Koolstraat 15, 2140 Borgerhout, Belgie
Sarah Van Marcke & Katrin Kamrau - A Conversation
DMW Gallery, 3 March - 16 April — EN
With publications by Inge Meijer, Martina Pozzan, Christian Doeller, Mémé Bartels, Eline de Clercq, Dries Segers, Sam Ayre & Claire Ratinon
When we give something a name, we also wish to give it the right to exist. Denomination or nomenclature unsurprisingly lies at the basis of Western knowledge systems. Today, however, mainstream science still relies on old imperialist categories to grasp the world. All forms of considerably objective knowledge are systematically divided into groups, lists, and tables out of an unfathomable fear of ambiguity. In a 1994 lecture, philosopher of language Jacques Derrida explained the word ‘archive’ by way of the two meanings of its etymological root: the Ancient Greek word arkhè. On the one hand, this term refers to the beginning of all knowledge. On the other hand, it also bears the meaning of authority, or the control over knowledge as a means of power. Knowledge that is painful or unclear and threatens existing power structures is often condemned into a twilight zone of visible invisibility; to a life without a name.
Together, Katrin Kamrau and Sarah Van Marcke comment on the consequences of our urge to collect and how this manifests itself in everyday life in Western society. They delve into archives to dig out images that reveal the dominant gaze of our society. Kamrau, for example, searches for the constituents of that gaze in the pillars and the history of the medium of photography. Her installations show images from the printed matter, such as magazines, books or advertisements in various displays. She confronts us with photographic choices that not only manipulate the image in itself, but also certain social expectations. Families are happy, houses are big, housewives are slender, white, and pretty. Images of screen tests reveal how the color settings of cameras are adjusted to correspond with white skin. Even archival footage of the National Council of Women from the 1980s reveals a dominantly white and affluent culture. The technically ‘right frame’ for a photograph, also appears to dictate the sociocultural ‘right frame’ in life.
Sarah Van Marcke's works expose how certain registration systems withhold information from the researcher. During the pandemic, she photographed her own collection of houseplants by the rules of scientific imagery: each plant is photographed separately and centered, outlines are clear, and the background is in a neutral white or light grey color. An examination of the name and origin of her plants revealed a history of colonialism and anthropocentrism. The Latin nomenclature of plants has been hardly updated since the study of the physicist Linnaeus from 1735. We no longer know their indigenous names, nor their medicinal or cultural uses. As the plants assimilated to the cold European soil, we have erased their identity - an analogy with the unequal treatment of colonised, racialised and uprooted persons is inevitable.
Still, Kamrau and Van Marcke manage to show their viewers in a poetical way that archive fever shouldn’t necessarily be an archaic or conservationist act. Collecting and organising can also be a tool for emancipation or a form of progress in the sharing of knowledge. The artists convey how existing narratives are in constant movement and shift their balance in the moment. While Van Marcke writes the true stories of her plants on a card index on the back of the prints, Kamrau’s video work creates visual and verbal space for the addition of local terms to the thesaurus of a film archive. Both artists show how you can give new names to existing elements, and make space for naming what has remained unnamed. Van Marcke also creates works on reflective textiles with references to the scientific canon of the West. It is a confrontation with the limitations of our gaze, and an appeal to step outside the boundaries of familiar frameworks.
The artistic dialogue between Kamrau and Van Marcke coincides in the ‘winter garden’. Originally an Orientalist addition to nineteenth-century buildings, the concept of the winter garden is here being extinguished in its elitism. All the plants from the adjacent house of the gallerist and her family are gathered in an intermediate space in the gallery. The rear gallery space contains a table with recent artists' publications by fellow artists, complemented by contemporary theories on the interfaces between human and plant, image-making in science, ecology and horticulture. More than just an exhibition, a rich conversation emerges about image and language, nature and human, history and present times, and the concealing and revealing properties of art.