Rini Hurkmans

Pietà 1993 - 2009

Hurkmans, Rini. Pietà 1993 - 2009. Amsterdam: Self-published, 2010.

With a textual contribution by Bert Steevensz:

The Pietàs of Rini Hurkmans

From the beginning of her art career on, Dutch artist Rini Hurkmans uses several techniques and media to express her ideas and intuitions. Photography, video, installation and sculpture are the artistic languages she utilises, emphasizing that it is not formal appearance that is central in her work but conceptual aspects and content.

Until 1997, the sculptures she created were ambiguous, cocoon-like biomorphic forms, placed on ‘pedestals’, or hanging in a metal framework. In 1993, she started to make a photograph of herself, positioned between one of her sculptures and a pedestal. Her first Pietà came into being. It is an intriguing work, because on one side she accentuates the biomorphic nature of her sculpture, and herself as its creator or ‘mother’, at the other hand there is a feeling of lost, of melancholy and lifelessness; referring to the religious image of Virgin Mary, holding the inanimate body of Christ on her lap, a Pietà is passionate representation of love and lost, life and death, but also of salvation and comfort. Hurkmans decided that this first Pietà would be the start of a new series of work, as a specific kind of self-portrait, which will be redone every two year, in a new setting. The only recurring part is the central and frontal positioning of the artist herself, motionless, holding some kind of object on her lap. The series is always done in black and white, making the photograph more abstract, less anecdotal. With each new Pietà, the surrounding space and the shape on the woman’s lap vary.

In the course of time the series also have undergone a subtle but significant shift of emphasis, or actually two shifts. First, starting with her own work of art as object held in front of her, the nature of this object gradually changes and become more related to its surrounding. Second, the surrounding itself has also been submitted to a transformation. The first photographs were taken within an interior, a space confined by walls. The first two Pietàs are set in a neutral space that could be an exhibition room with its typical white walls. The third one surprises because the wall has explicit features, with bear bricks partly covered by tiles, suggesting an industrial past. A dramatic edge is added by the mask that the artists wears: the mother is given the appearance of an executioner, which on its turn influences the perception of the room with its tiled wall. Is it a slaughterhouse? The fourth picture is again different, for it abandons the rectangular rigour of the former three works. The dilapidated brick wall at the back is shown from an angle, giving the picture more ‘life’, more a sense of movement, though the wall still gives a strong feeling of confinement. The artist is no more seated, but standing. She is no more holding a firm biomorphic three dimensional object, but a limp peace of paper, actually a photograph of a beach with a house on a cliff. So, the outside world is gradually entering the picture, as is explicitly visible in the sixth and seventh Pietàs. There, the walls have disappeared and the setting is now in the open: a city and a field. The more dynamicly pictured inner yard, with a reference to the open, i.e. nature, finds its sequel in the dynamic of the city, or even the city of all cities: New York. But the next picture, though still in the open, is the opposite of the bustle of a town. The artist, seated in a mowed field, is holding a pile of straw in her lap. In the latest photographs, the artist returns to an interior, first looking like an interior of a building that is falling apart in pieces. Light from the outside world is entering the space through large windows. But in the latest two there is no reference anymore to the outside world. But compared to the white walls of the start of this series, the walls all show a past, a history. And also there is no more only the object on her womb, but we also discern a stove and a pile of plants next to her.

This double shift of object and ground runs parallel with a change in Hurkmans’s other works. Where the artist’s attention in the beginning was aimed at the personal and the art world, she gradually opened her work to the world and recent human history. For a memorial park in Buenos Aires, she has designed a sculpture as a homage to the victims of state terrorism in Argentina, and the mothers and wives who lost their beloved ones. In The Netherlands she has realized a monument against senseless violence. She has also made a video-installation inspired by one of the tragic consequences of the war between Iran and Iraq: the lost of young lifes. The world and global events, often related the role human aggression, gradually enter Hurkmans’s body of work, including her unique self-portraits or Pietàs. The return to the inner world in her latest Pietàs is not so much a return to the world of the artist herself, but is more an expression of her need to internalize the pain of the outside world. For it is by empathy, by compassion, that we can truly experience the world, being a part of the world herself.

In this series the artist is linking the private and the public, human aggression and empathy, lost and comfort. The artist is not a person who is working within the confinement of the studio, so she seems to state, but has to keep the eyes and the mind open to the actual, global situation we live in. The series as a whole shows the intriguing development of her work as a reflection of the changing Zeitgeist.

Bert Steevensz, art critic, Amsterdam 2010