Interior Kingdoms and other vanities
Strike a glass and it will not endure an instant. Simply do not strike it and it will endure a thousand years.
- G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (1908)
In recent years, Vivian van Blerk has grown uneasy with the final photographic prints he used to render imagined worlds, created in maquettes or staged using mises-en-scène and collage. Our contemporary lives are smothered in a profusion of photographic images, on computer screens, in magazines, on billboards, that wallpaper our daily existence. This omnipresence desensitizes our appreciation of photographs: there are just so many pictures now. Artwork must find other avenues, if it is to be seen.
Cornucopia, An earlier color photograph after a temporary maquette built by the artist, 124x100cm, 2004
Van Blerk’s latest work applies a sculptural approach, creating finished works in volume, rather than limiting the three-dimensional to a preparatory stage of short-lived scenes created solely to be photographed. His new series of ceramic skulls evoke memories and dreamlike narratives that suffuse our afterlives with unexpected vistas, far away in space and time, that nevertheless materialize in our present. In these objects, lingering stories cling to our physical remains.
Likewise, in a new series of tinted black-and-white photographs on glass, Les Ailleurs, walls and openings faintly delimit a line between interior and outer worlds, between the ghostly presence of real people and their vividly depicted imagined spaces. These intensely material photographic prints highlight the textural qualities of poured glass. Composite images, instead of existing as mere prints, become more enduring sculptural artifacts. These fragile palimpsests of glass, paper, paint, and digital photography, seem to promise immortality through a solid object that will resist time.
The very use of these sturdy materials, glass and fired clay, has lead van Blerk to create works that interrogate the immortal aspirations of art. Because they appear so resistant and eternal, glass and ceramic artworks paradoxically highlight their own fragility and mortality. The existence of these objects, like that of our own bodies, is subject to certain conditions. One false move, and they, like us, could be no longer.
Our creations may last beyond the ephemeral flicker of our lives, yet they remain mortal. Both the subjects treated in these series and the media used to represent them, glass photographs and ceramics, evoke the inevitability of disappearance. In trying to make enduring works, van Blerk ends up contemplating the vanity of our physical existence and of our re-imaginings of it alike.
- Paris, November 2017