Monique Thomaes

Bibliography

Joannes Késenne
Gezadeld op het kantelpunt tussen minimum en maximum
published in the catalogue to the exhibition plaatsen / lieux / spaces / orte
CC Kortrijk, Belgium 2009

Gezadeld op het kantelpunt tussen minimum en maximum.

De ruimtelijkheid van Monique Thomaes betreed je niet ongemerkt, niet ongelouterd, niet ongeschonden . Eens voorbij de visuele drempel van je vertrouwde leefomgeving, nodigt de kunstenares ons uit de wapens neer te leggen, die wapenuitrusting die ons beschermt tegen de ondraaglijkheid van het dagelijks bestaan. Daarom nog geen uitkleding van de blik, dan veeleer een ontlediging, een uitgommen van wat een mens zoal allemaal verwacht te zien in het grootwarenhuis van zijn verlangen. De vraagtekens die de talige metaforen available en hidden aan de straatkant oproepen, deze tekentaal verliest eens de binnenruimte betreden hun barokke krul en worden tot punt omgesmeed. De puntigheid van een oponthoud in de stroom van de tijd. Hier heerst de meditatieve stilte van de kloostergang. Ik hoor de slepende, Slavische gezangen van de Benedictijnermonikken uit Chevetogne aanwellen, de versnellingen en vertragingen van de tempi in de muziek van Steve Reich, de eeuwigheid van een interval bij Satie. Het is er allemaal tegelijk en ook tegelijkertijd niet.

Laten we een begin maken met dit niet. Want het is niet in de gekte van een spiegelpaleis, waarin we ons begeven. Het is de ironie van de historische iconografie dat een spiegel steeds heeft moeten betekenen: waarheid én ijdelheid. De spiegel tegelijk als icoon van harde waarheid over ons uiterlijk èn moralistisch statement over de illusie van al te wereldse ambities. Neen, deze spiegelervaring is het niet die de wereld van Thomaes ons geeft. Niettemin weet de bezoeker – geen toeschouwer ditmaal – zich gedownload in een panopticum van reflecties en projectie. Het is een type reflexcamera waarin het subject nadert tot de rand van het verdwijnen. De ritmische druk van een herhalend spel van opdoemen en weer wegdeemsteren, het schimmenspel van afwezigheid op de schoot van aanwezigheid.

Dat er echter – niet ondanks maar dankzij – een minimum aan technische middelen zovéél tegelijkertijd aanwezig is in deze esthetische ervaring, dit is een kanteling op het scherp van de snede. In de joodse kabbala trekt het goddelijk wezen zich terug in de achterkeuken van het universum, opdat de mens zou kunnen scheppen en steeds opnieuw herscheppen. Deze terugtrekking als act van creativiteit. Het is zoals wanneer de zenboeddhist in het uur van zijn meditatie zijn geest totaal wil leeg maken, maar niettegenstaande pas dan wordt belaagd en bestookt door de meest wilde fantasieën en behoeften die op hem afkomen. Pas dan.

Het is in en door de kadans van de herhaling dat ons deze zelfbespiegeling wordt geschonken. Welke herhaling? Welke structuur van de herhaling ontplooit het werk van Thomaes? In de processie van de filosofische verhalen over de herhaling passeer ik even langs Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Freud en Derrida. Vinden we het herhalingsmotief van Thomaes daar ergens terug? Herhaling is toch niet alleen hetzelfde meerdere keren opnieuw doen, dan wel de herhaling zèlf thematiseren. Wat komt er uit de herhaling te voorschijn? Het lijkt me hierover te gaan in het werk van Thomaes. Lezen we dit ergens?

Sören Kierkegaard verlangt van de herhaling dat ze mogelijk maakt wat de herinnering niet lukt: op die manier met het verleden om te gaan dat het tegenwoordig wordt en dus in het heden het verleden zou kunnen worden beleefd. Wat ooit bestaan heeft, ontstaat zo pas nu. Dit is het niet.

Friedrich Nietzsche bezong de eeuwige terugkeer van hetzelfde. Het is de waarheid van het nihilisme. Het bestaan dat tot niets is voorbestemd is een zichzelf willende wereld van scheppen en vernietigen. Hierin komen positieve energie en nihilistisch bestaan samen. Het niets is eeuwig. Maar dit is het niet.

Sigmund Freud zag in de herhaling voor alles de dwangmatige terugkeer van het verdrongene: een neurotische reflex van ons mensen om onze symptomen toch maar niet te hoeven opgeven. Omdat we ze zo innig liefhebben. Dit is het niet.

Jacques Derrida lanceerde zijn concept van iterabiliteit : de mogelijkheid dat iets herhaald wordt in afwezigheid van referent, betekenisintentie of zelfs van elke vorm van communicatie. De herhaling op zich, de identiteit-met-zichzelf van een teken, een markering, … maken de herkenning daarvan pas mogelijk. Misschien is het dit wel.

Bij Thomaes beweegt immers het herhalingsmotief zich vanuit datgene wat de beeldende kunst zo eigen is, te weten de visualisering, naar de quintessens van de architectuur toe, het scheppen van leegte. Haar herhaling – in reflecties van reflecties – weet naadloos de leegte te omcirkelen. Architectuur – als poging steeds nieuwe leegtes te creëren – van de eerste tempels uit de oudheid over het Pantheon of een Aya Sofia of een Paladiopalazzo tot de etherische fragiliteit van een Tadao Ando of een Santiago Calatrava toe, steeds weer heeft de grote architectuur betracht de organische lichamen die haar bewonen zichzelf te doen verliezen in de plaats, de plek, le lieu, de ruimte. De beschikbaarheid van ongemeubelde ruimtelijkheid, beheerst en verdubbeld door de weerspiegelingen van vensterramen, afgeroomd door de verborgen geheimzinnigheid van gaten, holtes en uitsparingen, deze ritmiek van de architecturale spirit weet Thomaes te herleiden tot de relatie van de bezoeker tot de ruimte. De bezoeker die zichzelf heel even laat verleiden tot transparante sculptuur, tot een gevisualiseerde versie van immaterialiteit.

Zoals de bezoeker, temidden deze ruimtelijke ontlediging, zichzelf tegenkomt oog in oog met een projectie van ingezoomde videostills in spiegelbeeld van de plattegrond van New-York, zo wordt het beeld opgeroepen van de verstedelijkte wereld als een gecondenseerde plek van verdwijning en herleving op het ritme van onze hartslag. En dit vanuit vogelperspectief. Is dit het perspectief van het verondersteld alziende oog? Veel eerder is hier een eeuwig onderzoekend oog aan het werk. Het oog dat registreert, dat het licht vangt in haar wisselende ritmiek en comprimeert tot het abstracte minimum van haar wetmatigheid. Het is alsof Thomaes hier, in deze specifieke ruimtelijke context, een zelfportret neerzet van het postmoderne subject als gefragmenteerde rest van een bestendige zichtbaarheid. Voorbij aan elk groot gebaar, functioneert haar installatie als een homeopathie van elk sentiment dat hierover pathetisch zou willen uithalen. De sobere poëzie van haar beeldvorming maakt elke toevlucht tot welke nostalgie dan ook overbodig. Wat blijft is een “optique de précision flottante”, zoals Duchamp dit zo puntig wist te formuleren.

