Lisette de Greeuw | WARP
Lisette de Greeuw in her studio
WARP #2: Lisette de Greeuw
From 10.07. – 30.08.20, as part of the curated programme WARP, Lisette de Greeuw shows her works in the vitrine of the SEA Foundation. WARP aims to connect with regional artists who live and work within a reasonable travelling distance from Tilburg. She is the second artist to present her work in WARP, after Sabine de Graaf. SEA Foundation’s assistant curator Lieselotte Egtberts met with her for a walk through the old city centre of Ghent, home to both of them.
The works of artist Lisette de Greeuw (Hoorn, 1990) distinguish themselves through an impressive amount of repetitive, detailed signs. These can be lines, numbers, letters or even geometrical symbols like triangles or circles. With these signs, de Greeuw explores how thoughts and other general information patterns can be organised, and how we give meaning to them. She shapes these through systems she invents her own, that become increasingly complex and nuanced as she repeats them. Making use of the similar systematic approach found in embroidery patterns, de Greeuw questions the daily reality of “thinking”.
A universal language
Starting her studies in the textile arts, de Greeuw’s work evolved to be less about the material aspects of textile, but more about the structuring patterns behind them. Her interest in discrete mathematics, a subfield that includes domains like information theory, logic and programming, had a growing influence on her work. After finishing her Masters, this interest made her decide to study mathematics at the University of Ghent, taking the subjects that she enjoyed the most.
Why does this field fascinate her so much? She explains that, as we are walking, if she would remove one word from a sentence, someone listening would still be able to understand. But in a logical system, the moment you leave one thing out the whole thing collapses and becomes unreadable. This is probably well known to everybody who ever coded a website: once you forget just one semicolon, the whole thing falls apart.
In short, logical systems are condensed forms of a capability to speak about truth. Either a logical proposition is true or not; making it a simple and universal language. With this elementary language, you can build up a whole world that solely refers to itself, autonomously acting from context, intention or intonation.
Invented logical systems
As an artist, de Greeuw does not just appropriate the aesthetics of these logical systems. The meticulously drawn symbols and lines in her work actually implement the outcomes that follow from her own invented systems. Notation Language_01, for example, consists of a grid filled with precise hand-drawn symbols, each representing a colour. This allows the work to be ‘translated’ into a coloured, embroidered version.
Like this, de Greeuw’s work demonstrates a system that can be read and translated. With these systems, she questions the vulnerability in translating these systems: I’m convinced that when you translate something it can give you information but at the same time, a lot of information is untranslatable and will be lost. This depends on the translation itself (the way the translation is made) but also on the viewer, who interprets and makes his own translation.”
Inspired by embroidery and knitting patterns, the work of Lisette de Greeuw has its roots in textile art. This discipline has always been a manifestation of binary thinking. For example, it was the mathematician Ada Lovelace who observed the similarity between the operational possibilities of a Jacquard machine and Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine, one of the first proposed mechanical computers.
This anecdote reveals how important women’s work has been for computer theory and programming. Even before the invention of the Jacquard Machine, the weaving, knitting and embroidering many women did at home bears witness to a type of thinking that is quintessentially logical: Where a binary computer code consists of zeros and ones, a woven piece of textile is constructed from the vertical warp and horizontal weft – up or down, yes or no.
This parallel also reminds of the early NASA days, where women like Annie Easley were employed as ‘human computers’. The difficult calculations they carried out were then seen as merely executive work. This thought was used to promote the employment of women in this field from the 1950s till the ‘80s. With time, this perception shifted after the ‘discovery’ that computer work need minds capable of logical and creative problem-solving. This was a virtue once ascribed to be a masculine trait. Simultaneously, computing increasingly became a male-dominated field. However, women never stopped doing pioneering work. For example, artists like Sonya Rapoport and Janice Lourie played a big role in the early days of computer art, researching new techniques and highlighting the relation between textile art and programming.
Thinking, speaking, living
The age-old relation between a supposed ‘feminine’ craft and a ‘masculine’ domain gives the work of Lisette de Greeuw an extra dimension. Using textile as an inspiration and a material, she explores how logical systems can organise our thought patterns. With this approach, Lisette de Greeuw gives room to the vulnerable, nuanced and subtle aspects of these invented systems. “How readable is a language?” is the question she keeps asking, making her work an endeavour to organise the uncertainties of thinking, speaking and subsequently, living.