speech to mark the first viewing of Marten Hendriks' False Front by Ton Verstegen


Marten Hendriks has a feel for houses. He was for a number of years the guest-curator at the house 7x11, in the Vinex district Ypenburg, where artists in residence lived and worked. The 7x11.nl website was constructed by him as a virtual house with rooms for artists whose work could be put into the sphere of house and home. Based on this, he put together a number of exhibitions in 2008 entitled The house, the rooms at the K13 gallery in Velp and at two venues in The Hague. The difference is that the house shown here is furnished with his own work; or in other words as the invitation says: the house became for him an extension of his own tools and materials.

Marten has asked me to open this exhibition. This I do in a room that is not at all enclosed. I would like to begin by reading you a piece I wrote about a fear from long ago.

Planken Wambuis

My bedroom is in the attic under the sloping roof of the front gable end of the house. From my bed I can see through a small half-circular window the dusk of evening. As my eyes adjust to the fading light I can just make out the shape of the pear tree in the vegetable garden. Everything is where it belongs. Farther off I can see the twisting lights of a car’s headlamps as it negotiates the sharp bend in the road. The sound of the car does not reach me in my bed. In the now deep darkness, in my imagination I feel my way around. Without hesitation I can find the doorknob which opens out into the main attic space. I am aware of the frightening shape of the smoke box, with right beside it the trapdoor that with an almost imperceptible movement opens. The sound of the counterweight as it touches the floor is softened by a swathe. I know all of this as I lie still and quiet in my bed. I fall asleep. A little while later I find myself standing next to my bed. I feel for the doorknob but it isn’t there. I feel along the walls to the left and to the right, I can only feel the trim along the edges of planks but no doorknob. The light switch has also disappeared. By now everybody in the house has been woken up by my screams. My mother switches on the light. I am standing in a corner. While I slowly adjust to reality everything drops back into its old trusted place.

Schizophrenia. This is what I choose to call the threatening disconnection between the interior and the exterior worlds. Some years ago in Ghent, in Belgium, I visited an exhibition in an asylum where work by psychiatric patients and artists was displayed side by side. Gradually the thought came to me that despite striking similarities there is a diametric difference. Schizophrenics lock themselves up with their drawings and paintings in their own inner world. It is almost as if you can see the inside of their skulls like a dome plastered with pictures. Artists however make an opening between the inner and outer worlds. Now we come to the question; is Marten Hendriks a schizophrenic? It gives cause for conjecture. Take his website. His collection grows daily with shapes, drawn, painted, photographed, digitalised. We see abstract shapes in every size and form, immensely large or minute; an ashtray could easily be a massive building. We see conical and dome shapes, always from the outside. But as a collection it all inhabits the interior of Marten’s skull, an immense arched dome like the Pantheon in Rome. Yet I understand that Marten sleeps very well.

The interior of the skull, the exterior of the dome. Imagine being able to creep inside, climbing the stairways in the semi-darkness in the dusty space between the inside and the outside roofs of the Pantheon. Ultimate claustrophobia you might think. But it is also the place where you can be both inside and outside. With the fingertips of one hand you can feel the convex side of the wall, with the other the concave. The body can be understood as the form out of which inside and outside are constructed, enclosure and shutting out, dungeon and dome. Here everything is under construction, informal, dusty, temporary. Perhaps I can use another example to clarify the idea of being both inside and outside. We all know the Japanese painting technique produced by ink spots on absorbent paper [hatsuboku]. The ink appears to spread out arbitrarily, but if we could creep in-between the ink and the paper we would be aware of the intelligence of the molecules and the motivation behind their movement. The artist in such a case is merely conscious of shapes, restrained by the act of construction and of creating.

In this installation, Marten’s work is the ink and the house is the paper. And the artist? He is also totally absorbed. His conscious body becomes the passage between sensation and movement, touching and being touched. The house is an ideal location for such absorption. We all know the nineteenth century house or salon as an interior from floor to ceiling hung with works of art. Marten Hendriks here performs a surprising manoeuvre. He creeps in-between the representative shape of the interior and exterior of a house. [The exterior as false front? What goes on inside is nobody else’s business]. He experiences here the rationality of the shape of the house, that is to say its construction. But that is not all. Something like this is going on in his own work. He wriggles between the two sides of it: the individual shape of the exterior – let us take the dome again as an example – and the work becomes an ever-increasing collection, that spreads itself over a great overarching dome. And he reminds himself that shapes can exist without content, but content cannot exist without form. And that one cannot think about form without embracing the idea of intelligent material. Therefore a construction. I have not seen another artist – and that he certainly is – whose understandings and whose processes are his work. I cannot enter into the wealth of interventions, the care and precision that he has taken weeks to produce. Two things I would like to draw out of this inside-out world. We look through the backs of canvas frames of earlier paintings to more recent work that sits there like wallpaper behind the batten frame. We see the reconstruction of the old wall equally with the help of canvas frames. From the point of view of the wall it is simply looking outwards and looking through. Somewhere in the space between lives the artist, as consciousness of shape. He is in one sense condemned to this place, busily making connections between the interior and the exterior, between past and future: from a house and an oeuvre.

Ton Verstegen, May 16 2010