Joannes Késenne

Johan Pas
Bespiegelingen
text to the artists’ edition published to the exhibition the intimacy of space In-Between
Antwerp, Belgium 2009

BESPIEGELINGEN (.) bij The Intimacy of Space

I. Gebouw, geheugen, geschiedenis

Architectuur is nooit decor. Gebouwen grijpen in op onze manier van doen en denken. Ruimtes bepalen onze interacties en onze motoriek. Tegelijkertijd vormt een gebouw het geheugen van de talloze gebeurtenissen die er plaatsvonden. Het draagt de sporen van ideeën en ideologieën, van ontmoetingen en conflicten. Elk gebouw is dan ook geschiedenis; alle architectuur is, bedoeld of onbedoeld, archief. Wanneer kunst plaats vindt in een gebouw, is dit nooit vrijblijvend. Een oud pand bevat de echo’s van het verleden, een nieuw de hoop voor een toekomst. Het kunstwerk treedt dus niet alleen in dialoog met stenen en structuren, maar ook met ideeën en verlangens. De kunstenaar die kiest voor een ‘geïntegreerde’ aanpak, moet dan ook gevoelig zijn voor de talloze zichtbare en onzichtbare processen die zich op de gekozen locatie manifesteren. Daarom is kunst in situ in diverse opzichten complexer dan een artistieke praktijk die zich beperkt tot het traject atelier-galerie-verzameling. Het geïntegreerde kunstwerk treedt immers niet alleen in interactie met het gebouw en zijn geschiedenis/toekomst, maar ook met de gebruikers, de bezoekers of de bewoners. En ook zij importeren ideeën, wensen en verlangens. Het kunstwerk wordt dan een (tijdelijke of permanente) zone waar de drie –gebouw, publiek, kunstenaar- elkaar ontmoeten. En die ontmoeting kan een confrontatie zijn, of een conflict, maar evenzeer conversatie of contact. In het slechtste geval ontspringt aan deze ontmoeting enkel frustratie of decoratie. In het beste geval ontstaat er een vorm van ‘wrijving’ die de betrokkenen inzicht in zichzelf en elkaar verschaft. Monique Thomaes (°1942) is beslagen in dit soort interacties. Sinds de late jaren tachtig heeft haar sculpturale praktijk zich geleidelijk aan ontwikkeld tot een architecturale.

II. Sculpuur, architectuur, partituur

Thomaes’ neo-minimalistische werken van staal, hout en glas uit 1990 ‘leunden’ al tegen de wand of interageerden al met de vloeroppervlakte. De ruimte werd er in weerkaatst. Hun vormentaal refereerde aan constructies en aan constructivisme. In de jaren negentig evolueren deze sculpturen tot site-specifieke installaties waarin reflecties van glas of spiegels steeds belangrijker worden. De omgevende ruimte wordt weerspiegeld, veranderende lichtcondities en bewegende bezoekers creëren een visuele dynamiek. Het werk wordt minder statisch en plooit zich meer en meer open naar de omgeving. Wanneer Thomaes projecties (licht, dia, video) toevoegt, ontstaat er een complex spel waarin de waarnemer van de ruimte, de ruimte van de waarnemer en hun interacties gethematiseerd worden. Ruimte, licht en lichamen definiëren ook haar huidige onderzoeks- en werkterrein. De sculpturale objecten van weleer zijn haast volledig gedematerialiseerd tot de enscenering van interactieve processen. Voor In-Between construeert Thomaes een tijdelijke omgeving die in het teken staat van waarnemen en waargenomen worden. Daarbij tracht ze een aantal conventionele grenzen te doorbreken: die tussen kunstwerk en toeschouwer, die tussen binnen en buiten, die tussen omgeving en kunstwerk. Door een reeks glaspanelen tegen de achterwand van de ruimte te plaatsen wordt deze opgelost in een spel van reflecties. Het ‘buiten’ wordt naar binnen getrokken en omgekeerd. Deze reflectie wordt gefilmd en geprojecteerd in de aanpalende zon. In een andere ruimte zien we de rechtstreekse weergave van het straatbeeld. Tussen beide zones in bewegen de bezoekers in een voor de rest lege omgeving: samen met het straatbeeld genereren zij het schouwspel van de reflecties en de projecties. Twee lichtkranten vormen een link tussen de openbare ruimte en de tentoonstellingsruimte. De constante stroom van woorden (en hun reflectie) genereert zowel beelden als ideeën. Als een partituur bij een bespiegeling van de architectuur.

Johan Pas, Antwerpen-Ekeren, april 2009

Indra Devriendt
Art – critic to the Exhibition In-Between
Antwerpen 2009
multimedia installatie the intimacy of space

Marc Ruyters
in H<Art> Kunstzeitung September 2007

Breathtaking  Fstforward Gallery 2007

Twintig jaar heeft ze in Nederland gewoond en gewerkt, en ruim tien jaar in Berlijn: sinds 2002 verdeelt de belgische kunstenares Monique Thomaes haar tijd tussen Antwerpen en Berlijn. Thomaes maakte vroeger installaties, sculpturen en integraties met glas, metaal en hout, waarbij licht, tijd en ruimte een grote rol speelden. De Berlinische Galerie kocht werk van haar en dank zij een werkbeurs van de Berlijnse Senaat kon ze een overzichtscatalogus (de Passage) maken van tien jaar werk, tot en met 1997. Ook in Berlijn ontstonden de eerste videowerken, waarmee Thomaes nu opgang maakt. Ursula Prinz (Berlinische Galerie) daarover in de catalogus: “De kunstwereld van Monique Thomaes ligt in het immateriele. Haar werktuigen zijn de camera, de videocamera en de spiegel. Met behulp daarvan legt ze haar sujet vast: het licht. Want de vluchtige schaduw, de weerschijn die met verloop van tijd verandert of de tijd die zich manifesteert in het wisselen van het licht, zijn het fragiele medium van deze kunstenaar.” Die nu tien jaar oude tekst slaat wonderwel op het recente videowerk dat Thomaes toont in het Antwerpse fstforward. “Breath-Taking” uit 2006 bestaat uit foto- en video-opnames vanaf de Empire State Building van Manhattan. Ze maakte er twee werken mee: een waarmee ze aan de hand van honderden opeenvolgende foto-stills de skyline van (een stuk van) Manhattan heel langzaam laat evolueren in tijd (en dus licht); en één waar videogewijs heel langzaam wordt ingezoomd op enkele buildings. In elk van de werken gebruikt Thomaes meerdere stroken naast elkaar die elkaar spiegelen, zodat je het effect krijgt van een Rorschachtest, met beelden die van en naar het midden uit- en invloeien. De fstforward-ruimte werd binnenin uitgerust met spiegels, wat het effect van spelen met ruimte, beweging en tijd nog versterkt. Bovendien kan men door het zijraam van binnen naar buiten kijken zodat het Antwerpse stadsleven (met weliswaar minder “sky-effect”) in het Manhattan-droomwereldje binnensluipt. kortom, een poetisch-meditatieve ervaring.

Frank Maes
Drive-in, Maalte 2005

Stef Van Bellingen
Sealight, Hot Re-Strike
Warande Turnhout 2005

Barbara Ruth
aerotektura
Project Reservoir Aerotektura, Berlin 2001

Angelika Stepken
window reflections
catalogue “Interim” Plüschow, 2000

Mathias Reichelt 
Lyrisch, poetisch und mythisch 1999 
Kunstforum 143

Thomas Wulffen
words become pictures become words 1998
publication Künstlerhaus Bethanien

Words become pictures become words – 1998
publication Künstlerhaus Bethanien
translation by Wolfgang Liss

femmes/
Wolfgang Max Faust published a study on the relation of fine arts of the 20th century with literature called “Bilder werden Worte”– pictures become words- in 1977. The first chapter, entitled “Worte werden Bilder”, treats the »translation« of literature into painting as exemplified by concrete poetry. Over two decades after the original publication of the book, the chapterâs title needs to be extended, as contemporary art uses the creative processes of literary production. Conceptual art developed the process of transferring painting into conceptual frames. The 80’s an 90’s saw the retransformation of this frame back into painting.

Still the word-image relation remains precarious. Being all the more difficult to interpret, the more complex the media transporting word and image are. In our civilisation of today it is the case that the visual culture has become the dominant channel of perception. The word itself increasingly loses its significance and is being represented through visual equivalents. Logos and icons are a concrete manifestation of this development. Monique Thomaes answers critically to this change of values with her complex installation. The diction she works with is concrete; it is accompanied by a visual framework. Both the words and their perceived environment mutually influence each other. The words used are the French terms which could be employed to describe a woman. Arranged alphabetically and rhythmically segmented by video-cut and by the presentation, they constitute a description. The changing adjectives ceaselessly alter the evoked image. The picture created by this process is not without relevant meaning. As these adjectives are the expression of a construction of femininity, the question of the origin of this construction, of its male or female creator poses itself.

