is a confined, resonating space and resembles other limited, closed-off atmospheres that come close to what I am looking for in my work. Therefore the studio is not only a working space but also a source of inspiration.
AA: A lot of your symbols seem to highlight uncertain or in-between spaces – doors, windows, curtains, book covers. These are suggestive places that both reveal and conceal, particularly here in the Netherlands where there are sets of unspoken decorative and behavioral practices surrounding the characteristically large windows. How did you arrive at these symbols?
Aukje Koks, Musej, oil on unstretched canvas 2009, 30 x 20 cm.; Courtesy of the artist
AK: I have always been interested in human psychology. I am fascinated by revealing and concealing activities, especially when they are unconscious. (One could speak correctly, but a Freudian slip is more interesting.) I guess that is where the banal, sometimes Freudian side of my work comes in.
Symbols are very direct, and some symbols have a general meaning. I like to compare this to the Genre works, where everyday life is depicted. The used symbols could give a double meaning to the painting that could be both amusing and moralizing.
A part of the answer is already in your question. It is nice that you make the connection to the Dutch characteristics. Now and then I like to take a step back and see the absurdities that we have created. Since I have been traveling more, and even moved out of The Netherlands, it has become easier to observe where I am from. In the same way, I like to take a step back from my life as an artist and question its necessity. I think this is important to keep moving forward. Next to that it is entertaining.
AA: Your artwork can at once appear incredibly intimate and willfully distant. Works like Domestic Tunes really highlight this sort of detached intimacy. How personal is your artwork meant to be?
AK: My artwork is very personal. I am inspired by the things and people closest to me, but in the end I usually don’t label the things that you see in the work. So in that way the work is distant, you sense an intimacy but don’t know what it’s pointing at.
Aukje Koks,The Whim (de bevlieging), oil on linen, 2010, 10 x 10 cm.; Courtesy of the artist
AA: As your work hops back and forth between reality and illusion, subject and simulacrum, we seem to follow you down a self-referential rabbit hole where certain symbols and images take on ever increasing importance. Indeed, your works seem to have their own genealogical logic. Do they ever finish evolving? Can you talk about the idea of completion in your artwork?
AK: This part of my work annoys me and keeps me going at the same time – as if there are a thousand ways to do something, and I am looking for that one way that brings me the solution. It’s like finding the right words.
I want to connect the works so that they speak about one another, and they complement each other. If I think a work is too much on its own, I will go back to it and make a connection by making works about the work, and will build a bridge to another work. I want the works to exist independently and co-exist with the others in order to create several options, layers, and plays. Maybe like a curator would do. The idea of completion lies more in time than in product. I see my work as a long-term research.
AA: You quote your own work at length, forming a feedback loop between reality and illusion. Yet in it we can also see echoes of 17th century Dutch masters, Magritte, Rauschenberg and his Combines, and Jan Dibbets (to name just a few). Do you consider your practice to be the legacy of any particular movement or aesthetic? Who inspires you?
AK: So many things have happened regarding the death or birth of the painting, that it is hard to ignore this part of history. And so many interesting things have happened in the last 100 years… The echoes that I find in my work always ‘arrive’ later than the created image. And only then I could/want to play with the association, because it became part of the dialog. (But I guess the viewer should discover the associations with art history.) The Surrealist manifesto inspires me, but not all the Surrealist artists. The parallel discoveries in the time of Surrealism still impress me. A few names of that time: Marcel Duchamp, some works of Man Ray, some works of Mimi Parent.
I am also inspired by Nouveau réalisme and the Dutch version, the Nul-group. Artists that have a strong poetic content often inspire me. For instance Sophie Calle, Pierre Bismuth or Felix Gonzalez-Torres. I enjoy a good painting very much. Velázquez is one of my favorite classics. I see many skillful painters around me, and I am often inspired by colleagues, and shows that I see. Inspiration can shift quickly, but there are always some that stay, like Kurt Schwitters, Maurizio Cattelan, Matt Mullican, Paul Klee...
AA: Is trompe l’oeil a means to an end in your work, or is your use of it symbolic in itself?
AK: I have to say I enjoy creating it, and I enjoy distorting the viewer’s perspective.
You could see the use of trompe l’oeil as a tool, or a particle of the research.
Aukje Koks, object, Great Expectations (book of prepared canvases), 2010, 25 x 20 cm.; Courtesy of the artist
AA: There is a literary character to your artwork, and indeed you have used books both as canvas and subject. Can you talk a bit about the significance of books in your work?
AK: The object fascinates me for its symbolism. There is the cover, which is the skin; there is the title and the story inside; the object is a body. Sometimes I only use the title when it fits the work or refers to the story, when it is a classic novel. Painting comes close to writing. A book fascinates me because it contains time. It marks out a course and the end is included.
AA: Your show at Wiels last year set out a series of structural theories from which the (collaborative) work followed. How do these concepts, which seem inspired by mid-century French philosophy, manifest themselves in the rest of your work?
AK: The title of the work was Fraud, Absence, Impossibility and was made in collaboration with Ištvan Išt Huzjan. This title referred to Jacques Lacan’s theories, where in simple words fraud stands for the imaginary, how the mirror fools us. In my work I am inspired by the relationship between the real and the imaginary. In the collaboration we wanted to find a structure in order to understand our own relationship. We assumed that there were underlying factors that created this, and we came up with a drawing in which we dissected our lives. At the same time we started on a painting, starting with a random (unconscious) drawing, covering it up, painting the next layers, and so on. In my own work I am interested in ‘what lies beneath’, both as a notion as well as a visual, painterly aspect.
ArtSlant would like to thank Aukje Koks and Galerie Diana Stigter for their assistance in making this interview possible.