top of page

Catherine Somzé

The Physiology of Space

April 2009


                    [Art is a] form of magic, designed as a mediator between this strange, hostile world and us,
                   a way of seizing the power by giving form to our terrors as well our desires…
                   Pablo Picasso


Out of the different concerns that singularize the work of Dutch artist Aam Solleveld, the correlation between space, experience and memory stands as primary. After experimenting with three-dimensional media and formats such as sculpture and installations, Solleveld became increasingly interested in the expressive potential of drawing. Behind the apparent simplicity of a drawing lies a creative process that binds space, events and emotions in a unique way. In fact, as Walter Benjamin already observes in his essay on “Painting and the graphic arts,” a drawing is not a window on the world, but a device for understanding our place within the universe.
As we walk, think or dream, we elaborate thousands of invisible maps that constitute the unrepeatable graph of our becoming; as Gaston Bachelard puts it “We cover the universe with drawings we have lived.” In her first series Address Drawings (1999-2002), Solleveld re-invents the spaces she successively inhabited to conjure up past experiences and generic emotions. Architecture frames our lives; it is witness to our existence. Solleveld’s Address Drawings do not merely feature the external shape of concrete structures; they attempt at rendering under visual form the emotions of which they became the theatre.
Just as the process of drawing “[…] forever describes its own making in its becoming” as Emma Dexter puts it in To draw is to be human, Solleveld’s drawings seem to graph the movement of life itself and the structure that contains it. On a formal level, the compositional harmony of these works relies on a dramatic play of lights and shadows that unfolds along the line of a separation between large blackened areas and forms drawn in an airy and delicate way.
While always being successfully held in balance, obscurity appears as an all-encompassing force threatening to overrule the composition. Despite this contagious drive of obscurity, harmony never fails to prosper in Solleveld’s work. In the Address Drawings, obscurity’s shapes take on organic forms while in her later Media Spaces (2003) series they rather simulate huts or primitive shelters. Whether this obscurity stands for defined emotions, the return of the repressed or the original primacy of determined spaces in contemporary culture, it surely provides the compositions with a ritualistic dimension.
Fascinated by the power of drawing to figure past events and emotions in ways that didn’t fit the standards of Western positivism, Solleveld became increasingly interested in the relation that might exist between the practice of drawing and that of alternative sciences. As she travelled to Cuba and stayed there for three-months, she got more thoroughly acquainted with the practice of white magic for which she had already felt an outspoken interest before. Solleveld’s drawing practice understood as an art of anamnesis didn’t diverge greatly from the healing purpose of certain white magic rituals. As Solleveld’s drawing hand wanders throughout the surface of the paper, oblivion surrenders and the past becomes free from the burden of pain.
Unlike oil painting, which is an art of “accretion and concealment,” the suggestive power of drawing lies in its intrinsic ability to disclose its own becoming. Drawing is the art of process by excellence. It is not only the mark but also the motion that informs its inscription. It is trace and movement. In this sense it is primarily dynamic. When Solleveld started drawing she opted for using sheets of paper. Yet, her drawings quickly started to expand much beyond this first circumscribed area. Soon, a single drawing came to amount to several of those sheets. On the other hand, this material expansion was paralleled by another kind of expansion. If Solleveld had been interested in private environments, she now increasingly felt attracted to the outside world and the realm of public matters. In her series Media Spaces (2003), studio-like rooms have replaced the intimacy of home. In these drawings, the focus lies on empty seats and microphones deprived of users –endlessly waiting for absent guests. As Jean Baudrillard puts it “Television knows no night. It is perpetual day. TV embodies our fear of the dark, of night, of the other side of things.” Solleveld’s Media Spaces capture the world of TV and radio shows in the manner of moveable backgrounds –the world of papier-mâché and empty illusions, which constitute the backdrop of our daily lives.
Solleveld’s interest for the dialectical relation between space and experience, content and container, absence and presence, materialized in yet another manner. Unique in their genre, Solleveld’s Tape Drawings re-territorialize drawing from paper to the very walls of the gallery –another step towards a shift of perspective from depicting reality to turning reality into a world of depictions. With her tape-drawings, she combines the artistic practices of drawing and installation in a refreshing new way. During her years studying at the Rijksakademie (Amsterdam, 2001-2003), Solleveld started developing a special technique that would allow her practice of drawing to expand in space and cover life-size dimensions. By sketching structures on the walls of the gallery with the help of tape, Solleveld draws viewers into her universe rather than merely presenting them with images of it. Stemming from a tradition that goes back to the early twentieth century and avant-garde practices aimed at deconstructing the social and cultural meaning of the gallery space, the clearest antecedents of Solleveld’s Tape Drawings lay in the conceptual art of the 1960s and 1970s. And, despite their figurative nature, the sober and abstracted look of Solleveld’s Tape Drawings reminds one of the geometrical patterns of De Stijl. First during the open studio days at the Rijksakademie in 2002, then in 2004 at the CEAC in China and more recently in Amsterdam at Motive Gallery (Democratie maakt gelukkig, 2006), Solleveld has been presenting tape spaces in the manner of Chinese commercial streets, kitchen and home-like interiors. Interrupting the grid of straight lines, arching and hanging pieces of tape simulate electricity cables and other devices observed in reality. Yet, as metaphor, they speak about the theatre-like nature of the installation and of the object of its depiction: reality itself. In effect, the play of interpretations allowed by the material presence of the Tape Drawings echoes the process of perception it involves –we are presented with both the tape drawings and the space they dramatize, but we can only focus on one or the other at any given time. On the other hand, the tape drawings seem to hover along the walls as if holding no physical contact with them.
From installations and sculptures to drawings and tape drawings, the evolution of Solleveld’s artistic practice comes full circle. Fascinated by the life of spaces, by their physiology, Solleveld went from drawing the life of spaces in her Address Drawings and Media Spaces to turning real places into life-size drawings with her Tape Drawings.

bottom of page