Framing the poetic gestures in the work of Jolijn van den Heuvel
Bushok 1 (2017). Photo paper matt 315 g. 74 x 42 cm
Bushok 2 (2017). Photo paper matt 315 g. 74 x 42 cm
Jolijn van den Heuvel
about art, poetry
by Lieselotte Egtberts
Framing poetic gestures
With her multi-medial practice, Jolijn van den Heuvel (1994, Veghel, NL) focuses her attention on the commonly unnoticed details in the world around us. By isolating these moments and fragments, she generates the world in numerous fragmentary gestures. But the specific objects and moments shown in her installations do not solely refer to themselves, nor do they explain their exact circumstances. Instead, they carry multiple referential meanings.
Van den Heuvel’s work, existing among other things of photography, video, and ceramics, refer on the first hand to the personal account of the artist. She starts from her presence in the world, as the work departs from the interactions with the world around her. However, van den Heuvel pursues her work to “transcend the anecdotal”. There is another layer to her work, that seems to escapes the realm of what tends to be immediately forgotten. But this layer, for some reason, cannot be pointed out directly.
A commonly used term
A word that comes to mind in an attempt to distinguish this particular aspect in van den Heuvel’s work is ‘poetic’. The term comes back in the way Jolijn van den Heuvel addresses her work: “I want to “load” existing objects and situations with meaning and feeling so that they speak again. These poetic gestures are the expression of an invisible inner world, in which I want the person to communicate universally.”
The reference to poetry seems to be commonly present in art texts. When asked about the most interesting aspect of her work, Belgian artist Joelle Tuerlinckx answered: “the poetic”. The work of Ismaël Bahri has been described as “reminiscent of the haiku” by curator Marie Bertran. But what do we mean by this?
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Art and poetry
Poetry and visual art share a deep connection. Poets often participate in creating visual art, and artists often practice poetry. There’s poetry, called ekphrasis, which goal is to describe art objects. Then there’s the art/poetry hybrid called concrete poetry, which explores the “plastic possibilities of language” (Carl Andre). And there are of course those like William Blake, Ana Hatherly, Mary Ellen Solt, and Lucebert, whose practice was defined by both poetry and visual art alike.
At first hand, we see that both disciplines have a lot of similarities. Both the poet and the artist pursue to define different relations between the subject and various realities. However, poetry always inhabits language, whereas art can be expressed through a wide array of media. And although even Jolijn van den Heuvel practices poetry herself, there is no literal and explicit connection between the physical shape of a poem and her work.
The link between a work of art and poetry could maybe be found elsewhere, in a less obvious place. Why is it that certain oeuvres remind people of a medium so tightly linked with language and speech? To answer this question, we should look at the properties attributed to language, and more specifically: what do poets exactly do with it?
Language is used in an attempt to adequately express one’s thoughts and feelings. Since language as a system for communication is not flawless, the constant determining one’s position towards a certain reality is an everlasting endeavor. In linguistics, a distinction is usually made between sign and meaning. To speak or to write is to continuously make connections between these signs and their assigned meaning.
But words often seem to barely have a grip on reality. And, vice versa, what meaning we give to them is often influenced by how we perceive reality. This makes language an ambiguous thing. In disciplines like the exact sciences, this ‘shortcoming’ becomes apparent. Just like the rest of us, a physicist, chemist, and even a mathematician are bound to a certain restrictive language. This complicates their aspiration towards a definition of an unambiguously perceived reality. And while these sciences, as it were, ‘are stuck in language’, art and poetry embrace the imperfections of language and speech.
“Poets are soldiers that liberate words from the steadfast possession of definition” as Eli Khamarov said. Poets actively use the empty spaces within our language to convey meaning. They surrender to the in-between, to the literal white spaces that allow words “to make connections that cannot be determined beforehand.” (Ester Naomi Perquin).
The same thing happens with art that has been labeled as ‘poetic’: it plays with the given meaning of signs and looks for significance in nuance. Poetic art embraces the ephemeral qualities present in an infinite world. It suggests and gestures, and finds an understanding in a transcending multi-dimensionality. “Poetry is what transcends the work, which escapes the will to make.” (Joelle Tuerlinckx).
Coming back to the work of Jolijn van den Heuvel, the ceramic work Wensbeen III (2020, see the second picture below) gives a great example of this transcending sensibility. Wensbeen III exists of a set of ceramic wishbones. These specific fork-shaped bones have long been associated with luck, a connotation made visible in both the English as the Dutch version of the word. Van den Heuvel made Wensbeen III, as she remembered the wishbone as a common object present in her household. The artwork refers to this personal story, but the ceramic fragility of the bones also transforms into something more universal. This is where poetry is found. Nor the formal or symbolic aspects in the work of Jolijn van den Heuvel try to close the gap between things, words, and their meaning. Instead, with their subtle suggestions, they hold myriad meanings in the space in-between.