Hedwig Houben is an artist from the Netherlands, currently completing a residency in Belgium, at the world renowned HISK in Ghent. Colour and Shapes, a Short Explanation of my Artistic Practice is a video screening of a performance by Houben, detailing her artistic practices and perspectives, presented as a subtitled narration. The performance didactically demonstrates the poetic and formal passages of exchange between colour, form, shape, space and structure. At once Houben is naïve and critical in her understanding of sculptural, spatial and formal awareness.
The video adaptation is a re-staging of Houben’s original lecture, performed live in Rotterdam, Dusselfdorf, and Breda. Houben begins her lecture by constructing and deconstructing archetypal geometric shapes made from grey clay in order to explain her artistic practice. She utilizes a model using fundamental shapes including: the cube, sphere, pyramid, cylinder and cone, which are sculpted into tangible objects. Her ambition is to make these foundational forms flawless “desired objects”, as she calls them, and in the process establish the impossibility of her inquiry.
Houben utilizes an almost naïve tone in order to bring across her somewhat complicated thesis, affecting a playfulness towards her findings. As such, she begins a narrative around her practice, enlisting every object to action, with each gesture serving multiple ontological and epistemological triggers. Each object comes with its own guise and individual qualities, affording a separate reading, but at the same time cannot be separated from its relation to the others, bringing with it different problems and resolutions. The forms become the grammar of the artwork; and as such the basic units of her lecture are deliberately tame, allowing the viewer to concentrate on the subtleties inherent to the arrangement of each shape, and the differing relationships that begin to emerge. The arrangements become ‘endings’, while the forms are ‘the means’, placing primary importance upon processes and proximity.
Throughout her talk Houben molds and flexes these anamorphic relations, shaping her will against the logic of formalism. The objects emerge as identities, and are restrained to an extent by her endeavors to interrogate Modernist traditions, specifically reductivist logic, where the connection between aesthetic planes and voids between these three-dimensional shapes highlight the miscellany of Houben’s visual symbolism. More specifically, the influence of Modernist formalism in Houben’s work recalls the theories of the Bauhaus school, which fundamentally simplified forms using both rationalism and functionalism, coalescing in a philosophy about formal codes and systems in art and design. The influence of Bauhaus would later culminate with the work of Minimalists, such as Sol Lewitt. This influence is especially evident in the printed version of Houben’s lecture, called Colour And Shape, A Conversation About Concept And Meaning (below).
Houben compliments the seriousness of her subject matter with the humor of neo-Dada conceptual tenancies that ran counter to the Minimalists. Her parodied counter-flow specifically suggests the influence of a video performance by John Baldessari titled Baldessari Sings LeWitt, in which he is seated at a table and proceeds to sing LeWitt’s 35 sentences on conceptual art. Houben plays a similar conceptual game to Baldessari, a postscript to his parody, as a simultaneous ode and mockery of Lewitt’s Modernist dogma stemming from the Bauhaus, making the obviousness of it all almost absurd. Houben makes a point to export these tendencies into seemingly incompatible mediums, using video as a primary, plastic medium to document her performances, highlighted through the traditions of performance, gesture and sculpture. This theatrical demonstration is one of contradictions, returning to and reflecting upon the avant-garde notions of originality, logic and reason, as well as challenging the utopian compulsion to apply a uniform meaningfulness to process.
Houben’s lecture is thus reflexive, where the audience is invited to get inside her mind, understand her methods and approach to making, which is defined as the actual artwork by illustration of the underlying codes of representation. Houben’s quirky sensibility makes the spatial and conceptual underpinnings of shape, form, and geometry palatable for the uninitiated in the intricacies needed to attain ‘successful’ form, engaging her objects as subjects on both a metaphorical and physical scale.
Words by Bronwen Shelwell.
This project was realized at Outlet in collaboration with the Sober & Lonely Institute for Contemporary Art.