The stain has a brain too
Using the stain as point of departure for creating art has a blessed tradition. Those who want to stimulate their creativity can find an incentive to look at a stained, disintegrated wall in scriptures as early as Leonardo da Vinci’s. After studying such a wall for a while, landscapes, faces or struggles emerge. The general idea is that nature has been drawing, long before we ever started to do so, and art does nothing but culturing the already present. Art has assumed this task with great enthusiasm and over the years, development has been stacked upon development, wandering in the highest region, amongst the most tenuous ideas. But sooner or later, always that moment of loss of equilibrium and dizzy spells, and art starts to wonder once more where it has started. Then it returns to the thunderous clouds featuring the angry heads of Wodan and Donar, to the ghost in the tree and the faces on the wallpaper. Those are the primal experiences, and there are not many people alive who do not know these things.
So why is that? Did we not long surpass weather gods and ghost stories on our flight towards civilisation? It is true, we now live on pulses and bleeps, guided by satellites, but the square on which we live still, unabatedly, consists of the old water, earth, air and fire. We know virtually everything, have theories on virtually everything, and can build virtually anything, right up to the human body. And yet, one day, in our neatly whitewashed home, insulated against all danger and disturbance, all of a sudden an uncontrollable stain can appear on the ceiling. What a relief. Proof that the elements will not be pushed aside, nor the beast within man, and art, and all those other things which continue to grow in between the stones. You would hate to imagine that all those elements would also be under control, then culture would truly be in crisis.
But we are not there yet, as long as stains exist and artists who do something with them. We all know stains, everybody has them, everybody is bothered by them and tries to get rid of them. Fruitlessly, and so we end up by saying, alright then, go on, they do have that little something, quite beautiful actually. But what do they have exactly? The Swiss psychiatrist Hermann Rorschach (1884-1922) has earned eternity as he, also a learned drawing artist, began psycho-diagnostic research with ten symmetrical ink stains in 1921. The interpretations given by people of those stains open the way to their soul, that was the underlying idea. And obviously, that was correct, although Rorschach, like no other, knew that it was not science, no matter how many psychiatrists and psychologists following in his footsteps try to turn it into science. And still, the Dutch Rorschach Society is blooming. I hope I never have to enter their meetings; it might be my life to see all sorts of things in pictures, the worst thing possible would be drawing conclusions about my personality based on some futile associations. And still, I do understand the fascination psychologists have with these tests.
I once bought, from a Swiss antique shop, a printed edition of Rorschach’s stains from 1921, ten Tafeln, in cassette. I frequently enjoy looking at them, but I always look at them as art. That rescues me from psychological anguish. For I am not the only one placing my personality in those stains, these stains also place their personality in me. I have a brain, but so does a stain. And what we think is instantaneously complex, a depth with many open endings, scraps of lucidity, but undefined in essence. It is an ever self-contradicting freedom, and therefore ultimately an art process.
I have always thought that Hermann Rorschach, should he have lived beyond his 37 and a half years, would continue his life’s work, the stain, as an artist, and not as a psychiatrist. Apparently, he seemed to possess an extremely lucid mind, frequently questioning the provability of his attributions. It is hard to imagine that he would have managed for decades to come to see his stains as some sort of butterfly net for catching personalities, as his successors still do. I rather envision him at home with artistic kinfolk, who have made it their life’s work to offer our personalities room, expansion, wings with the stain. People like Lizan Freijsen.
When I look at her work, I first of all see stains. Odd perhaps, as if I would answer, while taking a psychological test, the question ‘what do you see’ with: a Rorschach stain. Still, that would be both a correct and a flattering answer. I would hence express that the stain has its own qualities and that it need not derive them from landscapes, faces or struggles. And that is exactly what I experience with the work by Freijsen. Her stains instantly show their own strength, they first of all command attention for what they are, i.e. a stain, regardless of what they might remind you of. And then, after they have shown their pure personal value, they tantalise me to use my own imagination, to insert images, underwear and overwear, jewellery, shadows and veils, hence making that pure self value intangible once more. Those stains are not crazy you know. They will not be caught; they act differently every day, with everybody. And precisely for that reason, because they both reveal and conceal themselves, it is art and not psychology. The matching language is not personality tests, but poetry. Lucebert’s language for instance, in his poem stain as life’s work…
Amsterdam, October 2008