Monique Thomaes’ reply is founded on experience. Her work can be related directly to one of Judith Butler’s statements : “The culturally integrated subject is in active relation to its constructions, even though they constitute the very attributes of its identity”. As if she had wanted to describe Monique Thomaes« work Judith Butler later continues saying: “The linear enumerationâs of adjectives from constructed positions attempt to capture a situated subject without ever completely succeeding. This failure to succeed is helpful as it raises the question of the political impetus from where the “etc” often found at the end of such lines originates.

One cannot speak of failure with regard to Monique Thomaes installation, as she succeeds in restoring the validity of words and phrases by a process of visualisation in which she takes recourse to a means of presentation which turns words into images. In glass-plates surrounding the screens, the spectator sees the mirror image of the text. This detail exemplifies the artistâs critical attitude towards the word-image relation, as it requires the spectator to explore the space in which the text is presented. On some screens the words can be read normally. The text relates in the same way to the surrounding space as the space creates a relation to the text. This clarifies one fundamental aspect of Monique Thomaes« relation to the medium in her works.

Very much in the same way as when the lexicon turns into a picture the works of Monique Thomaes are specific transpositions. The term transposition is to be understood as the process of giving content to a specific medium which it formerly did not inherently posses.

By actually being used to refer to something outside itself, the respective medium reflects itself. The installation “messages-femmes-” shows the word as a picture by simultaneously reflecting it with a mirror on the instance of its presentation. The work “o.t.” (1996) also exemplifies this attitude. Here an oscillographic wave-line represents the video images of three timed slide projectors operating. These transpositions allow recourse to means of deciphering and disempowering a visual culture.

The installation “messages-femmes” exemplifies this by visualising mirror images. Here words suddenly turn into words again and pictures turn back into pictures, because words are turned into pictures and the underlying process is demonstrated. This process is endless to the same extend as words do not imply complete representation. “This “etc.” is the necessary supplement to any attempt to permanently define identity.”

Katrin Bettina Müller
Wenn der Raum sich öffnet und schließt – 1998
Im Gespräch, Tagesspiegel 28.4.1998

Leonie Baumann
– Stone discoveries, female perspectives – 1998
published in “de passage monique thomaes” vice versa verlag berlin 1998
translation by John Epstein

Brigitte Hammer
Construction of space and time in the light of events 1998
in “de passage monique thomaes” vice versa verlag berlin

Construction of space and time in the light of events – 1998
published in “de passage monique thomaes” vice versa verlag berlin 1998
translation by John Epstein

 

räume
Quiet strength and a highly charged emotional atmosphere are the predominant qualities which come to mind when regarding those works of Monique Thomaes which instigate the apprehension of space through examination and experience. Her sparing use of materials permits a minimal shift in the light intensity of a multi-layered process of self-reflection to activate the observer’s self-experience and to set free a grandiose quality of experience. However, the nervous system of the observer is not overly stimulated by this occurrence of the “event culture“; rather, what is increased is his abilities to feel in the manner of a cultivated and finely tuned sensibility.

In order to examine how the artist achieves this effect, an intense occupation with her procedure, which brings into the foreground complex concepts through an application of simple means, is required. At first it might appear to be a simple matter when, in 1992, the artist laid down on the floor of a room in the then still un-renovated “Hackesche Hšfe“ (a late nineteenth-century living and business complex located in the district of Berlin Mitte) plain, rectangular-cut glass plates; the effect, however, was astounding; yet it was not astounding only owing to the fact that the visitor was initially unsure as to whether he may walk into a room with such a floor covering.

The mirroring of the windowpanes on the floor depicted not only the light falling in through the wall’s outer opening, but also the window’s form as well as the constant transformation of reflection caused by the continuous increase and decrease of light intensity in the outer room, this latter being a process which usually is unnoticed because it occurs “un-reflected“. What is interesting here is that the observer can only become conscious of and discover such processes when he is willing to surrender himself to the act of observation for a good amount of time; the reason for such patience is that, as a rule, the changes are more likely take place – allowing for the fact that thunderstorms or similar dramatic weathers events are not happening – slowly and progressively.

au lieu de
In the ruinous structure of the Berlin’s Parochialkirche, Monique Thomaes conceived of a “light sculpture“ which resumed this window motive in a different way. A circle of twelve museum display cases, the bottoms of which were laid with blue glass plates, were set up opposite to twelve huge arched windows. The light falling through the bright, makeshift glass reflected the forms of the windows on the blue display case bottoms, and thus by means of the resulting shimmering blue light reflections partially restored the colored light which the damaged building had lost due to the war’s effects.

For an installation in the Potsdamer Kunstspeicher as well, the artist employed the mysterious and transcendental effects of light descending through a blue window. Owing to a blue pane placed before the window which, on one hand, allowed some light to penetrate through while, on the other hand, muffled the sound and course of events occurring outside, this work was able to make clear that special duality of the window motive as being the boundary between the here and there, inner and outer, reality and transcendence, worldly and heavenly, earthly and the spiritual.

de passage
For this exhibition in the Kunstspeicher, Monique Thomaes displayed still another room installation which through rhythm, movement, and imaginary space experiences – and in contrast to the previously described works all of which made visible the “natural“ transformations of the light – simulated an active time experience by using guided light directed from artificial light sources in darkened rooms. Onto a wall, three projectors threw square, quadratic light areas which were distorted in their perspective owing to a slight tilt in the angle of incidence. While the left surface with its sharply defined edges remained motionless on the wall, the auto focus of the right surface’s projector was in permanent operation thereby causing a pulsing vibration which arose from the rhythmical changing in the degree of focus; such vibrations were further increased by the sequential hum of the “working“ projector. Using a blue shaded slide, the middle projector blended together the two areas standing at a slight angle to one another, consequently intensifying the “seeing“ of an actually non-existent room. The feeling that this room is actually present was so intense that the observer had to reach out in order to see that his hand is not “realizing“ a room, but simply a flat wall.

Since Monique Thomaes’ spacial works essentially develop over a time span, it was inevitable that she should also come to terms with the video medium, since this medium processes an even better facility for illustrating time-dependent processes. By using video, she becomes independent of light’s natural behavior and by sequential filming techniques she can make clearer the often minimal process of change or she can influence such change processes through artificial light sources thereby gaining an even more dramatic element.

lieux
This process became especially clear when, in 1995, a work entitled “Lieux“ was created in the cellar room of a Salzburg museum. The empty cellar room had only its bare cement walls and already existing neon tubes – the artist neither added nor changed anything to what was already at hand. She shot one minute films from three different camera positions before changing the size of the aperture and again shooting for a minute until the picture was completely effaced owing to the fading. The final result were three eight minute films which depicted the cellar room progressively revealing itself, first from the obscure depths of deepest darkness only to finally disappear again in a dazzling brightness. Here the emergence and consequent disappearance of the “room itself“ is staged as a time-dependent event, a breathtaking happening of terrific vividness.

Based upon the experience that a closed room is perceivable only through light and illumination and that time is perceivable only through the increase and decrease in the intensity of light or by the repetitive changing and minimal altercation of rhythm, Monique Thomaes develops a very complex “neo-conceptional“ art, the intellectual stringency of which is accompanied by a thoughtful application of technical media and a provident use of material resources with a high emotional impact. With artistic means the artist adds important aspects to the examination of space and time, light and movement, taken from the knowledge of the creating subjects and, insofar rhythm is a feature of all which lives, thereby enriches our experience of beings-in-the-world.

Ursula Prinz
Transparencies 1998
in “de passage monique thomaes” vice versa verlag berlin

Transparencies – 1998
published in “de passage monique thomaes” vice versa verlag berlin 1998
translation by John Epstein

 

The artistic world of Monique Thomaes lies in the immaterial. Her tools are the camera, the video camera, and the mirror. With the help of these tools she approaches her subject: light.

