OWNNOW - René Daniëls


OWNNOW René Daniëls

08/07/2017 - 03/09/2017
part of the Deviant Practice research programme

OWNNOW presents constellations of drawings and paintings from the archives of the René Daniëls Foundation, a great part of which is hosted and managed by the Van Abbemuseum. The exhibition is curated by Sara Giannini in the framework of the Deviant Practice Research Programme.
The selected artworks span several decades and states of completion, and many have not been presented in public before. Following Daniëls’ deconstruction of language, space and time, the display doesn’t use captions, dates and titles. Finished and unfinished coexist, past and future blur, complicating our perception of history and belonging.

Before opening to the public, OWNNOW formed the basis of a series of workshops conducted by Giannini in collaboration with performance artists Mercedes Azpilicueta and Stav Yeini. For three consecutive days, OWNNOW became the stage of performative encounters with individuals whose speech abilities stretch our definition of language. Together they experimented with various forms of bodily language, with open conceptions of time and interpretation.

In the spirit of the workshops, we invite all visitors to experience the exhibition room as a multi-dimensional time capsule across which to move and be moved. Imagine walking through the space as if you would be walking through time and ponder:

Where is the past? Where is the present? Where is the future?

The archives of René Daniëls are exemplary of the inherent paradoxes and contradictions of archiving, intended as an act of relegating something to an immutable and eternal past.

In 1987, at the young age of 37 and at the peak of his artistic career, René Daniëls suffered a brain hemorrhage that forced him to stop painting and left him without the use of speech. Much that was found at his studio became part of the René Daniëls Foundation and was archived at the Van Abbemuseum. The archive is a mix of drawings, sketches, notes, and paintings both titled and untitled, dated and undated, finished and unfinished, leading to questions of artistic legitimacy and authenticity. The underlying art historical discourse is centered around a violent rupture that serves the archival vocation to be complete, definitive and finite.

With her project Giannini is trying to question such narrative and unsettle the logic of archival practice. The starting point for this undoing is a drawing by René Daniëls that she found in the archive. In the drawing, the words "old" and "new" appear at first separated by a central line and later meet within an intricate texture of bricks. This unexpected encounter pushed Giannini to look at the archive as a receptacle of entangled temporalities, rather than as something trapped in the past. She started to doubt the past-future causality typical of chronological time and wondered: Can the future create and recreate the past?

Gazed upon from the future, Daniëls’ artistic oeuvre makes implode all the premises behind his archiving. His complex and mysterious work weaves a theory of the unfinished and the infinite through a humorous approach to space, time and language. Numerous drawings and paintings can be read as a meta-critical reflection on art history and museology, stripping off the myth of chronology and transparency.

In Daniëls’ drawings, language literally turns into a figure of speech. In its relation to the visual sign, it is associative and dissociative, always in referral. Language often manipulates the representation of space-time categories, becoming the key to open the closed doors of the “already archived”. It is from this perspective that we can perhaps read the series “hystoria mysteria,” the paths of words, the many door locks and doors, the famous bow-ties, that are also exhibition spaces inside exhibitions spaces, in an endless mirror game.

Daniëls used to continue to work on his paintings, layer after layer, even after having exhibited them. He would change their titles too, subtracting them from the potential trap of definition and finitude. In this sense, every Renè Daniëls is a contemporary, untitled and unfinished René Daniëls. Through the folds of history, René Daniëls is speaking to us.

Sara would like to thank Marleen Gijsen and René Daniëls for their support and collaboration.