26 September 2011


As an archaeologist, I love it when the present intersects with the past -- or, even better, when the past erupts into the present -- so I'll go a bit off topic today and tell you about a fantastic new exhibition by the Dutch artist Gerti Bierenbroodspot.  Since I'll be helping the artist install the show, there won't be any other postings until after the opening.

The Presence of the Past: Lost Archaeological Worlds 

2 October 2011 - 31 December 2011

It opens next week at Castle (in Dutch, Slot) Zeist.

What's a modern artist doing in the Baroque country palace of Count Willem Adriaan van Nassau (Slot Zeist)?

It happened like this.

When Bierenbroodspot was shown around the palace built by the bastard Count (for such he, sadly, was), she saw a suite of rooms -- ungilded, unembroidered, and unsilked, a great rarity in the lavish palace -- and pictured in her mind's eye the bare bones of an archaeology in the making.  It would be a place, no less, where the gold of her own paintings would find an inspired home. 

So, first, she transformed three stately 17th century rooms into an imagined excavation ground. 

Sand and rocks from the desert frame treasures brought back from her travels in the Middle East and North Africa.  

The visitor peers into a pyramidal case set on stilts, 1.60 m high (5'3"), and higher still in the next room, and the next, so you see the peaks rising as you pass from room to room.  Each is filled with tumbled masonry and shattered stones, sculptures thrown together haphazardly by time and history.

These are the milestones marking her journeys across Libya, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, and the trouvailles of a decade's habitation in an old caravansarai -- her own 'high place' -- above the site at Petra in Jordan.*   

Now picture yourself walking into an undiscovered tomb just as the sun first strikes what is fallen in the dust some millennia ago.  Look up: those are the storied places picked out on the walls, pinpoints of light in the darkened rooms, Bierenbroodspot's paintings inspired by voyages in these magical lands. 

Out of the chaos of happenstance, the works of art come into the blinding light.

The Emperor's Dream, tempera on canvas, 3.5 x 2.0 m [11.5'x 6.6']: Bierenbroodspot 2011
Imagine, now, reversing the arrow of time, as if looking through the Hubble telescope, and the distant past is transformed into a future space.  That is Bierenbroodspot's wondrous world, full of revelation, amazements, and mystery.  These are the living, dreaming spaces that Bierenbroodspot recreates in The Presence of the Past.

Paintings and sculpture: some nitty gritty background

Bierenbroodspot’s paintings are grounded in gesso (liquid lime mixed with Arabic gum) which dries to a hard fresco-like surface. Underlayers of green umber and dark blue indigo give the canvas as much a sculptural as painted texture. Gold mica flakes and black mica flakes are worked in layers of paint and scraped with a palette knife. 

Bierenbroodspot uses gold as a colour, gilding in a way never done before. The gold is translucent, not glittering, a colour like an unearthly strong yellow ochre.

Just as the artist is bringing a more sculptural quality into her paintings she is painting her sculpture, as the ancients did, breaking down the barriers between dimensions. 

Stones of white or flushed palest rose alabaster absorb the colours: murex purple, red sand, lapis lazuli, oils of ultramarine or emerald green, metallic paints (iridescent silver or bronze). Bierenbroodspot says,

My stones must pulsate with life – it does not matter any more what form, what style: only the material and the magic is a personal choice.
Bronze Sculptures

Bronze casting is a technical affair in which at least four or five different specialists take part: and most modern sculptors usually leave it all up to them -- they don't even watch while their bronze statues are being made.

Arslantepe (SE Turkey), Painted bronze, 2010
But she does.  Bierenbroodspot is at home with the sounds of chisels and the clanging hammers of burr-removers, the smells of hot wax, hot metal, stearine, fish glues, acids, and plasters.  She puts her own varnishes onto plaster moulds with mysterious markings and seams:

It is that thread of mystery -- the alchemy of the bronze process that is unchanged over time.
The artist transforms something silent and vanished into what is marvellous and beautiful. This is a parallel world, a place that may once have existed in time, been inhabited and gone. Descending through layer and layers of time, the one appears in the light of the other. They fit together perfectly. And together, they become something totally different.

Time Travel in Blue

As a backdrop to the exhibition, a film of the artist's theatre performance, Time Travel in Blue (previewed earlier this year at the Park Theatre, Alphen a/d Rijn) will be shown in the cinema at Slot Zeist.** The event features Bierenbroodspot, composer/cellist Ernst Reiseiger, percussionist Alan Ganga-Purvis, and Senegalese singer Mola Sila, with fashion-diva Fong Leng as the goddess Inanna. 

More Time Travelling With the Artist

A new book by Bierenbroodspot, The Presence of the Past, has just been published by Bekking & Blitz (specialist publishers of museological and historical works) to coincide with the occasion of the exhibition at Slot Zeist.  

I've swiped this text from the book's back cover:

This is the live journal of Dutch artist Gerti Bierenbroodspot’s journeys into the timeless ancient world.

Bierenbroodspot brings her ‘iconic landscapes’ to life with hundreds of new, unpublished photographs of her years living and working in the deserts of Egypt, Libya, and Syria, and at her caravanserai beside the rose-red city of Petra in Jordan. These are pictures of her Time Travels, the objects and adventures and dreams that she takes with her into her studio. 

160 pages, full-colour, published October 2011 

And, finally, a sneak preview....

Memories of Libya

A second art adventure will take place in Amsterdam when Bierenbroodspot opens her show, 'Memories of Libya' at the Morren Gallery.

These are her contemplative memories of travels in pre-revolutionary Libya and the many weeks spent in her makeshift studio opposite the entrance to Lepcis Magna.  The ruined city was for her like a giant sculpture-garden, a paradise of carved stone, giant in proportions and symmetry. Granite columns with white marble Corinthian capitals cast dark shadows onto crumbled walls clad in slabs of swirling onion-skin (cippolini) marble....

16 October - 20 November 2011.
Prinsengracht 572, Amsterdam

*Bierenbroodspot was knighted by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands in 1999 (Order of the Netherlands Lion) as the latest in the line of great Dutch artists who travelled and worked in the East. King Hussein of Jordan made her a Knight of the Hashemite Kingdom in recognition of her contributions to European-Jordanian relations (1995). She is also an honorary citizen of the city of Baalbeck in Lebanon.

** Director Erik de Goederen, Blikvanger Produkties, Linschoten.


Upper left: photo credit Michiel1972 at nl.wikipedia [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], from Wikimedia Commons

Paintings and sculpture © Bierenbroodspot


1 comment:

  1. Many thanks for this beautiful article!!
    Very, very nice.


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