Alexandra Crouwers, 2011
A background chronology
Concerning some important exhibitions and projects in my c.v. in relation to the research subject
I grew up in the countryside of the southern Netherlands, surrounded by fields, sheep and forests. My sister, who’s now a phd fellow at the Nordic Centre for Medieval Studies in Bergen, Norway, and I had a fascination with ghost-stories and tales our mother told us, local tales she heard in her turn from her father and that often contained some supernatural elements. Our little brother started listening to metal music when he was eight years old and later on became a drummer for a Doom metal band named ‘Another Messiah’. A slight preference towards the ‘dark side’ apparently runs in our family and though most of both my father’s and mother’s family geneology has been mapped, we never found a reason why all three of us should have this tendency.
Almost naturally, a lot of my works in the art academy of Den Bosch were based into a language derrived from rock music: including devil’s horns and sinister and obscure imagery. Unfortunatly during this education I lost the will to draw, though drawing made me want to attend an art school in the first place. I replaced the drawing with video, writing and photography. I even made some sculptures, which due to the fragility of the material I used, don’t exist anymore. I started experimenting with darkened spaces and slide projections in the third year and graduated with an installation-like rather large darkened space that combined large black & white photography (each photo was about 1m20 x 1m80 in size), two slide installations and some short videos.
After my graduation I attended the Sandberg Institute in Amsterdam, which was, in all fairness, disasterous to my work and therefore also to my confidence. I did however, around 2000, got to own my first computer and soon found out the possibilities of the Photoshop program which I used to produce photographybased images that were intended as representations of supernatural or science-fiction like settings, scenes from parallel universes. I also discovered ways to add and manipulate artificial light effects in these images.
In 2001 I installed my Sandberg Institute graduation exhibition at the Mariakapel in Hoorn, which was in fact a chapel or a small church. Once again I darkened the space and filled it with extremely large slide projections that were digitally composed from images and texts concerning the subject of my thesis: a fictional correspondence from me – in a parallel universe where an ice age had suddenly set into the Northern hemisphere while the continent of Antarctica was defrosting – to art historian and art critic Tineke Reijnders. In this story I’m describing, in letters, my stay at the museum Boymans van Beuningen in Rotterdam, when most of the other inhabitants of these parts of the world moved to the South.
Not long after my graduation I moved Southwards myself, to Antwerp, where I was mostly concerned with understanding and using computerprograms. In 2003 I did an exhibition, ‘The Overall Urge to Intervene with Everything and Nothing’ together with Robert-Jan Verhagen in a gallery in Eindhoven, where we darkened the gallery and showed photographic images together with slide projections. At that time I made print outs of digitally manipulated photos, which were portraits or landscapes.
The limitations of the possibilities to present these prints started to bother me; I found it to be not enough to just hang these images on walls. I shifted my attention towards relatively new computer software, 3D-animation, of which it took quite some time to understand the basics. In 2004 I slowly started using one of these programs and in 2005 I made my first installation with this medium at the Sugarfree group exhibition in the Netwerk gallery in Aalst (Belgium). I showed five short animationloops of rotating 3D-animated ‘stones’, that were based on meteors and chrystals but looked much otherworldlier. These animations were shown on five small lcd-screens attached to a wall at the back of a large, bunkerlike space that, of course, was dark except for some red tubelights that lit only the part where the screens were to be seen. Each ‘rotating rock’ made its own soft sound, made by a friend.
Also in 2005 I was a resident at Kunsthuis Syb in Beetsterzwaag, where I made three computeranimations – none of which was made in 3D-animation, but they were mainly photographybased. These animations were shown at several international film festivals like Transmediale in Berlin, the Portable Film Festival in Sydney and Melbourne in Australia and the Impakt festival in Utrecht.
In 2006 I got so tired of being stuck at the computer that I finally, after ten years, started drawing again. First hesitant, with markers on A4s, but quickly the drawings became larger. I made my first mural in an independant exhibition space in Antwerp, Factor 44, which was combined with two red tubelights. It was 2m50 x 2m30 in size and still very graphic, almost comicy – which is a style of drawing that seems to come natural to me but with which I have a complicated relationship. The second mural was made a month after the first one and depicted a gorilla. I painted it on a concrete wall of 5 x 5 meters. Since the gorilla was drawn after a photo I took in the zoo of Berlin, where the animal (named Ivo) was just staring down at the floor, I had the painted gorilla look at some physical debris I placed at the bottom of the mural. Since this space too was rather dark, I used some red tubelights to light the mural from below.
