Kunstpodium T in Tilburg supports emerging artists. It encourages creative experiment, serves as a helpdesk, organises Peer Critiques in the ARTpart project, and hosts the Apprentice Master project. The exhibition ‘Kunstpodium T Ontleed’ (‘Kunstpodium T dissected’) is part of the latter. In Apprentice Master an experienced artist works together with artists who have recently graduated from art schools in the Netherlands, Belgium and Nottingham. They collaborate towards a presentation of new works. Dutch painter Lotte van Lieshout is the Master for ‘Kunstpodium T Ontleed’. Jochem van den Wijngaard, Nina van Dijk, Marlijn van Zadelhoff and Bente van Olderen are the involved apprentices.
Rooms of the Brain
The idea for the exhibition ‘Kunstpodium T Ontleed’ sprung from an MRI-scan of Lotte van Lieshout’s brain, taken after her cerebral haemorrhage. Each of the exhibition spaces at Kunstpodium T represents a ‘room’ – or, lobe – of the brain, modelled after the MRI-scan. Each lobe in the brain has different dominant functions and is activated by different stimuli. The same goes for the rooms at Kunstpodium T. The spaces express the artists’ inner worlds. By walking through the rooms, the visitor meets different parts of the conscious and unconscious. These can be interpreted as a dream-like unconsciousness by Jochem van den Wijngaard, the relation with nature by Marlijn van Zadelhoff, memory by Bente van Olderen, a mental safe space by Nina van Dijk, and emotional regulation by Lotte van Lieshout.
That is to say, the murals by Jochem van den Wijngaard that cover the two walls of a high ceiling room invoke a dream world, with female figures surrounded by nature. At night, the reflection in the window constitutes an image together with the ivy and other plants outside, perfectly aligning an inner and outer world. Nina van Dijk appeals to the safe space of the domestic sphere, through the collection of personal memorabilia and transient found objects. The counterpart between dream and reality is enhanced by Lotte van Lieshout’s powerful expression of difficult times she went through, and Marlijn van Zadelhoff and Bente van Olderen aim to catch ephemeral moments of nature and history. For instance, withering leaves are being kept together with zipper and thread, and faces in historical pictures are scratched out. The collage escapes from a red circle, which could represent the past inevitably escaping the present.
Body and Mind
The exhibition highlights the consciousness of the body and the mind. These concepts are inextricably intertwined. Van Lieshout’s oeuvre is a visualisation of the so-called ‘embodied mind’: the idea that someone’s brain and mind depend on the nature of their body. In other words, mental processes are formed by bodily structures and physical processes. This manifests not only in the sense that Lotte van Lieshout uses her own body as a model, but also in the way her physical changes influenced her mind.
The exhibition fits perfectly in the contemporary debate in both humanities and neuroscience on so-called neuroplasticity, meaning that external stimuli change the structure of the brain. In other words, the brain changes as a result of environmental or social experiences. In ‘Kunstpodium T Ontleed’, the rooms are a metaphor for the brain as a metaphor for the self. Not the self in the Cartesian sense of “I think, therefore I am”, but the self as a continuous process. The physical movement through the rooms, each with a different sensory experience, encourages the visitor to reflect on how the different parts of the ‘self’ relate to each other and to the world.
The Master: Lotte van Lieshout
Lotte van Lieshout painted an apparition of herself. The packing cardboards she uses as canvas form the shape of the brain. The portrayed lying figure holds her hands in a black pool that forms the so-called cerebellum. In human functioning, the cerebellum is dominantly associated with balance and coordination. The figure absorbs the black substance as solace and strength. This is precisely what this work radiates. The artist explains that the inspiration for the work was an experience she had in a hospital elevator: “I saw myself in the reflection, I recognised myself but I had an emotionless expression.” The aluminium tape refers to this mirror. She translates how her physical state is linked with her mental state. In other words, how the mind is embodied. Her other work in the room is an in-situ installation. The mural is a self-portrait, reminiscent of Caravaggio’s Medusa, with paper octopus tentacles coming out of the mouth that creep through the space and into the hall. In terms of the colours, she was inspired by murals from Fra Angelico.
‘Impermanence’ is a motif that runs through all works. Jochem van den Wijngaard transformed one room with wall-covering murals in shades of blue. He depicts female figures surrounded by nature, one referencing Henry Fuseli’s The Nightmare (1781) and the other Henri Rousseau’s The Dream (1910). An unintentional overlap with Lotte van Lieshout’s imagery is apparent. Nina van Dijk portrays a type of living room. In the corner a piece of paper rests on a rocking chair. When looking from the right angle, this uncovers a sleeping cat – a fossil alike. The quite literal interpretation of transitoriness is also apparent in the drawings of pet skulls and bottles with transient natural objects. Marlijn van Zadelhoff lays bare the impermanence of nature, by exhibiting leaves and branches that are decaying during the exposition. Bente van Olderen refers to the inevitable feeling of loss. Her collage of scratched pictures, quotes, and drawings simultaneously grasp and let go of memories.
Connecting to one’s inner world
In this constellation and with their energy combined, the artists have made a beautifully composed exhibition. The individual works make the viewer connect to his or her personal inner world, but the strongpoint of the exhibition is the result of the physical walk through the rooms. It makes the idea of neuroplasticity tangible. It poetically substantiates that the brain is malleable, and that the self is not a static entity but a continuous process.
‘Kunstpodium T Ontleed’ was on show from 14 March to 7 April 2019. Read more on the exhibition here.