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Vesna Madzoski

A Line That Escapes the Frame: Aam Solleveld's Abstract Machines

June 2013

If abstraction is the only way for humans to relate to their experience of reality, Aam Solleveld’s work is there to point this out. In her drawings and wall installations, the image of reality is stripped down to a bare essence, turned into symbols proving its existence. Through this gesture, we are all given an opportunity to become Lewis Carol’s Alice, offered a space from which it becomes possible to respond to questions addressed to us by the world of everyday objects. In here, we are entering the symbolic realm of animated drawings and cartoons, the only system in which binary opposition between life and death is erased, where it becomes possible for the heroes to die and be reborn. This element brings us to Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, according to whom all creation can be seen as an abstract machine. The same way language allows us to be born again and again by permitting the abstract machine of language to write itself, Solleveld’s drawings are turned from abstracted representations of reality into “constructs [of] a real that is yet to come, a new type of reality.”1 Here, everything is in a permanent state of self-creation, and the world is always emerging anew from its own reflection. 


In her early works, Aam Solleveld began an ongoing research on the nature and representation of reality by drawing her immediate environment. In here, the elements which we usually delete from the mind pictures are turned into building elements of the visible. In the series “Address Drawings” (1999-2002) in which Solleveld decided to draw traces of spaces of different private homes in which she stayed, a new world emerged. The shadows became one with objects and bodies; the movements of usually imperceivable elements are given a new life. In this juncture of the visible and invisible, a theatricality of our everyday reality is being expressed. Starting with one drawing, Solleveld followed the lines and extended them into series, this way allowing new narratives to emerge. Hence, it does not come as a surprise that her next step was to turn drawings into panoramic environments, a step closer to their final form of 1:1 wall installations. 


These new abstract installations can be seen as Solleveld’s drawings on the walls where the trace of a pen is replaced by a black tape. Once we come closer to the wall, we start to perceive the strings of a tape coming out of the drawing. Deciding to follow a new situation and play with this theatricality, Solleveld allowed her lines to escape the frame of a two-dimensional space and enter directly a third one. On this stage, the escaping line will meet the observer who now has no excuse to start responding to the voices coming from imaginary objects. 


In many works, Solleveld plays and inverts the binary oppositions such as outside and inside, past and present, fiction and reality. In her “Drawing Typologies” (2007) in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, a panoramic drawing ‘erased’ the existing corners of a room and tested the imperfection of our perception. Simultaneously, the outside world of facades and streets was brought inside, turning the white cube of a museum into a new space pregnant with possibilities. In the work made for the artists’ initiative “The Paparazzi” (2007), the facade of an underground garage carries an abstract drawing of the interior of the former café which used to be there. Through this act, Solleveld made a strong statement about the changed function of the space, but also tested the traces this space left in the memory of passers-by. 


In the work made for exhibition “M for M”, SMAK Gent (2007), Solleveld has created an inverted drawing, a negative version of her usual installations, this time coloring walls black and using a white tape. What seems to matter here is the origin of this new space – the inspiration came from Jean Ray’s novel “Malpertuis” and the tape drawing depicts an imaginary interior of the Flemish house into whichthe main characters of the story were entrapped. This inversion of colours can be interpreted not only as Solleveld’s statement on the inverted nature of this space in relation to her other works – its origin in fiction instead of reality, but also as a particular reflection on the literary source used. “Malpertuis” is usually defined as a Romantic grotesque, a literary genre which brought to the imaginary nature of grotesque strong feelings of melancholy. In grotesque, the established order is inverted, and building binary oppositions of social relations are brought so close as to be crushed into each other. 


This play with already existing systems of value is also evident in Solleveld’s work made for the exhibition “Standpunten” (2008), Central Museum Utrecht, which combined old masters with contemporary art. In a separate room in which three master-pieces were exhibited, Farmers by Charley Toorop, The Dock Worker by Jan Toorop and Van Gogh’s Pears, she created a drawing of modern kitchen elements, filled with fruits and other food. This way, Solleveld reflected on the images of still-life representations in the paintings, but also seems to have questioned the structure behind a neutral setting in which works of old masters are supposed to be seen.


The abstraction machine of architecture is culturally defined, just like the visual elements of our everyday surroundings. This fact of how architectural structures change our image of the world became particularly strong for Solleveld after her stay in different countries. Her work for the exhibition “Elements” in MOCA Beijing (2008), besides playing with the perception of the outside and the inside, also pointed out the order and mathematical perfection of Chinese architecture and street junctures, juxtaposed to the Los Angeles’ language of street signs and characteristic buildings. In her recent project entitled “Who’s afraid of baby-blue?” (2011) made in collaboration with Sanja Medic for the gallery El Espacio Aglutinador in Havana, Cuba, (2010) the wall tape drawings reflect on a particular situation of restrictions when it comes to maintaining the functionality of homes in Cuba. The inspiration for this installation came from the influence of social and political conditions on the aesthetics of interiors in Cuba, where the restriction forced people to be very creative in making new objects and decorative forms, intertwining past and present. By creating a dialogue between two distinctive artistic practices, this collaboration underlines the shared interest in interiors, offering two different positions on the same questions. From her side, Solleveld had created an intervention by using a fence-like tape grid structure, combining it with an abstract drawing of a desk filled with everyday objects. The grid occasionally disappeared at the eye level, making the space for the contours of everyday household objects to emerge, breaking the structure apart and bringing the new dimension into the space.


Recently, Aam Solleveld has accepted a new challenge in her work by producing wall installations for public spaces in the Netherlands. In this new context, she started to experiment with new elements in both material and symbolic sense. In the most recent work entitled “Graan voor Visch” (2010) created for the outside walls of five blocks of apartment buildings, she made painted drawings of inside flats on the outside, and also brought in a new element – a colour to signify the light. Going back to the definition of art as a production of new realities, we should not forget that art is, above all, a sensation. With its potential to restore and remap our sensory perception, the essential project of art is to reconnect us to what we see and hear. By entering a new environment, public spaces of everyday people, Aam Solleveld went back where her investigations started, to the intimate worlds and the influence they have on each of us individually. Giving the observer a new sensation of the urban space, Solleveld seems to be offering us a set of tools to build a different reality. And there is no better way to start this then from a sketch.


 1 Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1987), 65.

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