With: James Geurts
July 19 – August 16, 2014
A town like Hoorn bears testament to the waves of human settlement and belief systems that have formed the continent of Europe, interacting with one another and with geography. This succession of events and atmospheres is concretised in the surprising array of intact medieval buildings and captivating tokens of old Europe that adorn the town. There is a familiar strangeness to the place, a recognition of a past not lived but transmitted in fragments through school history lessons; any individual experience now feels (at least to the visitor) strongly interwoven with inherited cultural memory, akin to the intertwining of the narrow cobbled streets and canals that lead to the town square or the harbor.
I am told that the town once had nine monasteries, which is astonishing given its size. I reflect that this is probably indicative of the key role that Hoorn played in the tidal wave of Christianization so intrinsic to Europe’s formation. One of these chapels, now deconsecrated, is host to a residency by the Australian artist James Geurts. The residency is part of a series of projects that the artist is making in the Northern Hemisphere in the summer of 2014.
The ‘Maria chapel’ is beautiful, almost complete in its beauty, and yet hollow too; strange that things can be this way. Here is a ship that has lost its mission, a vessel set adrift in time in the centre of town. In the nearby harbor and waterways, hundreds of Dutch sailing barges, yachts and small rowing boats bob on the waters, tethered to their moorings. The waters on which they wait lead out to a series of artificial lakes, created when great dykes were built to control the sea level in the region; Holland is a country reclaimed from the sea, a land where human ingenuity is constantly pitted against the power of nature. Geurts’ approach to developing works for each specific site and gallery commission, engaging with the interplay of perception and the physical world, in a form of contemporary psychogeography, is very well suited to addressing such a reality of stabilized precarity.
In a subtle and evocative way, the qualities of human life and physical landscape in and around Hoorn are stirred in Geurts’ project Standing Wave: Drawing Resonance I. A standing wave is a phenomenon produced when the particular frequency holds an equal harmonic resonance. A sound wave flowing outwardly is resonant with the same shaped sound wave flowing inwardly. In this case an architectural space, the chapel. The ensemble of characteristics proper to any given built space – its geometry, volume, surfaces, densities and depths – influence this event. Experiments in the chapel revealed that this corresponds to a frequency of 76HZ. One wavelength becomes two as it reflects itself in the architecture, seeming amplified in the process, and generating a resonance that is palpable. In the exhibition a single sound source at the far end of the space becomes doubled, not only in sound, but also by a large-scale light installation in the form of a wave. Geurts has used a staple material of his practice – a series of fluorescent tubes, yellow in this instance, to create the wave suspended high in the main body of the chapel. Moving around the space, the waves of light and sound resonate each through the other. Their volume and intensity shifts depending on the body’s alignment. This draws the visitor into the conversation, activating her physicality and the internal frequencies and rhythms that course through it, now perceptibly.
This physical resonance in internal and external space stirs other associations with place. Light is the fluid medium of time and perception itself. It also plays a central and iconic role in religion. Whilst the artist makes no direct reference to the former use of the gallery as a place of worship, there is a sense in which the archetypal use of light (the wave) stirs the latent presence of this invisible history. The abstraction and minimalism of the exhibition offer the body a space of reflection and immanence outside of prescribed codes and values.
Context comes in too in allusions to waveforms. Physical resonance is revealed through the standing waves. Yet, waves are also left standing, metaphorically speaking, when seas are blocked in. In Hoorn, this produces what Geurts refers to as a ‘phantom tide’; the tide lingers in the collective psyche, yet no longer manifests in geography. Mysteriously, in this case, the pre-existing Hoorn tide is still recorded on many meteorological sites as a presently existing force. A video work set in a structure made of marine ply shows a loop of a yacht moving with the wind and water body, always limited by the length of its mooring. The ship’s wheel turns to and fro, with no captain to be seen; a phantom navigator on a phantom tide.
The tension between movement and fixity, and the conversation between visibility and invisibility, echoes the dynamic produced by the sound and light works. These elements are amplified by two additional components of the exhibition. The first is a drawing work created in timing with the non-existent incoming tide of Hoorn. The piece is inscribed onto the fabric of a chapel wall. The drawn contours and dynamics of the moving body meet with the apparent immobility of the chapel; in another light this appears as the imperceptible mobility of slow decay. In the second, the functioning of the fluorescent light tube is reiterated. Two small screens placed at either end of a fluorescent tube reveal– through the capture of light waves as digital video signal – that the block of light is formed from a pulsing not visible to the naked eye, also a standing wave of light.
Geurts’ work addresses discrete, ephemeral, fluxing phenomena, focusing on waves and associated forms (tides, cycles) connected with light and water in the first instance, and other corollary media, such as sound. As with his ‘expanded drawing practice’ as a whole, the exhibition heightens awareness of the ways in which objects stir flights and immersions of perception, whilst our thoughts concretize in gestures, structures and patterns. This is the incredibly rich and vital world of physical and metaphysical relations in which we swim, when we pay attention. Unlike the specialist or bearer of a message, the artist does not seek to extract, reduce, or define all this, but rather to unpack, associate, and interrelate. He deals with the essential correlation between forces affecting matter and those affecting our imagination as equals, as indissociable, as wonderfully and curiously porous and entwined. The chapel has become a haven of a different kind.
Julie Louise Bacon