For this artist’s fragile media are fleeting shadows, reflections altering in time, or time itself becoming manifest in the changes of light. She finds such themes everywhere, in a corridor, an old loft, a church, or an antique museum. In such places it is not the inventory of objects which interests her, but rather that thing which brings them to life, allowing them to be renewed on a daily basis: the light which pushes its way into the observer’s eye and is the reflector of things. This light does not reflect things rigidly, but with a metamorphosing appearance. First through that machine, the camera, is the immovable picture produced. The reality we experience is fluent, even if it does occasionally recur. It can be reproduced once by the photo which dissects into single pieces the temporal movement progressions and light altercations or, by means of the video camera, it can be observed in its transformations.

Monique Thomaes prefers using the photograph, out of which she makes video recordings so that she can manipulate the processes of movement by means of repetitions and rewinds. She uses those moments of observation which have been isolated from nature with the help of technology, and from these she composes a new work.

In her work entitled “Blauäugig”, the procedure is a matter of photographing the eyes of marble statues, found in the Pergamon Museum, along with their reflections which are then given a blue tone. Out of the dizzying game of repetitions, reflections, and movements, there paradoxically arises a rigorous order which, nevertheless, remains full of poetry. Blue: the color of the sky, a cool color, and the color of Romanticism. She sweeps away the reality of the statues’ blank stares while at the same time bringing those stares closer to us emotionally. By means of such stares there arises a sort of paraphrase, despite the marble’s blank look. In Thomaes’ work lively and inspired image sequences usually arise from “dead” material which then becomes animated by light and movement.

 

 

au lieu de
Moving light is also the basis for her creation in Berlin’s Parochialkirche. The light and structure of the gothic church windows are reflected in the glass display cases placed before the windows and in their blue glass bottoms; these reflections alter in appearance according to the time of day and weather conditions. Furthermore, this process is preserved in the display’s photographs. Superimposures and fade-out effects produce an image which above all documents the augmentation in light. It is not the sacred which stands in the foreground here, but rather the constructive process leading up to the attainment of this “light picture”. Laszlo Moholy Nagy’s light-room-modulator comes to mind; the difference in Thomaes’ case is that such a complex instrument is not required. Her work is slower and quieter. She requires the observation time, which is already predicated by the nature of the existing phenomena. Her work is the result of several stages of development. The installation is just as important as the photo resulting from it, or even as the final video work.

 

de passage
In the creation “de passage”, surfaces of moving light are united with an architecturally related room presentation by means of slide projections overlapping with one another; this set-up, in turn, has the effect of influencing human space perceptions. Owing to his own shadow, the observer becomes, upon entering this room, a component of the installation thereby newly experiencing himself as well as his surroundings. In this instance light sources are predominantly artificial. The only source of natural light is filtered through a blue pane placed before the window. The observer becomes wrapped in light; he literally enters into the work. He does not look from without, but is rather a part of the work. In a consequent manner does the work of Monique Thomaes progress from one stage to the next. Her spectrum stretches from dissected objects to abstract constructions. Her precision of technique and handling of materials reveal a dominantly intellectual conception which does not, however, exclude the influence of empirical moments. Out of the detail, out of the simple presentation of a prop, evolves an entire universe which is just as artistic as it is alive.

Thomaes succeeds in uniting the stringent methods of constructivism together with delicate half-tones and then goes on to distill from this unity a poetic ensemble. From so many threads an entire network is spun, a network which may be understood as a complete whole and which is always in a state of dynamic change

 

Eye – light – time – 1994
published in “de passage monique thomaes” vice versa verlag berlin 1998
in the catalogue “invite” Cultural Centre Knokke 1994
translation by John Epstein

blauäugig
In the age of the virtual manipulation of reality, an occupation with reflections has something almost a little archaic to it. Monique Thomaes brings the new, although, nevertheless, comparatively classic techniques of photography, projections, and video together with one another in order to artistically transpose the game of professed reality, along with its illusion comprised of light and shade, as well as the representation of the transitory time. Since antiquity reflection has again and again fascinated artists. Especially interesting was the part it played in the painting and literature of the late nineteenth century. At that time the theme was usually donned with a mythological robe as may be seen, for example, in the Narcissus thematic. In the period of the fin-de-siècle, this occupation with the “I“ – with one’s very identity – was heavily tinged with melancholy and an apocalyptic mood. Typically enough the androgyny became the morbid ideal of beauty. And today as well, as we approach the conclusion of the twentieth century, this occupation with reflection relates to a facing off with one’s own identity; however, at the same time it represents a questioning of reality as such and in all – and last but not least through the use of new technological developments – its doubtful manifesta-tions. Monique Thomaes does not use anything of a daily, or contemporary, nature in her examination; she does not even use her own person, but rather anonymous human pictures, representations from antiquity as they have come down to us and can today be seen in statues belonging to Berlin’s Pergamon museum. Furthermore, she is only interested in the statures’ eyes, their look, a look which is suggested by the empty marble eyes appearing in changing lighting. She consciously avoids everything which is individual, subjective. The reflection of the eye in one of her works produces a symmetry actually present in the human face; here, how-ever, one finds it “reversed“. In her works created for projection, confusion between the original and the reflective is carried out to an even greater extreme: in these works the real eyes of the sculpture are deleted out by a mirror and now are visible “only“ in the projection. The movement of the camera, as well as the consistently blue color, does not add to the confusion but invokes instead a poetic atmosphere which permits us to forget reality and the questions concerning so that we may become completely wrapped up in a soft cloud of unreal enchantment. Here physicality appears to have entirely ascended into a spiritual realm. Everything seems to occur only in our mind’s eye; to have become a dream; to turn into a symbol of both eternity and transitoriness simultaneously. The delicate blue surrounds the material with a tinge of longing which is neither seizable nor which approaches or departs like a fata morgana but which is, nevertheless, guided and given rhythm by the artist’s will. Longing after something which is untouchable, transitory, and unreal – a notion belonging to Romanticism – establishes itself hugely and “blue-eyed“ on top of a world full of projections of self as well as that which is alien, reflective-like in spiritual, mental space.

Angelika Stepken
– Augen blenden – 1998
in “de passage monique thomaes” vice versa verlag berlin

augen blenden – 1998
published in “de passage monique thomaes” vice versa verlag berlin 1998 
translation by John Epstein

 

 

couchée

… forward: In the monitor a granular image. Not black-white, but shaded lightly blue. At first glance, perplexity: more than three quarters of the picture’s surface reveal nothing more than abstract diffusion. For a brief moment the image remains. With the first movement, which is more similar to a jolt, the eye focuses on some dark patches located at the screen’s left edge. The patches become identifiable as a closed eye, filmed from the side, and beneath is the beginning of the nose bridge. The remainder of the image may now be viewed as a face, the surface of which does not reveal itself to be skin, but rather a disintegrating, shapeless mass – boundlessness, in the borders of the screen. The face, or rather this unfamiliarized view of it, shifts, though only in very small degrees, further and further. A tender, intimate close-up. The movement of the picture is strangely discontinuous. Does this shot portray natural movement or rhythm, perhaps even that of human breath? Or does the montaged, pictorial material simply repeat itself? During the period of this frame, the body depicted remains on the equally dangerous as well as relaxed threshold between object and absence, a subject incapable of being captured. The sound track serves to double this ambiguous impression – normal sounds in synchronic time, or mechanical re-production? – The camera observes a sleeping person. In a close-up, her contours fade during motion. Owing to its technical programming, the apparatus both records and then immediately manipulates. The film’s granulation cor responds to a precise norm. Coloring and cut are carried out on the stored data. Infinite repetitions are conceivable. The technical image pauses for a moment and then gives time to the film. The glance through objective or viewfinder always keeps its distance, even if it seeks proximity. The voyeur does not touch; he is touched by the presence of distance and the past of proximity. The camera gives birth to a delirium between control and withdrawal of the object. The video cut is omnipotent in its ability to generate new time …

 

heute

… back: In the beginning a sculpture stood here: quadratic four by four glass plates were supported twelve centimeters above the floor by five by five wooden cubes: a strict geometric order comprised of single components and which is, in principle, expandable. Formally and materially the work combines dichotomies: bodies and surfaces, opaque and transparent materials, and the principles of the post-and-lintel system. It is without a pedestal – unless one would like to consider the load-bearing wooden cubes as a pedestal, even though they are integrated into the sculpture. One observes the sculpture from above and consequently sees the levels of glass-plates as creating ambiguity too: they lead one’s glance down towards the floor while at the same time displaying the pictorial qualities of a reflecting surface. Another aspect of the sculpture’s visual impression is created by light: it both falls through the glass plates and is reflected back by them; it becomes absorbed by the black wooden cubes. Material and immaterial appearances balance each other out. In addition to this minimalist quality, the sculpture also has something playful about it, like a box of building blocks which, in a manner of reduction or extension, can be added to and built upon in numerous ways.

