Space travel is possible with Van Kerckhoven’s art

In a Saturnian World is a frantic exploration of the limits of Van Kerckhoven’s work, purposefully repetitive and overwhelming.

By Morgan McCarty

As the leaves begin to change and the planets continue on their paths, so enters a new exhibition at the Renaissance Society. This fall, the Society puts on a generous and intriguing show of Belgian artist Anne-Mie Van Kerckhoven, In a Saturnian World. In the exhibit, Van Kerckhoven, with the help of curator Hamza Walker, brings different bodies of work together in a flowing conversation. In a Saturnian World provides a space in which the works orbit around each other to find a new sphere of influence, a result of Van Kerckhoven’s never having had to choose between writing and making art. The show is a major conglomeration of drawings, videos, a couple of interactive computer animations, paintings, and mixed media works. It marks the first time Van Kerckhoven has shown such a mixing and matching of works. There is, literally, a little bit of everything for everyone.

Immediately noticeable is a disrupted space nestled between the white walls and skylights of the Renaissance Society’s lofted haven. Within the space stand constructed walls halved by color blocking, the dividing line broken by hanging pictures. There are video screens displaying the animated versions of Van Kerckhoven’s paintings, drawings, and collages hidden on the backsides of gallery walls. Turn a corner and find a new set or piece of work waiting for you, and then wander back to discover a new perspective on a set of pieces you thought you had already worked out. All the while, an eerie, two-toned guitar melody echoes around the gallery space from some unknown corner.

It’s a meticulously set-up and constructed show that immediately presents itself as unconventional through its layout and design. Furthermore, the highly graphic way in which the pieces hang on the walls reflects the manner in which Van Kerckhoven works. Each of the walls (filled with more than one work of art) is conceived as a composition in its own right. Originally trained as a graphic artist at the Royal Academy of Arts in Antwerp, Belgium, Van Kerckhoven is the product of a community of artists, scientists, linguists, and musicians, and her work certainly reflects it. Quotes come from all corners of the mass-media saturated world—books, notes that she’s taken over the years and stored for artistic use, and images from Soviet soft-porn magazines.

Images of Saturn, repeated throughout the exhibit, are representative of Van Kerckhoven’s recent observation of the image’s proliferation in mass media. For Van Kerckhoven, Saturn is seen as representing the nature of the anamorphic, relating to benevolent spirits and the working-through of a transgression of the erotic. Each of these elements is present in the exhibition in various collages, montages, drawings, paintings and graphic prints.

Looking at a piece of her work can feel like jumping off a diving board into a pool filled with water from both the conscious and unconscious parts of Van Kerckhoven’s mind. The mass media images of women and building interiors are laid against text reflecting the kinetic and transformative power of language. The relationship between image and text, whether stagnant or moving, becomes a conversation and comment on sociocultural notions while also addressing forms of transgression and transformation.

Van Kerckhoven is creating artwork that produces an effect on the viewer, hopefully in a psychological manner, but quite possibly also in a sexual, emotional, sociological, or political manner. In a Saturnian World is a frantic exploration of the limits of Van Kerckhoven’s work, purposefully repetitive and overwhelming. Because the inspiration and the very material with which she works is rooted in society’s ever-changing realm, there is no limit. It just keeps going, existing in a plastic, subliminally charged universe, parallel to our own dynamic society and never resolving itself.

In a Saturnian World is a multi-level exhibit that operates in a mosaic-like manner, in that each piece determines and represents the whole, while the whole determines and represents each piece. The exhibit is visually balanced yet unexpected, mystic yet realistic, a constantly circulating beast that continuously and productively questions itself. Want to really get inside Van Kerckhoven’s head? You can do so by operating  “Pluriform I and II” on the user-friendly interface featured on the Renaissance Society’s website. A projector in the gallery space will stream the adventure of whoever is scrolling through the virtual version of Van Kerckhoven’s self-described “mind-map.” If no one is perusing, the application is programmed to wander through its various realms, waiting and thinking.