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How to Make (Use) (of Art)

Exhibition text on the occasion of the residency of Lorelinde Verhees
Gastatelier Leo XIII July-October 2020

Not for consumption. Nor for profit. Not for scientific, political or other purposes either. Not
even for mere pleasure. The only purpose of art should be art itself. L’art pour l’art, art for
art’s sake, as the French Romantics would say. Ohne Interesse, disinterested, as Immanuel
Kant had thought them. This is the condition of the “without” (without purpose, without use,
without profit, without rules) that is characteristic of modern and contemporary art. It is this
condition that is reflected in the whiteness and emptiness of the museum room, of the gallery
wall, the studio, the residency.
For Lorelinde Verhees this condition is both something to investigate and to overcome. To
investigate, because it encompasses for her the essence of what it means to make art. The
empty walls and the blank page reflect the responsibility of the artist to fill them and the
inevitable fear that follows from this responsibility. The empty walls force us to find in
ourselves the stillest hour, the most vulnerable of words, since it is, in the words of Niezsches’s
Zarathustra, “only the stillest words which bring the storm.” It is only in this stillest hour that
one can find the freedom that is needed to break loose, to interrupt patterns and to transform
both oneself and the world – a force that is equally represented by the wide variety of female
figures displayed in Verhees’ work: Tanja Nijmeijer, Ingrid Betancourt, Simone de Beauvoir,
Ruby Rubacuori, and artist-baker and activist Lexie Smith. For various different reasons, these
women found within themselves an interstitial space, an irrepressible forming force that could
not but bring forth a storm. In this respect the condition of making art is inextricably linked
with the condition of social change.
On the other hand, Verhees views the condition of the without as no more than a
temporary moment, a moment that should be overcome in order to pass on. The blankness
of the page, the emptiness of the room – these are not sacred spaces that need to conserve,
isolate, or to be dwelled in, but rather transitional phasesthat generates a creative power that
needs to be put back into circulation. A clear illustration of this are the many newspapers,
magazines and pieces of textile that entered the studio during Verhees’ residency. Brought by
the post or by accidental hands, many of them found their way into collages, that, in turn, can
leave the studio again in order to serve the world. The same can be said for Verhees’ previous
artworks. Some of her old artworks are literally cut up and brought back into circulation. A
large striped fabric exposed in Kaus Australis in 2013 is now transformed into a loose fitting
costume. A ton of wax exposed in P/////AKT in 2017 is remelted into a series of geometrically
shaped candles, to be burnt – why not – for mere pleasure. For Verhees, this is not a matter
of desacralizing art, nor of adding symbolic or cultural value to otherwise ordinary objects.
Rather, it is a radical acknowledgement of the fact that works of art no longer work when they
remain locked within the conditional “without” of their genesis, that is, that they risk to stop
being works, literally, in a practical, spiritual, critical, or recreational sense.
This two-step attitude – of acknowledging the condition of the without and of
surpassing it – shows itself in the typically layered nature of Verhees’ works, one that can best
be described as a form of obliteration. To ob-literate means literally to put something on (ob)
the letter (littera) in order to stop it from being readable. Engravings in tombstones obliterate
as a result of dust and time. Words in a newspaper obliterate as a result of the many fingers
that touch them. To obliterate something is thus to obstruct its readability – not by erasing it,
but by covering it, by superimposing layers of use, habit, and practice. This is most clearly
illustrated by Verhees’ collages, in which pages from newspapers and magazines are covered
by carefully chosen words and images. In turn, these pages often times cover pieces of textile.
The purpose of this double obliteration is not to withdraw the meaning of these found objects
from their original informative, commercial or practical value, but rather to proliferate this
value. The collage’s superimposition marks the fact that that these words, images and textiles
were seen, heard, cherished – that they are erased because they are listened to and answered.
“The erasure of the text engenders its proliferation, forces it,” philosopher Philippe Lacoue Labarthe
holds in his text concerning the technique of obliteration, “It is as though writing,
from the moment it starts, carried interpretation outside its own limits, obliged to take itself
up again, to begin again, to repeat itself in every possible way, without, precisely, being able
to stop.”
For Verhees, art, then, is not a way to withdraw habitual meanings – of a news fact, a
commercial image, a cloth – from their use value, but a way to condition and facilitate this use
value, to prepare herself and us for the value they might have had, and will have, outside their
own limits. Most literally, she focuses on the means to create this condition. As is illustrated
by the short documentary film presented at the end of her residency, making art means for
her to create the conditions for this value to appear. Instead of isolated works, we see the
daily practice of living and working in the atelier, of furniture moved and conversations held.
Significantly, for Verhees these means are not the respite and rest of contemplation, but tools
in the most practical sense of the word, tools that are not least provided by her artworks
themselves: a series of manuals for art-making, all kinds of working clothes for artists, a set of
prayer pants – on which Tibetan prayer flags serve both as knee pads and as handy pockets
for storing working gear – to be worn when praying to the Muse. This conditioning of the
practical value of art is demonstrated through the online Leo Art Market curated by Verhees.
Not only are most of the artworks made during her residency offered for sale, but part of the
sale will also be used to micro-fund artists in financial need through the newly founded Lioness
Trust Fund. In doing so, the Leo Art Market prevents the works from being entombed within
the walls of the “without” and enables their obliterating power to work, in every possible way,
without, precisely, being able to stop.

Text by Aukje van Rooden