 

räume

A year later, 1992, Monique Thomaes constructed another installation in an at that time still not renovated room belonging to the “Hackesche Höfe”. The glass plates now lie closely together and directly on the floor thereby forming a large jointed area which allows only a narrow space of maneuverability about the room. This work no longer has any sculptural, corporeal character; rather, it now refers to the volume and surface of the given room as well as to the room’s exterior space. The supporting capacity of the architectural base is visually canceled out; the glass covered floor becomes the room’s picture/the picture’s room. It is both a sensitive substance and a mirroring surface. The glass reflects both inner and outer space: the ceiling, the radiator, the mullion and transom, the building on the opposite side of the street. Owing to the glass plates’ beveled edges, the reflection is distorted and broken up. The empty room invites one to peek in. It is illuminated by natural light changing according to whether conditions and the sun’s position during different times of the day and thereby permitting the reflection on the floor to wander. Time moves the transparency, almost as a photograph, or a moving image. It is simply that this supporting material, or rather the medium used in this room installation, has not the storage capacity of celluloid; therefore manipulation of the image is not possible …

 

point de vue 

… forward: The figures appear like white shades of themselves, sections left blank, a negative. Groups of figures move in different directions, advancing toward or away from one another. The room is not identifiable; one could speak of the interior of a room with a window front and then go on to speculate that a group of people has assembled here for some specific occasion. So much for the initial situation, the givens. The situation in the film is another: bodies are deleted out to light contours. Their series of movements are dissected into several long image sequences which are played back in either direction, forward and backward. The cuts represent caesuras in time and, as such, are visible. Movement in space mutates to technical movement in time. There is the time span of the video-tape (ten minutes), and there is the discontinuous time created by the broken, jagged movements which, freed from progression in actual space, drive to insanity since these images no longer spring from technical necessity but rather from pure, technically feasible, imagination. Cold, frozen time assembled piece by piece. The figures of the negative freeze in reproduction, then dissolve in fuzziness. The white shadows liquefy to a fall-out of light …

… back: In the Pergamon Museum Monique Thomaes observes how window and curtains, even the passing of the elevated train, are reflected in the glass of the exhibition display cases. Hence to her the display cases themselves appear to be ideal sculptures, transparent bodies, in that they simultaneously reveal the extensiveness of space, the outer space external to them, and even that true exterior space which is reflected via the glass pains of the window. The object undergoes a multiplication and a synchronism of appearance, the selective cognition and focalization of which are left up to the observer.

 

au lieu de

The year is 1995; the place is the “Parochialkirche” in the district Berlin-Mitte; in church’s dome structure, which at that time was being used for cultural events and in a tempo-rary state of renovation, Thomaes placed for her exhibition no less than twelve nearly empty museum display cases before the church’s windows. Beneath the tulip glass lay, respectively, two blue-tinted glass plates and, placed at an angle above these, two transparent plates. If one leant over to curiously examine the presentation, one would discover nothing substantial, no sumptuous tidbits worthy of display or preservation, but rather pure light appearances, reflections of the room – a “light sculpture” with its multifarious splinterings and reflections. From sculptures of metal to those of light – so could one describe Monique Thomaes’ artistic evolution during her early years in Berlin. The solid material of sculpture, which is meant to be welded and hammered together, has become dismantled, at first formally, according to its components and the various qualities of the materials: light vs. heavy, transparent vs. opaque. It is by means of this separation that the sculpture’s mass consequently opens up itself to space as well as to image; light becomes a compositional factor included with all its intrinsic qualities of coincidence. Natural light brings time into play; in other words: images that change, movement …

… repeat: Monique Thomaes used real mirrors only in the installations “Blauäugig“ and “V-ivre“. In all other instances, the quality of reflection has been provided by glass which, on one hand, visually binds the mass/the surface of a sculpture to the surrounding room while simultaneously transposing the room, altering it into an image which is subject to distortions, blurriness, and transformations. The reflecting quality of glass is dubious insofar as it immaterially pulls onto its surface volumes, bodies, and space. These reflections double identities while simultaneously binding them to time. A turning away from the mirror changes the picture, draws it away. This aspect of turning both around and away is similar to various other central situations in Thomaes’ works: for example, the processes of disappearance owing to either under or over exposure of light, the exaggeration of picture resolution, or interruption in the time span of a video. By means of doubling a picture in a mirror is multiplicity proposed. Yet in this respect Monique Thomaes does not use the perniciousness of a fun house’s reflecting mirrors. She multiplies in time itself and this, consequently, is repetition. The repetition of time as it can be practiced and modulated by video-tape becomes dramatically applied by her ad absurdum. Time is technically stopped, extended, multiplied, quickened, choreographed – it breaks out of the sequence of tense and becomes simply the time of seeing. As a consequence of such a procedure, the binding of vision to the picture can sometimes be driven to the boundary of the durable…

 

hombre

… forward: A hysterical body in the image. A male torso turns from the side to frontally face the camera. The picture detail reveals only the section of his body from under the shoulder down to the hips. Colors are manipulated. The negative version of the celluloid creates the effect of exaggerated fading out. The body vanishes in an amplitude of a radiant dissolving. In the center of the picture a red object shines seductively; it is a sash winding itself around the man’s torso. He dresses himself. A torero. He assumes a posture. Standing up straight, he places his right hand upon his sashed front side at the level of his stomach. From the side he revolves to face the camera frontally. And again. And again. And again. The movements become reduced in time, in the filmed material. Now he turns just a fraction from the side, yet all that much faster. Then again from the front; that is, from the beginning to the end – the time span of a half turn of the body. A two minute tape. Seduction through beauty and decay mutates from phases of technical omnipotence-fantasies to those of anguish and militant prejudice in a placeless regimentation of movement. End of film …

… back: 1997. Among other works, Monique Thomaes also completes the three video tapes “Hombre”, “Point De Vue”, and “Couchée”. She has lived in Berlin for ten years; she has been an artist for much longer. Before she moved to Berlin, the last sculptural works she created were in metal. Then followed sculptures from wood and glass, then room installations, then in 1992 the first photographic works, and since 1995 she has primarily created video tapes and installations. At the beginning of the catalog (which instead of being organized in a chronological manner, groups her works according chapters of creation) is an illustration of a free-standing sculpture located in “Künstlerhaus Bethanien”; the last illustrations in the catalogue display individual frames from the 1997 video production “Point de Vue”. If one wanted to concisely connect these two points of her artistic biography and, in an analogous manner, span a kind of bridge, one could maintain that out of the serial components of the sculpture developed the successive pictures of a film sequence: her sculpture’s transparent glass, which possessed transparency and qualities of mirror-like reflection, has now become the celluloid stripe or magnetic tape. Light, in the way that a free-standing sculpture requires it, now illumines the picture turning it into a negative. Rather then the voluminous space required for static objects, space now exists as a platform for continuously flowing images. The figures vanish into dazzling areas of light; their movements become either bunched together or extended out. True space as a sustaining reason and base-dimension disappears, disintegrates. Utopia (=groundlessness) in a literal sense. Within the last ten years Monique Thomaes’ work has dematerialized or – to state it another way – has been transferred to the time span of media images …

 

time sculpture 

… repeat: Any cognition requires time, also when standing before an immovable sculpture. However in this case time is that time which the observers needs, takes, in order to establish a relation to the visible. Time, or perception, before a sculpture is latently open-ended because it establishes a kind of dialogue situation with space. The time of technical picture media is dictated. The observer follows – even if the work in question is of an “interactive” nature – the time, tempo, and rhythm of the apparatus. Before Monique Thomaes began working with the video camera’s moving picture, she observed in several experimental situations the phenomenon of light in time, as, for example, in the case of photographic direct exposures. Her studio, then in “Künstlerhof Buch“, became transformed into a camera obscura. Thomaes spread out photographic paper on the floor and observed the etchings which light created during different times of day and under various weather conditions. For her 1994 exhibition in “Martin-Gropius-Bau”, she dated, every minute for five hours in the afternoon, a leaf of unexposed photographic paper and then displayed it in one of five glass display cases. These time-notations remained there until evening, free to the further processes of exposure. When Thomaes later collected the sheets, those from the early hours were darkened, that is shadowed-over by light, while those exposed to late evening light had hardly undergone any development.

