Arnolfini steward Roxy Brennan gives a response to Joëlle Tuerlinckx’ exhibition WOR(L)D(K) IN PROGRESS?
In Joelle Tuerlinckx' latest exhibition, WOR(L)D(K) IN PROGRESS, a plethora of objects are categorised by recurring motifs, a staggering arrangement with themes and images that span the lifetime of the artist. Visitors are pushed to locate meaning in a number of constantly shifting locations, from object to context and everything that lies in between. One possible location of meaning is in the associations, or memories that each object brings with it.
In Gallery 1, on the left hand side as you walk in to the space is what Tuerlinckx refers to as her first artwork, drawn during childhood. A fish, enclosed with a circle. It is this act of framing that makes it an artwork. It is the positioning, on the wall in an art gallery that further consolidates this status. But for me it is the trace of memory that enriches this object with meaning.
A memory is defined as “the faculty by which the mind stores and remembers information:” as well as “something remembered from the past” meaning that the word refers both to the concept itself (the thing remembered) and the method of containment (the process of remembering). This is particularly interesting with regards to Tuerlinckx’ work, where the artwork is both the object and the method of arrangement. It also reverberates with a lot of the themes running through the exhibition – the movement of time and the interest in location (the stones labelled with their place of origin.) The artworks are grouped in visually simple ways – all the circles together, all the lines together – a system reminiscent of a pneumonic device. The gallery space becomes a metaphor for a working brain, storing information to be remembered. In the accompanying glossary Tuerlinckx defines an object as “A visible and palpable manifestation of my thought.” And as our own brains encounter the space and the thoughts within, it brings its own set of memories with it. The interplay of these thoughts is what interests me.
Negotiating the spaces that Tuerlinckx fills involves beginning to recognise immediate associations whilst taking in objects - a line drawing of a compass on the printed page of a book on the wall reminds me of scientific instruments, specifically the alethiometer in Philip Pullman’s northern lights, a picture of Mick Jagger in Gallery 2 reminds me of a fan's scrapbook. But these associations are unsustainable due to the volume of objects. Eventually, perhaps depending on our will power, we relinquish control to Tuerlinckx which is an aspect of this exhibition that I find fascinating. There is very little room for ‘chance encounter’ or the coincidental meeting of things in this exhibition. Despite the manner in which the style of exhibiting suggests that it is all thrown together, every element is obviously carefully considered.
This is highlighted by Catherine Wood in her commentary on a previous project, as quoted by Tom Trevor: “Where Wood first observes a certain passivity in the artists reflexive reactions to the conditions of the exhibition space, “the more of Tuerlinckx’ work one encounters, the more the work’s apparent openness to the viewer’s perceptual discovery is turned inside-out so as to feel as if we are very much within, and pressed upon by, the artist’s manifest mind.” This becomes extremely important when you consider one of the exhibitions central themes, the museum/gallery institution, or institutional critique. What is crucial is the way in which the grouping of like objects and shapes appears at once uncanny or coincidental whilst we know that it is the work of the artist as curator of herself. The artist, not just as creator and curator, but also as scientist. In the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, similar objects from all around the world are displayed next to each other, creating a simplified absorbable picture of humanity – different parts of the world all lined up together behind a glass cabinet, showing how we are all similar and different. Except of course in the context of 18th century colonialism, under which the museum was set up and the objects retrieved. This method of capturing, displaying and remembering is extremely problematic, laden with racist discourses and unjust power dynamics. In Tuerlinckx’ exhibition all the objects are her own creation, and the similarities she highlights between them are for her to decide. But at the same time, there is a reference to the tension, the power struggle that lies within all museum institutions, of who has the right to decide what gets put there. These are further referenced by the antiquated nature of certain objects, the old science text books and paper globe, as well as the ‘curiosity shop’ feel. As a visitor to her exhibition we relinquish our ability to critique the categories she creates, and in this process we ask ourselves whether we ever truly can question the institutions we’re in.
When I was 7 years old I made my own museum. I stuck objects I’d found and collected onto bits of cardboard, sticking them down with selloptape, making my own little glass cabinets. I then packed these all in to a tin and wrote opening times on the top. This is one of my favourite possessions. I like that as a child I had such a strong concept of what a museum was, what it was for – for keeping objects in, for preserving memories. Like Tuerlinckx’ fish, my museum acts as a memory that enacts the process of remembrance, an example of our deep and early understanding of what it is to organise and frame objects, the importance of it. Tuerlinckx has moved far beyond framing her pictures with circles in this exhibition, creating labyrinthine systems of categorisation, pushing my early formed understanding of objects and their place.
- Roxy Brennan
Joëlle Tuerlinckx's expansive exhibition WOR(L)D(K) IN PROGRESS? is the most comprehensive presentation of her work in the UK to date, and offers an overview of the artists’ practice from the past 20 years, along with newly produced works. Until 16 March.
A new publication available in Arnolfini bookshop, accompanies the exhibition.