In 2007 I started to make large drawings on paper by using Indian ink, combined with acrylic markers. Since in fact I wasn’t quite sure yet what I was doing and what I wanted to convey, a lot of these images consisted of an element that blocked the view on the background in the drawings: billboards. In one of the last and largest drawings (5m50 x 2m40) I made that year most part of the drawing was placed in a (drawn) frame of a billboard on which an apocalyptic landscape was depicted with a couple of people sitting in comfortable chairs and watching this setting. In the background the letters ‘Ragnarok’ – the Skandinavian mythological equivalent of the apocalypse were placed similar to the letters of the Hollywood sign. The classic comfortable chair is an element that has popped up since.
In 2008 I was a resident artist at the FLACC centre for the arts in Genk (Belgium), where I used an existing architectural interference - a white cube - in the space as the base for an installation. I used Indian ink on the walls and some colored tubelights in combination with a few small sculptural elements to adjust the scale. This installation was named ‘Pyrocluster I’ and had an apocalyptic feel to it but also referred, in some way, to graffiti street art. It was more abstract and very controlled.
In the summer of 2009 I went to Los Angeles for three months, to work as a resident artist in RAID Projects. I first intended to work with the notion of film and fiction, since Hollywood is also known as the Factory of Dreams. By coincidence I ended up on a road trip with two of my new made friends. We drove from L.A. through San Francisco all the way up to Mount St. Helens, the Oregon volcano that exploded in 1980. On our way back to Los Angeles we passed a village, Dunsmuir. The less than five minute passage through this village became the base for a narrative animation and for my solo-exhibition at the Base-Alpha gallery in Antwerp, that winter. I often wondered what exactly happened during my stay in sunny and glittering Los Angeles that made me build a dark temple, embedded into the history of art and imagemaking of ancient Europe. After my return from the residency I started to use the virtual 3D-program in another way that I’ve used it before; I started building shrines with it, that got overlayed with barely recognizable textures of some of my earlier drawings. Simultaniously, I used the shrine-like models as designs for large murals in black. I also found a way to integrate projected images (animations) into the installations.
At first I did this by projecting an animation loop above a drawing, but in 2010 I experimented at an exhibition of only one evening in Antwerp with actually projecting an animationloop onto a mural: I made a mural drawing, roughly lifesize, of a comfortable chair that was placed in front of an open window. The surface of the open window was black and on that surface the projection was placed. The space was very dark, only lit by one dark room development light bulb and the videoprojection. Though the animation was projected on a brick, rough wall, the image succeeded in suggesting a limitless space through the wall. This was also the first time I’d asked a professional musician, Tim Vanhamel, to provide the soundtrack.
Curator Ronald Van De Sompel (now working at Museum M, Leuven) that just started working on the ‘Hareng Saur: Ensor and contemporary art’ exhibtion in both S.M.A.K. and MSK in Ghent, asked me to reproduce this installation on a larger scale for this purpose. I perfected the animation and extended the design for the mural so it would fill a large part of the (darkened) space at the S.M.A.K. museum.
In the designs for the murals, that are built in a virtual 3D environment, I usually use only one virtual light to light the scene or objects. I’m working with a continuously growing database of elements and objects that I can use and re-use to construct designs with. After I’ve rendered a design into a flat image (a jpeg), I print it onto a transparent sheet, which I project with an oldfashioned overhead projector on the wall. Then I start to fill in the shadows and dark parts. I like the fact that I’m taking steps back into time in terms of the techniques I use: first the computer, then the simple overhead projector, then the paint or the ink on the wall or paper. Finally I place a dim lamp in roughly the same position in the physical space as where it was in the virtual space, which gives an unsettling effect of depth in the mural – as if the painted objects/scenes become dimensional.
For a while I thought drawing on paper would be a crippled subsitute for these kind of installations, so I stopped making those until december 2010 when I transfered my way of making murals onto large format paper. These drawings have much more detail than the murals and since I don’t need to consider the placement of light in a physical space, I can do more with that within the (designs for the) drawings. I’ve started on a series of drawings of which one flows into another – this will be a series of at least 30 drawings, ‘stages’ perhaps. The backgrounds are always black, an impervious fog. Next to this I’m working on a new installation for a small solo exhibition at LhGWR in The Hague opening april 16 and a new work for a project in Kortrijk this summer. All of these works are closely related to or in fact already part of my research.