 

tu te souviens

The relation of a single point in time to the span of time – whereby the former is always determined by the person observing – led Thomaes on in the same year to the slide projection “Lichtung”. In this work the slides change every five minutes, each transparency showing a cloudy sky at various times over the course of a day. Correspondingly, for respectively 30 seconds each time, a text was blended in “– 14:40 berlin 9. 5. 1993 tu te souviens – 14:45 berlin 9. 5. 1993 tu te souviens – 14:50…”. The time of the slide presentation is identical with that time which has been photographed: namely, from 14:40 till 17:35. This “tu” in the text is essentially addressed to the spectator – however it refers to a figure who remains simultaneously anonymous though near, thereby suggesting reliability; this being a relation, an unspecified kinship, which appears again and again in Thomaes’ works. In the confrontation between text and picture or, in other words, between measures of time and memory, Monique Thomaes alludes to a melancholy correlation to the stored photographic image. If one is able to recall a definite, meaningful event or situation by means of a picture, a reversion to events occurring in the sky is doomed to failure. Cloud constellations are momentary, just as is memory. Both these moments, – reflection upon media and upon self – which are hereby broached, appear in her following work in an evermore explicit, tension-ridden relationship …

 

white spaces / o.t.

… repeat: If in the time-notions from 1993/94 the image still remains attached to real time (selective or continuous) so that the accordingly coincidental constellations in image reproduction are dealt with, then it is in the case of the photographic or video image that Thomaes’ work goes on to become increasingly controlled. It is here that measures of time no longer simply serve for observation and illustration of the melancholic discrepancy which arises from the technical simulation/production of reality. In two senses time itself becomes the very object of artistic inquiry: as the subject of investigation and as the material of production. In all of Thomaes’ work, time is dependent on light, and visa versa. She demonstrates this dependence in an almost ironical manner with the 1996 video “untitled” in which the visible picture is shifted back from the wall and into the apparatus, so that quasi a detail of the interior of the apparatus is then presented as image. One sees a light diagram jumping up and down. This drawing stems from the signals of the timed slide projectors, the switches of which beat out acoustic time. In turn this timing generates a lane of light, an analogous visual transference to the photographic process.

 

femmes/

In the 1997 work “Femmes” which uses – as did the 1994 installation “Blauäugig” – the static picture of photography as well as the time sequence of the slide switch, Monique Thomaes exposed the photographic representation of a woman’s breast in literally meticulous manipulations. With precise data, she organized the gradually ascending and descending exposure times as regards the reproduction of negatives, thereby reaching into every zone where the motive dissolves either into light or darkness, thus visually vanishing from the surface. The timing of the projection of the transparencies is carried out according to a precise rhythm; however this is not singled out as information concerning the work. This precision of procedure is the basis for the analogous picture producing apparatuses (aperture/exposure time) which Thomaes applies in her capacity as an artist. It is a method according to measure, and a measure giving method. The confrontation arising here leads to creations in which the extremes of control/pressure and loss/dissipation are dealt with. It is precisely these works which tend to exclusively investigate the relationship between time and image (slide switch/ video), thus revealing the escalation of the catastrophic (cf. “Point De Vue”, “Hombre”) as a delirium with an equally dangerous as well as seductive, demanding absorption and exhausting, dynamic …

 

de passage (1) 

… back: 1995-96 Monique Thomaes created various works for rooms or, to state it another way, with and in rooms. Time in space is first of all real time in which movement was also reflected over previous years in the sculptures. In the Potsdam “Kunstspeicher“ she placed a blue pane of plexiglas in front of the gallery window. The exterior light projected a color intensive duplicate onto the gallery floor. This light-image undergoes transformation, yet a transformation so gradual that it is hardly capable of being perceived – or at best only in the mind’s eye – during the average time a visitor spends in the gallery. The day’s various lighting conditions cause the window and floor presentation to appear respectively different in their qualities of brightness, intensity, and contrast. Toward evening the picture fades, the contours of the mullion and transom blur, and the projection extinguishes.

 

lieux 

What the natural light produced here in a 24 hour rhythm, Thomaes reproduced in 1995 with the video camera (“Lieux”). A camera is statically pointed toward two rooms. Gradually and successively the camera’s aperture is opened. Initially, the picture in the monitor reveals merely a narrow slit of light located at the lower edge, in appearance somewhat similar to a drawing placed upon a dark background. Slowly but surely the line fills out to a re-cognizable room volume, until ultimately in a glistening white this figure loses both its dimensions and contours and is reduced to an empty surface. This process lasts more than eight minutes. An opening and a closing-up of the room/image to vision, a gentle process.

 

de passage (2) 

In contrast to the newer, time-orientated video works with their insisting rhythm or repetitions, Monique Thomaes’ room creations are slower, more boreing, and more poetic. The processes of visual disintegration are also more sensible. Instead of using slices, lengthenings, and accelerations, she works with gentle transitions and transitional zones. Corresponding to the blue window picture in the Potsdamer “Kunstspeicher”, she projected in this same location “blank“ slides onto a large wall using three slide projections. When with the fall of darkness the natural transparency of the window fades out or even extinguishes completely, the effects of the slide projection become just that much more strong and intense. The right transparency stands as a slightly angled projection surface, constantly zooming in and out searching to focus sharply on the emptiness. The mirroring left picture changes alternatively with the middle projection which moves the same form slightly to the right, projecting it in blue upon the wall. The constellation of two partially cut geometric transparencies creates spatial vision which in rhythm to the superimposed slide switch slightly shifts each time. The left section of the picture searches for junction with the right one. The blue actually becomes connected, the white light leaving a small gap. It is worth noting that blue is the dominant color throughout the entire spectrum of Thomaes’ light-works. Her blue is an intensive one suggesting coldness as well as clarity, and going on to conjure up romantic associations. The position of the slide equipment in the installation “de passage“ is held a certain distance from the focal plane so that visitors to the exhibition could locate themselves as sha- dows in the rooms of light. It was this creation that formed the basis for a still not realized work, a concept for the former concentration camp Ravensbrück. There Monique Thomaes wants to create an empty room of light in which people can move about and encounter one another. Several projectors in the room are used to double the shadows. By means of overhead projectors, clear foils are projected onto the walls which visitors had previously written and drawn upon. A room of silence and movement; a coming together with oneself and with others, with silhouettes and the continual production of text …

 

blauäugig

… back/repeat: The possibility that the human figure could enter in Thomaes’ work was never excluded. This role was always filled by the observer of her work who, in a 1:1 ratio, could find himself reflected in the sculptures and installations. In the works dealing with room space as well, it is the visitor’s living, moving body which produces reflections or silhouettes in the light. On the level of image creation, it is in the first place the photography of sculpture that offers a primary, static – and twice reproduced, therefore mediated – picture of the human being. In Berlin’s Pergamon museum Monique Thomaes photographed antique sculptures. These photos became – as is characteristic for her method of procedure – the “raw materials” for various media defamiliarizations and combinations. For the installation “Blauäugig” (1995), she transformed her initial working material into photographic details, actual reflections as well as video films and slide projections. From these documents of anonymous sculptures, she deleted the eyes and the area about them – a motive similar to that used later in the video “Couchée”. Thus the eyes of the stony figures are blank; they do not offer an observant glance, but rather its omission. The eyes of the photograph are shadowed zones. In the center of the picture is, nevertheless, the distance between the eyes, that point between the eyebrows which leads to the forehead and which, in the condition of tension-filled concentra-tion, forms into wrinkles. It is that imaginary point where an exchange of the senses between interior and exterior, between vision and cognition, becomes focused, and where projections from interior and exterior images intersect. This point gives hardly anything away visually and it is considerably less attractive than the eyes; for one intuitively searches for eye contact with one’s peer even if that peer is a centuries-old sculpture in photographic reproduction. First comes an intimate jolt caused by confrontation with the set-back eye cavities and absent eye contact of the sculpture which thereby forces one’s glance to wander to the forehead, a surface formed by light and thereby giving it only a small degree of depth. Like a blind mirror this image throws back the observer’s intruding stare, tossing it back behind his forehead. Vision meets the visionless. A short-circuit, a silent implosion. The body as a sculpted, objective given have sought refuge in the work of Monique Thomaes. It has retreated back to the level of its representation, the image, and has revealed itself as a doubtful witness of its very self. Doubts are existentially connected with symbolization. The possibilities of manipulation offered by the procedures in technical image making, allow Thomaes, on the most diversified levels of visual presentation, to manifest these doubts (both self and media reflexive) in a visual form.

