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Architectuur van de innerlijke ruimte – Architecture of inner space / Gerard van der Horst, BK-informatie 2022 nr 1, pp 12-13.
Art and Architecture
On the Erasmuslaan in Utrecht there are two blocks of houses designed by Gerrit Rietveld. These residential blocks, now listed as a national monument, are a stone’s throw away from the famous Rietveld-Schröder House on the Prins Hendriklaan. The first residential block, numbers 5-11, was built in 1931. Erasmuslaan 5 is now home to Post Erasmuslaan 5 Center for Art and Architecture, a collaboration of architects and designers including ASNOVA Architecture and Brocatus Design. It is also the business address of Stichting Vierplus, a foundation which organizes art events. Stichting Vierplus is a partnership of Bos Fine Art, Kunstlokaal no8 and ASNOVA Architecture. Vierplus has organized several exhibitions since 2017, under the name ‘essentie’. These exhibitions have shown work by fifty to sixty Dutch and foreign artists in the field of geometric abstract, minimalistic and concrete or constructivist art at various locations in the Netherlands. During one of these exhibitions I met with Ronald Willemsen, architect and director of ASNOVA Architecture, founder of Post Erasmuslaan 5 and co-founder of Stichting Vierplus about the idea of organizing an Artist-in-Residence at Post Erasmuslaan 5. He was immediately enthusiastic. I had already participated in an exhibition before at PE5. At that occasion I had noticed that architects were interested in my work. They recognized something in it of their own working process and therefore interpreted my drawings in the direction of floor plans and planning designs.
There is a recent development in contemporary geometric art whose characteristic feature is that the work engages in conversations with discourses outside of art. The name is derived from ideas of the Polish philosopher Grzegorz Sztabiński (1946-2020). Sztabiński wrote in 2011 that geometric art had increasingly moved into areas outside art and that for example, the well-known association of geometric art with concrete art had become one-sided and needed supplementation. In 2015, he called this development ‘interdiscursive tendencies’. This term was taken up by Polish artist Mark Starel and transformed into the name this movement in art now has. Started in Europe it has now grown to global scale. The interesting thing about this view is that it calls upon you to look outside your own field of expertise and to examine whether you can make new connections. In doing so, you open yourself up to new influences. What effect does that have on your work?
In October 2018, the time had come and I became the First Artist-in-Residence at PE5. I moved into a small room at the second floor. There was a nice, somewhat old-fashioned drawing board and I settled in with my gear. Perfect. And then the questions came. What am I going to do here? What is happening in this house? In my own workspace, I behave like a hermit. Likewise here. I first visit the library. It is full of beautiful and interesting books on architecture. I grab a book about Frank Gehry, the famous Canadian-American architect, known for example for the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. Strange buildings. Fragments of buildings. Deconstructions. Whimsical aggregations. Then a book about Gerrit Rietveld. Of course, I’m in his building right now. I turn another page and then I see a drawing. That immediately brings me back to my own work.
Plan or starting point
That architects were interested in my work seemed to me to be a coincidence or a matter of style. But wasn’t it a little deeper than just a stylistic similarity in drawing? Associations about my drawings went remarkably often in the direction of floor plans or planning designs, and architects saw kinship and similarity. Since I am not an architect or a planner but an artist who sees in drawing itself his main labor, the question is what that similarity is then. Drawing is the center of my work. It does not want to refer to anything else, unlike the architect who intends to move from paper to a three-dimensional building. And my work attitude, unlike that of a planner, is characterized by a certain planlessness. The goals I set for myself are neither well-defined nor formulated in conceptual language. Instead, I have a few starting points: I work on paper with, in the first instance, a pencil and a ruler or a Geodreieck. And what happens next is not fixed in advance.
A drawing usually starts with setting up the simplest grid: where are the centers of the edges and where is the center of the paper? When I start drawing I have thus always a spatial reference. My working process combines precision with an openness to more or less chaotic impulses. My strength lies in that combination. Patterns and positions emerge on the paper. They explore space and establish relationships with previously held positions. Just like an architect designs a house for people to live in, I live in my drawings. To me that is the establishment of an inner space. Art has its own inner location in human existence. To be an artist means to build on that location. The building blocks are first and foremost motivation, vision and perseverance. Then come the practical actions and the materials with which the work is made visible. It does not matter which, a pencil may already suffice.
During the talks in Poland, it was important to me that my attitude of ‘planless’ work in the relevance of art practice could be maintained. On the other hand, I could also see that the concrete, geometric art sometimes seemed somewhat locked in on itself and at times seemed to suffer from a lack of inner experience or meaning. In the origins of Discursive Geometry there seems to be a need for deepening the meaning of art and discovering new, meaningful relationships between art and society. So it’s not such a bad idea to look beyond the boundaries of your profession. Building an inner space to me is the basis of developing significance and meaning. Today it seems that geometry is mostly related to working with computers and calculations, algorithms and procedures in information processing. The idea of inner space might lead for instance to ‘sacred geometry’ or to interest in spiritual traditions. In any case the substantive choices are always the prerogative of each individual artist.
Fields of interest
All areas of human experience, relationships, work or design have somehow their own visual expression. To enter an certain area means to be subject to the way it attracts you. So it influences the way you express yourself, it changes your work. I have chosen the term ‘fields of interest’ to conceptualize this. As a consequence questions arise like: what fields do you want to be in touch with when you make your work? What influences do you want to engage with? How do these influences relate to the inner space of your work? Can you relate your work to any field of interest without necessarily having formal links to it? These questions are the result of my research during the conference in Poland and during the residency in Utrecht. Afterwards I published a booklet about the Artist-in-Residence. I included the drawings I made during that time and I wrote about my experiences. The booklet can be viewed online and is available for purchase.
Gerard van der Horst