Palimpsest (Room I)
Site-specific installations, mixed media, Museum of Fine Arts, Ghent (BE), 2011, room-filling set-up
Within the framework of the Aon Award, Sarah Wespthal presents a vivid, associative dialogue with old and modern masters from the permanent collection of the museum. The artist looks at the collection with a ‘baroque eye’, from aside, in order to investigate and rediscover it from a new perspective.
‘Sarah Westphal's approach reminds us first of all of the way palaeographers scrape off the visible text from a palimpsest to lay bare the text underneath. Similarly, architects use the word palimpsest as a powerful metaphor to highlight the material history of a built space. Whenever spaces are renovated, altered or refashioned, material traces remain. In exploring these material traces, Sarah steadily and literally uncovers the hidden history of the built space. She reconstructs what is concealed beneath the surface of the space.’
Antoon Van den Braembussche, A poetics of space. Some basic motifs in Sarah Westphal’s work (2011).
In Draperies, Sculpture III Sarah Westphal focuses on the stratification of a used curtain under pressure in a glass cube, observing how it shifts between two and three dimensions. The sculpture is made of leftovers of an interior. The threadbare material has been squeezed into the glass cube, instantly evoking something human, or an inner landscape of, say, intestines. The folds of the fabric harbour dark corners and keep fragments of the material hidden, which results in a configuration of light and dark, surface and depth. But the work also questions its own status: is it a relief? Or is it perhaps a painting or a photograph with depth? The mood of decay and the friction evoke the battle of good and evil in the work of Hieronymus Bosch. The photographic work Folding is a study of a piece of folded jute fabric in an anthropomorphic shape rising up in an undefined space. The same curious distortion can be found in Hieronymus Bosch’s Christ Carrying the Cross (1510/1516) and also complements Sarah Westphal’s Draperies, Sculpture III. The folded fabric has taken on a human and physical dimension. The image hovers between photograph and sculpture, between surface and depth, featuring the illusionistic representation of folded material on the one hand and the flatness of a photograph on the other. As it rises up, the lifeless material comes to life, becoming tangible and suggesting a human presence underneath the fabric. The gesture serves as a reminder of the viewer’s own physicality.
A half-closed roller blind is torn and eroded, showing anthropomorphic traces and stains. Light from the backyard infiltrates the room through the window. The curtain has assumed an intensely organic quality: over time it has come to resemble a bloody piece of skin which has been scratched and gnawed at. Sarah Westphal’s work, like that of the old masters, is characterized by a great attention to detail, texture, material, tactility and refinement; compare, for instance, the painted Madonna in Madonna with Carnation (latter half of the 15th century) from Rogier van der Weyden’s circle; and see also the landscape in St. Jerome at Prayer (c. 1500) by Hieronymus Bosch).