 

v-ivre 

Bodies become anonymous figures in her photographic and video works. Even her own body – the “pre-” picture from the video installation “V-ivre” – refrains from drawing attention to it-self and surrenders over to the granulation of the photosensitive paper. Only through cognition of the non-identical, the blank areas of representation, is identity reflected …

… forward: Two monitors, a ten minute filming sequence, uncut. Standing some distance back, both projection surfaces can be observed. Two statues. A shadow extends almost imperceptibly to the right. Darkening. The aperture contracts. The camera is close up against the body – thus when inhaling, the picture seems to edge closer, so large the minimal extension. Silently and slowly. Inhaling. Exhaling. The other picture, time deferred. Inhaling, exhaling. Another rhythm. At the same time, the same body, the same breath, unsimultaneous images. Restless breathing – fast, under pressure. The image in the monitor is black-white; i.e. gray, for the most part. Many grays. Gray like basalt. Granular like basalt stone. Rigid surface, continuous pictures. Breath on the threshold. No body. Or better: no body in the picture. No flesh, no skin. Surface, movement in time, changing volume, no location, no mass, no touching. Intimate. With what? Between whom? – De-caying. Spreading of Light. – Details – The camera before the video monitor. Picture after picture is photographed. Shudder release, dilation of aperture, shudder release. A different rhythm from the breathing in the film. Inconsiderate. In the beginning of photography one referred to the “Pencil of Nature”, that which draws upon the slides. What could be more authentic and more identical then nature’s own picture of itself? – The mirror? A fleeting picture. The mirror divides into two and yet still needs the one which finds its reflection in it. No solutions can be expected from the mirror. – Pictures with a high resolu-tion. Pictures of a relieved body. Losing itself and finding itself again. A look in the mirror. After a longish absence, I recognize myself again. – Take a step back in order to come closer to oneself. Art is abstraction for a picture. One’s own body stays back as a prototype, perhaps also as an after-image. Fear. Rigidity causes fear. De- caying causes fear. Design images of a tender transit … – always too many and always too few. Thirsty and drunken. Inhale, exhale … Repeat!

 

 

Window reflections – 2000 
published in the catalogue Interim, Schloß Plüschow
translation by Wolfgang Liss

 

(e)space(s) 

Windows, being architectural elisions, enable exchange between the interior and the exterior space. Natural light passes through windows into buildings. Through windows the outside becomes visible as the space uncontained by buildings. Windows in Schloss Plüschow, filmed by Monique Thomaes for several minutes respectively, were later to be shown on two screens. During the filming she varied the degree of light exposure through the camera lense. With the diaphragm wide open the motif is overexposed, fading, brightening until invisible, whereas the smallest lens aperture covers the scene in darkness, withdrawing it from the eye of the beholder. Changing between these poles the images on the screens brighten up or get darker, with the left screen always darkening when the images on right screen get brighter and vice versa. The images are mute, without underlying sound. No change of events, taking place in front of or behind the windows is perceived by the static gaze of the camera. The only element that with the course of time is slowly changing in the softly flowing succession of images, is the light in which the pictures appear. To regard the images on both screens for some time results in a changing perception of the piece. The eye, getting increasingly entangled in a slow and rhythmic, yet fragile loop of film sequences, is relieved more and more of its original task of identifying space and motif. Light and darkness of the emerging and disappearing space detach perception from matter. Through the flowing process of seeing, an imaginary state between the extremes of a material and an immaterial state between absolute clarity and the complete deprivation of visibility, becomes perceptible. The regarding of a picture reflects the borderline to the non-representable.

Christoph Tannert
In the moment of the light 1998
in “de passage monique thomaes” vice versa verlag berlin

In the moment of the light – 1998 published in “de passage monique thomaes” vice versa verlag berlin 1998 translation by John Epstein   lieux / white spaces / (e)space(s) We live in a world of blitzy commercials and high performance cameras, of flashlight thunderstorms and flickering stroboscope lamps. Everything and everybody struts their stuff upon the ivory stage. This daily insanity seeks elucidation in the glitzy, popular mag-rags. The sparkling of the disco sphere is imitated by the picture muck of television. As Niklas Luhmann has put it, the “operative closed system” of mass media offers a mega-pack of possibilities for effulgent eye-catchers. He who has made it to the point of being embellished by the hot steamy spotlights is considered to be illustrious. Yet “honor and fame”, Geneviève Brisac writes, “are no longer synonymous. Just consider the noise, that running about, those sassy-crass pictures. Just too many lights, too much din”. The work of the artist Monique Thomaes is also full of brightness, yet she is not concerned about producing a showy event: she searches for tranquillity, for silence, for the luminous room (which, as Michel Serres says, “is by its very nature reticent”), and she is motivated by the fascination of working with light as a volume, as a body. In most of her previous works, Monique Thomaes has more or less dealt with the plastic aspect of those questions concerning light, movement, and time. However, she has not consciously drawn upon technological means taken from the field of kinetic art – thus she has not used those iodine, sodium, or mercury gas filled glass tubes, bulbs, or decoratively curvilinear light arches or those technologies (electromechanical, electronic, thermal, hydraulic, or what-ever) of composed light. It is rather the natural rhythm of brightness to darkness… to brightness… to darkness… a secret of self-organization determining the artist’s processes and parables. There is something astounding in these concepts, a savoir-faire of the meta-language which is driven by a process of continuous self-reflection. Her works dealing with light, shading and reflection, moreover, become subordinated to a concept of energy which represents the tense relationship between the natural and the artificial. Thomaes thus tests the contemporary relevancy of the intellectual tradition of “micro-emotive art”, an art which is extremely reduced in its use of material and which, mindful of the permanent remodeling, circulation, and volatilization of its medium, attempts to accommodate itself to the river of time so that the single work poetically “occurs” and thereby participates in the eternal legitimacy of nature. Again and again what interests her is that line of demarcation, each indefinable space where wall and floor surfaces collide with one another. The compositional construction of these sculptures which lean toward the immaterial, absolutely follow the logic of mathematical proportions. In the form of the creativity of lights, the artistic layout unites together geometry, optics, light theory, and the playback of visual reality. Depending on the kind of light source or the time of day and angle at which the light is falling, natural or artificial light receives the task of conferring a form while at the same time taking an immediate influence on the genesis process as well as the processes involved in perceiving a work. Transparency, openess, specificity of the situation, and transitoriness are the primary formal criteria of this art. To the artist, what is more important than the exact construction of a light or glimmering effect is the de-materialization of the environment, the variation, reflection, and transformation of ambient fields, and the inclusion of the audience in such a fluctuating situation. Monique Thomaes’ on-the-spot-installations are journeys with and in light, a one-way ticket to the universal, a meditative exercise, a retrospective dream. Even if Monique Thomaes does work with projectors and the mechanisms of video technology, it is not simply for experiment’s sake. An important stipulation of her room presentations employing light is the observer’s active experience of the room. It is exactly this correspondence which facilitates the initiation of a philosophical questioning while at the same time turning the eye inward. Silence. Opening. Now pay careful attention. Time is astray. What patience such a room needs!

