Annet Gelink Gallery proudly presents the second solo exhibition of Sarah van Sonsbeeck (1976, Utrecht) at the gallery. Van Sonsbeeck returns to the gallery with a series of remarkable new works that may be familiar to the viewer in subject matter, such as silence, the exploration and appropriation of space, the use of gold and seeking of a private environment. Yet the works in this exhibition are taken even further in this exploration, being inspired by current events.
On this occasion the artist presents a selection of new works among which the new series Shelter. In 2013 van Sonsbeeck made the Anti Drone Tent from gold Mylar emergency blankets to hide from the heat scanning gaze of drones. A technique it turned out the Taliban was also using for warfare. Now in 2017 the refugee crisis has given this work new meaning as daily photos arise of refugees wrapped in this same golden material to keep their bodies warm and sheltered from the gaze of others. And yet this shiny shelter also abstracts them into anonymous entities in a similar way as politics needs to abstract them to decide over their fate. Shelter is an attempt to research the emergency blanket in this new context.
Not only the transformation of context, but also the private experience of space is central to the work of Sarah van Sonsbeeck, a former architect. Visitors entering the show are confronted by the notion of space. The concept of sound as a marker of territory is central to her practice, taking silence (which she has called ‘anti-sound’) as a building block of private space. Through her practice, she makes apparent how our private world is encroached upon by the outside space, resulting in claustrophobic, negative experiences. Furthermore, Van Sonbeeck underlines the importance of privacy and silence as a refuge from these disruptive outside stresses. A new series of spy mirrors function both as artwork and as a means of controlling the gallery space. Though beware, once you gaze into them you will become part of the Security Space they entail.
In this new setting the artist transforms and re-activates two older works literally using the waste of the one to transform the other into Mistakes I’ve made and Remade. Using an existing work she was unhappy with and gold leaf debris, which are strewn into faraday paint (blocking electromagnetic signals), Van Sonsbeeck takes the theme of space to its outer edge, re-creating the universe.
For her solo exhibition at De Nederlandsche Bank, Sarah van Sonsbeeck was invited to pay a visit to the bank’s vault that stores the Dutch gold reserve. Fascinated by the main ingredient inside the vault and the fact that it remains hidden and secure from the public, she requested to make a mold of the standard gold bar as the departure point for a new series of works. Although the artist continues to further investigate gold’s formal and conceptual qualities through this act, her visit to the vault took an unexpected turn as her eye wandered from the shiny blocks to the shelves on which the bars were stored. Unlike the form of the standard 400 oz gold bar, the form of the shelves was context specific to the architecture of the building. Van Sonsbeeck therefore decided to reproduce the shelves according to the materials she found throughout the building making a direct reference to the particular context in which these universally standardized objects were located.
Almost exactly a century ago, Marcel Duchamp decided to turn a urinal on its side, place it on a pedestal, sign it with “R. Mutt 1917” and name it Fountain. This action proved to have an immense influence on artistic development and is impossible to dismiss when looking at art today. It changed the way we think about authorship and the hand of the artist. Taking the idea of the readymade gold bar as a basis for all of the works in the exhibition Van Sonsbeeck attempts to “translate” a standard form into new visual languages. The shape might change but in essence it remains the same thing, or does it? Melted gold bars populate the interior of the DNB exhibition space, puddles of gold sitting in different corners, some streaming down the stairs as if they were trying to escape the building. Their labeled identity has been evaporated during the melting – artistic – process, except for one bar that is still partly stamped with the name “Degussa”. It is the stamp in this puddle of gold that makes me think of R. Mutt and the artist’s hand. Essentially, the bar’s form is of the least value since it was merely created to have an efficient function, namely to be easily stored and transported. Art, however, is not produced for easy storage and transportation, even though the highly developed art market does provide an infrastructure for it.
By translating the shape of the standard gold bar, Van Sonsbeeck invites us to redefine its value from the commodity of gold to the commodity of art. It’s a continuing balancing act between intrinsic value and intellectual value. As Isabelle Graw discusses in High Price: Art Between the Market and Celebrity Culture (2010), there is a difference between art and other commodities. Art is a special kind of commodity. Its market value is solely justified by its symbolic value. “The specific quality of its symbolic value lies in the fact that it expresses an intellectual surplus value generally attributed to art, an epistemological gain that cannot be smoothly translated into economic categories.” The intellectual surplus value of an artwork, associated with ideas, imagination, and perception is in turn linked to a personal value system constituted by the knowledge, interests, desires and memories of its buyer.
When looking at these works the viewer translates the value of the standard gold bar into something more personal that is simultaneously more and less valuable. We cannot use the puddle of gold to go out and buy ourselves a piece of real estate but perhaps it is much more enriching on another level. Its liquid form inspires us to consider flexibility in its meaning. Usually puddles are associated with negative connotations such as dirt, flooding, waste or an accident. In her earlier series Mistakes I’ve Made, Van Sonsbeeck gave new life to the gold waste that was created whilst gilding other works. She was interested in making something valuable again that was typically regarded as waste. With the puddles she takes this idea one step further by associating the form of a puddle with a valuable material such as gold. In doing so we are forced to question our personal value system that is comprised of both intrinsic and symbolic elements.
Van Sonsbeeck gives us a personal experience with art. Thus, the standard becomes personal and exemplified because it has been created from and for a particular space, namely De Nederlandsche Bank. Once these works leave this space they will always carry with them the aura and surroundings of the vault and the building. If you happen to become one of the lucky owners of a golden puddle please note that they won’t adhere directly to your new space, but the work will once again need to be translated into a new personal standard…
Translating the standard gold bar (I only take risks I understand)