Danielle Lemaire | Studio Encounter
Danielle Lemaire hanging her work No Man is an Island,
by Julia Fidder
‘Become your own friend’
‘Usually, the walls are completely filled’
There are only a few works in the studio. ‘Usually the walls are completely filled!’ says Danielle Lemaire. A large number of works have gone to the Stedelijk Museum Breda, where her solo-exhibition ‘You Know I Am Not There’, opens later this year. The works that are present in her studio now seem to be a fairly accurate reflection of the subjects in her oeuvre: a wide and empty landscape, a portrait of an Indonesian woman the artist recently met, a girl with her hair in front of her face hiding her identity, two drawings of curtains, a large pile of LP’s that the artist is packing, and later she brings out a recent work that depicts an abstract form. It reminds me of a vortex. Lemaire’s drawings breathe timelessness, with nature and the supernatural as a source of inspiration. Using pencil and paper, she manages to capture memories so specifically that for a moment time seems to stop. A feeling of longing speaks from her drawings. It is not apparent what the artist is longing for, but this became more clear during our conversation.
Dutch artist Danielle Lemaire (1967) has a transdisciplinary practice that encompasses drawings, paintings, installations, performances and music. Since 1997 she publishes her records, CD’s, cassettes, videos, books and prints on her own label ‘Inner Landscapes’. In her practice, an album is often part of an art project. Her music develops in an organic way, just like her artwork.
Her work concerns time, traces of people and memories. She aims to revive something that is no longer there, by giving the entity shape and energy. In her work there is something that you can’t quite put your finger on; in her drawings, you can’t see it and in her music, you cannot hear it. It’s an existence you can only feel within yourself.
According to Danielle Lemaire, we live in a hyper-society. Everything around us goes fast, faster, fastest. Our society runs on performance pressure. We are constantly concerned with our appearance looking good and as much fun as possible. On Social Media, we’re showcasing all the time. In the meantime we are yearning for quick and easy entertainment, looking for something outside ourself to satisfy us. We are no longer used to turning inside. However, when you get off the high-velocity train and stand still for a moment, you will find something deep inside yourself, says Lemaire. In her work, the artist wants to touch this undercurrent that is full of daily sadness and melancholy.
The artist is regularly to be found on Instagram and Facebook where she displays her daily life as if it were a diary. She too is part of the so-called hyper-society. In her studio, on the other hand, she pursues slowness: ‘I draw a lot, very slowly. While drawing I want to go to a place you can’t see, at first sight, a deeper layer. I can only reach that place by concentrating on something for a long time.’ Nick Drake’s music helps her to accomplice that. ‘It is as if his music takes me to a very wide landscape that is endless. It’s elusive but you can come into contact with it. By drawing I make it touchable, other people see in my drawing that it’s happening there.’
The English musician died in 1974 at the age of 26, just one year short of “Forever 27”. During his lifetime his music wasn’t really recognized but nowadays he is widely loved. Due to the unfamiliarity, there is only a limited amount of audio and video material of Drake. This lack of material gives him something mysterious and elusive. Drake is a mystery as if he was already a ghost during his life. People want to bring him closer. So does Danielle Lemaire. In 2019 she travelled to The Midlands in the UK after mediation of SEA Foundation, at the invitation of Catherine Hemelryk. At Fermynwoods Contemporary Art she researched Nick Drake and did an exhibition with live presentations. This research and work is the starting point for her upcoming exhibition ‘You Know I Am not There’ at Stedelijk Museum in Breda.
The first time Danielle Lemaire heard Nick Drake’s music was while listening to a podcast late at night. She was immediately thrown back into her childhood. The mystical sounds of ‘Riverman’ brought her back to her parental home, where she sees herself playing as a child in the quiet streets, surrounded by nature, in a world where things weren’t hyper yet. Drake’s music facilitates Lemaire to get in touch with her own undercurrent, the inner world where daily sadness and heavy heartedness are hidden. ‘I recognized something in myself that was a bit hidden; a melancholic feeling’.
According to contemporary philosopher Joke Hermsen, men are dialogical creatures. People conduct an inner dialogue with themselves from a two-point perspective. Hermsen and Hannah Arendt call these two voices the ‘what-voice’ and the ‘who-voice’. ‘What’ you are is often close to appearance, what you can see on the outside. Man is often able to explain ‘what’ he is to someone else. ‘Who’ you are, however, is a bit more complicated. ‘Who’ you are is something on the inside and is related to an unconscious history, says Hermsen. The philosopher states that under certain circumstances, for example by listening to music, reading a book or watching art, you can occasionally catch a glimpse of your own ‘who’. As if this melancholy or heavy heartedness helps us to see this.
Melancholy throughout history
Throughout history, melancholy has been given different meaning multiple times. Whereas Aristotle wrote that it was an imbalance in the body, in Romanticism it had an elevated status: the melancholic was seen as a genius. Sigmund Freud put an end to this romanticized image of the melancholic in 1917 with his essay ‘Mourning and Melancholia’. The psychoanalyst points out a similarity between the two. In both cases, we feel like we’ve lost something. In contrast to mourning, in case of melancholy the lost object is unknown, says Freud. The process of detachment therefore turns inwards, against its own self. According to Freud’s coeval Walter Benjamin, it is a nostalgia for a time when everyone was happy or for a childhood where everything was still self-evident.
The ambiguity of melancholy
Nowadays, melancholy is often associated with depression. It is a complex, introverted emotion. Joke Hermsen, however, states that melancholy is double-sided. On the one hand, it can turn into depression under the influence of restlessness and anxiety. But through rest, love, social connectedness and a flourishing political-cultural world, this heavy heartedness can also turn into creativity and hope, according to Hermsen. The melancholic person balances on this boundary.
It is precisely at this tipping point that Lemaire’s work operates. With her work, she tries to bring people back to the deep world within themselves, where this heavy heartedness can be found. Furthermore, she wants to make people fall to the good side of melancholy; the side where hope and creativity lies. The melancholic longing to the past is certainly not strange to the artist. She longs for times where people could be ‘all about love and peace’ for three straight days at Woodstock, where people took the time to do nothing and took the time to stand still. This nostalgia for these times that are past and the melancholy that comes with it is captured by Lemaire into drawings, paintings, installations and music.
Not only man but also the work of Danielle Lemaire is bipartite. Her work brings a certain duality with it. In the image alone you can already depict this duality: the watery, dreamy background in watercolour contrasts with the deep black pencil lines that dominate the foreground of her drawings. Lemaire’s work is melancholic in itself because of the nostalgia it poses, which is nourished by the music for example of Nick Drake and other music from her childhood, like folk music that flourished in the sixties and seventies. The artist uses this inherent melancholy to allow the viewer of her work to dive into his own undercurrent, to catch a glimpse of their own ‘who’.
Dare to halt
It is peculiar that a work of art of which you are a spectator touches on layers that lie deeper within yourself. As if a secret door in the head is opened where a part of yourself lies that you don’t know that well. This part of yourself is not addressed in current society, people are not concerned with it. Lemaire wants to help people to reach this hidden deeper layer. In that sense, the artist acts as a caregiver, who comforts and encourages the viewer to dare to turn inward. While looking at her work Lemaire wishes the viewer to receive enough care for hope to return.
Freud, S. Rouw en Melancholie.(1917)
Aristoteles, Over Melancholie, vert. Philip van der Eijk (Groningen: Historische Uitgeverij, (2001).
Helena De Preester, “The odd position of the melancholic – The loss of an explanatory model?,” (2007.
J. Hermsen, Melancholie van de onrust. de Arbeiderspers (2017).