Alexander Tolnay
Point de Vue 1998
in “de passage monique thomaes” vice versa verlag berlin

Point de Vue – 1998
published in “de passage monique thomaes” vice versa verlag berlin 1998
translation by John Epstein

 

point de vue
The first photograph in history was created by the Frenchman, Nicéphore Nièpce, in the year 1827. It was entitled “Point de Vue” and it depicted a view from the window of the photographer’s study. Monique Thomaes’ most recent video work bears this same title, one which is fraught with numerous significant meanings: first of all it means “view” or “vista”, a meaning which in principle the photograph by Nièpce also includes and which encompasses the connotations of perspective, expectation, possibility, and hope; however there is another meaning to this expression which predominates above all the others and which may be translated by “point of view”, a word carrying with it the abstract connotations of viewpoint, aspect, and angle of observation. Upon closer consideration of Monique Thomaes’ works, all these aspects and levels of meaning gain both validity and relevance. The short, repetitive sequences of the video work “Point de Vue” seem like early animated photographs; the work is visually related to such predecessors both in its color scheme as well as its lack of focus. In much the same way that the first photographic attempts using the camera obscura and asphalt coated glass plates did not allow for sharpness of definition, so within the boundaries of the monitor, do the videotape’s electronic images disintegrate into vibrating “points”.

In his book “The Basic Principals of Art History”, art historian Heinrich Woelfflin observed that throughout the history of painting and drawing the dominance of line continuously diminished; it was in this phenomenon that he maintained he was able to observe the esthetic expression of a society’s successive inner, agitated states. It is in this manner that video and computer pictures, in which there are no longer lines but rather (pixels-)points, can be seen as the provisory point of termination in this line of development. Moreover, the “nervousness” of these constantly moving and striking images serves as an appropriate symbol for the frenzied rush of our time and for the outer and inner circumstance of our culture.

However, there are other reasons why Thomaes utilizes the artistic medium of video as an instrument for presenting her ideas. One overriding reason can be summed up with a sentence written by Annelie Pohlen in her article for the catalogue “Videonale 6”: “It is above all the immaterial, the illusive, that thing which cannot be defined according to temporality, location, or spatiality, or the conceptual malleable reflection concerning, yet resisting, reality, which the technical Instrumentarium video – owing also to its connection with the flow of light energy – essentially boosts. The artist herself has indicated the above with her comment: “In this form I have attempted to reach a certain immaterialness in my themes, to allow them to become fleeting.”

Monique Thomaes emphasized the important role of “light energy” (in other words light as a formative element in her work) in another context. This question of the “form of light” – in its scientific as well as philosophical dimension – was already first broached and discussed in detailed in the 13th century essay “Forma Lucis” by the Italian theologian and philosopher Bonaventura. Light as a concrete epistemological, theoretical, abstract-religious concept has, over the centuries, repeatedly played an important role in art history – among others in the history of the painting of Flanders, the artist’s homeland.

During the years Monique Thomaes has spent in Berlin, light’s representational possibilities and the processes of perception which it requires have always played an important role in her work. Thus in view of this continuing occupation with the theme of light, one may add these diverging strands in the interpretation of “Point de Vue”: “view” as the light of hope, and “point of view” as something throwing light upon an object, thereby allowing it to appear in a new light.

Light projections, time-light photographs, light reflections, and notes concerning light reflections were stations along the way to “Point de Vue”, a work which contains light flooded images of people appearing as though they have come from the heliotypic processes used by Nièpce. The corporeality of these figures seems to have been taken away; they express an atmosphere of brevity and transitoriness, this indeed being one of Monique Thomaes’ recurring themes.

During the shooting of their film concerning the first photograph of the world, which, as has been mentioned above, was entitled “Point de Vue – the view out the window”, Swiss film directors Bernhard Lehner and Andres Pfäffli were confronted with this “photo incunabulum” at the University of Texas in Austin, where it is kept. To their astonishment, they noticed that during observation of the almost invisible picture within the glass display case, outside of their own reflection there was almost nothing else to be seen.

The comment arising from this incident: “seeing and knowing – that which we don’t see is perhaps one of the secrets in image creation.” This statement could also stand as the motto for Monique Thomaes’ video creation “Point de Vue”.

Cornelia Gerner
Der Schatten am Hals 1997
TAZ 25/26. 1. 1997 Künstlerinnen in Berlin

Christoph Tannert
Bericht Radio Brandenburg 23. 8. 1996
and in the catalogue Contrapartida Kunstspeicher Potsdam

Heidi Jäger
Uns fehlen die Worte, Potsdamer Zeitung, September 1996
to the exhibition Contrapartida, Kunstspeicher Potsdam

Angelika Stepken
Ausschnitthafte Gedanken zu den Atembildern von Monique Thomaes 1996
in the catalogue V-ivre

Luk Lambrecht
Breath-taking, in De Morgen 8. 3. 1996
and in “de passage monique thomaes” vice versa verlag berlin

Breath-taking – 1996
published in “de passage monique thomaes” vice versa verlag berlin 1998 and in “De Morgen”
translation by John Epstein

 

v-ivre
Gallery Clo Bostoen in Kortrijk-Marke is displaying the recent works of Belgian artist Monique Thomaes, now resident in Berlin. One video monitor respectively is set up in each of two minimalistic, black painted cabinets mounted next to one another. The two ascetic videotapes show a ten minute sequence depicting inhalation and exhalation, taking place around the neck area of the artist. Such a spot, usually remaining unobtrusively hidden beneath a necklace, is generally considered to be a delicate, almost mythical body part. Here I am thinking of innumerable representations throughout art history in which the unfortunate Lucretia is presented shown before she finally does herself in. In Jan Vercruysse’s 1983 photographic representation of Lucretia, the neck area became the physical focus of seduction and death.

Thomaes’ slowly moving, black and white self-portraits are, at first glance, not recognizable as such, but instead show a great similarity with abstract, three-dimensional texture. The video images are played back with a coarse grain; thereby results an aura of fundamental unfamiliarity and doubting concerning that which is perceived. Owing to effects of close-up’s, the pictures take on an incorporeal aspect and within the context of an art exhibition may be interpreted as gently rising, almost draped pictorial representations. They are forceful pictures because the observer is simultaneously aware of both video images; consequently life’s rhythm becomes distinctly conscious, an effect which is further emphasized by the occasional insertion of still-video pictures which thereby gives rise to short pauses during the run of the video. Just as the American John Coplans observed in a monitor his aging, decrepit body in order to later make split-second decisions concerning how to photograph his body, so Monique Thomaes also uses a monitor to look on during recording of a video.

Analogous to the procedure of John Coplans, she presents in the gallery neck area photos taken from a series of 36 shots which she created based upon a precise time plan and a selection of the videos tapes. They are perfect fragments which she presents one after another like dish towels laid upon a clothing stand or like huge freely fluttering transparencies left hanging from the ceiling of a gallery’s theatrical side room.

Narrow reflective strips are attached to the wall which, owing to their suggestive height, unnoticeably reflect the visitor’s vulnerable neck area. The small reflections, the abstract video recordings, and the photos create together a kind of brief and exemplary breath-picture of present, as well as all future, visitors. In the mirrors the putative fiction of the reproductions becomes a newly fashioned ephemeral reality!

Concerning this observation, one may read in the catalogue accompanying the exhibition: “Take a step back in order to come closer to oneself. One’s own body stays back as a prototype, perhaps also as an after-image.” In its purest form Monique Thomaes presents an installation of integrity by using a simple image which, through its repetitions, takes one’s breath away.

Ursula Prinz
Eye – light – time, April 1994
in the catalogue Invite, Kunstverein Knokke

Luk Lambrecht
in De Morgen 14. 4. 1995
to the exhibition Invite, Kunstverein Knokke, Belgien

David Maas
article No. 6, September 1994
in the catalogue Fall – Wall – Fall, Martin Gropiusbau, Berlin

Luk Lambrecht
Kunst in Flandern, De Morgen, 24. 3. 1992

Anne Marie Freybourg
in the catalogue Heute, 1991
to the Exhibition in Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin

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