The hesitant question mark is significant. Slowly refers to the period after her first exhibition in Hoboken (b) fourteen years ago. Clear means ‘speaking about herself'. Most of the world has been charted, and Van Kerckhoven is now determining her own, autobiographical position. After a long detour - of which one only becomes aware afterwards - she ends up with herself. The slogan she used occasionally a long time ago, (in the Xerox catalogue, A Woman boks at a Mans World) is now amplified with data.
Her latest installation, Divide and Rule consists of video monitors and painted panels in a kind of pvc, and Liza Minelli's Maybe this Time (I win), painfully slowed down on the soundtrack. This is, for the moment, the last phase, a loose architecture of visualia. Because continuous watchability prechides a measured ritual of sapiential and harmonious images, I have set up the installation in such a way that it is unique from every point in space or time (avk), April 1989). The installation is a spatial enlargement of drawings she made long ago; 'nonsensical' forms spread over a sheet of paper, analyses of a mood that have nothing in common, except that mood and the space in which they where drawn.
The 2 and The 3
The exhibition Divide and Rule occupies two rooms: one room contains three paintings, Sun, Earth and Moon; the other room 'de-doubled' video images. Access to this room is through a narrow corridor with cult objects. The paintings consist of two panels, the lower panel placed in horizontal position on the floor, the other panel propped up against the wall. The paint has been applied in compartments on a monochrome plastic background. Earth: man and woman coupled, a swastika for human religion. Sum: primal, blinding power, origin. Moon: woman, imagination.
The video installation is also divided in two parts, though not as unambiguously as the paintings. The ‘video room' is cut in two parts by a platform with walls.
The platform is divided in two alcoves in various colours inspired by Rosicrucian doctrine. On one of the walls of the platform, faces transformed by a computer (Keyaloa system) are projected.
On the short wall of one half of the video room, a woman is 'suspended' in leather straps, caged in a monitor turned on its side. The other short wall shows two monitors standing back to back on opposite edges of a weather-beaten table, showing veiled and subjectivist Wanderlust images of sun, moon and castles. The room also contains two other monitors - screens placed upwards and next to each other suggesting a playing card - showing an inventory of cult places, followed by some kind of Mephisto performing an exorcist’s dance in front of a dilapidated castle.
A basic concept in Divide and Rule is the Fifth Force, a concept from physics, which Van Kerckhoven applies allegorically. The 16mm animated film shown on the two monitors on the floor is similarly titled. The film is a series of vignettes made with a fast lisp computer. At first the designs were arranged in a mandala configuration, a circle with its centre, a compact cosmogony to which C.G. Jung attributed therapeutic value. The woman is in the centre, and symbolic themes float around her: trees, castles, men and horses: these also occasionally appeared and disappeared in Van Kerckhoven's earlier work. Her video tape Flier woont mijn l luis (This is where my house lives, 1986) explores her parents' house cum banqueting hall, where children were packed off to the kitchen to eat with the cooks. Its symbolism is obvious: horses stand for the serviceable side of nature, not for untamed nature. Trees lead their autonomous lives according to independent rhythms of night and day, seasons and planets; man is her complementary half, her reason to live, and - as we shall see - from a political point of view, man is the most dubious factor in this constellation. Seen from the four poles, it seems as if the woman, in her immobility, shows ever- changing phases of herself, as if she were rotating to be admired from every angle. A caring, confidence-inspiring role, which is only an illusion of the centre, writes Annemie van Kerckhoven.
The basic pattern is de-doubled semantically and plastically. By combining the poles in various ways, one discovers dynamic principles: horses and men, working or at war; castles and trees creating a quiet, even conservative environment. In addition there is the influence of the heavenly bodies: earth, sun, and moon, which are given a visual interpretation on each of the diptychs in the other room. The moon is the female principle of imagination, making men work, but women dream. The sun shines harsh light over reality, illuminating but also blinding; the fireball turns round and becomes an alchemist’s black sun (with a computer you can simply transform afield of colour, and reveal the other side).
If you can adapt to the speed, the two monitors with their screens upwards show a catalogue of well- known cult places, where good as well as evil rituals take place: churches, and crypts of the Templars and Rosicrucians as well as of the Waffen-ss An erudite
documentation of occultism.
Sometimes Van Kerckhoven irreverently links up conflicting doctrines and world views, which are related in form. To find these associations it is necessary, however, to study her working drawings.
Some of the symbols in her work can be identified with reasonable certainty. In 1988 Annemie van Kerckhoven drew the character of pillar-woman, stored it in the computer and accidentally retrieved it at just the right moment. This does not affect the unity of her style, on the contrary. The computer smooths out differences in time or mood, the machine turns it into my own, uniform, essential language. She now sees the pillar-woman as a kind of alter ego, someone who perseveres against her better judgement. Her expectation, Maybe this time I win, is justified.
Annemie van Kerckhoven is one of the rare Belgian artists who easily adapt to a range of material and means. On the computer she does more than mere painting or brushing. She is perhaps the only artist who can work with vectorial techniques (Keyaloa). This talent has hardly been recognized so far. This is primarily for economic reasons, because the present art world is a male world. This insight once brought forth a gruesome print: Warhol, Beuys and Duchamp, chained together by rings around their penises.
Fixed is Wrong
Van Kerckhoven does not make it easy for herself, with her striking aesthetics, inspiration and background. In the eighties in cooperation with her partner, Danny Devos, she published Force Mentale, an art magazine that is now on its last legs. Its title suggested a pamphlet, its layout was in harsh black and white, and its attitude tolerant, which made it even more controversial. A typical product of heavy, ponderous Belgian culture, says Van Kerckhoven, For have you ever heen to the Ardennes in autumn? She sees her plastic and video installations as a kind of layout as well, a combination of text and image. Her texts, whether shown in exhibitions or published, are undoubtedly didactic in intent, but are too much condensed to be readily understood.
Devos and Van Kerckhoven will probably never get rid of the stigma they acquired by what they allowed to happen in their Club Moral in Antwerp since 1981. Radical performances, which sometimes were sick, repulsive, zum kotzen. They won’t take back one single word; why should they censor what is elsewhere branded as diabolical? Moreover, only a few 'ti/ [j people actually attended the Club Moral sessions, though many more gossiped about them. Their epigones have now taken the sting out of the Club Moral, but I to its creators it still is a manifestation of hyper-consequence. Honesty and consistency presuppose naivety, a kind of sadism and brutality that eventually becomes repulsive, says Annemie van Kerckhoven. Essential for Van Kerckhoven is the struggle against one- dimensionality; this is also evident from Divide and Rule. Nowadays we can no longer think in only one layer, from a fixed perspective - for example, by only paying attention to beauty and harmony.
Unde malum? (what about evil?) was the question she asked in De Vier Uitersten (The Four Extremes), a draughtboard-painting from 1985 with a five-minute animated film. Ad nauseam / homo bulla / 0 altitudina divinitatis / unde malum ? (It makes you vomit, man is a bubble (the Jesuits were already aware of this) / you may look down from divine heights/ but how do you account for the evil that also exists?). Asking the question is permitted, but using exploratory material to answer it is taboo.