– Autumn/Winter 2013

The Actions of Bodies: Approaching Lili Dujourie

Anders Kreuger

Lili Dujourie, Hommage à... I, 1972, video, black and white, silent, 20min, still. Courtesy the artist and M HKA, Antwerp

Each time I make a work I use one word, and in the end perhaps I’ll have a sentence.
— Lili Dujourie1

Last time I wrote for these pages I asked one of the oldest questions of criticism. What are the comparative virtues of words and images? Words, I suggested, serve as the medium that allows us to read each other’s minds by eliminating misunderstanding, while images aim directly at our faculty of understanding. Words, I ended up claiming, are about precision; images about immediacy.2

This is just one aspect of the unsettled dispute between pictura and poesis, or ‘painting’ and ‘poetry’ — both so loftily defined as to create an imprecision that calls for continuous mediation. There is also the issue of how the different arts should be ranged with each other in a hierarchy of sorts. Is imagination larger than language? Must poetry therefore bow to painting? This happened in antiquity, when Horace wrote ‘as is painting so is poetry’, meaning that text needed as much interpretative effort as was then lavished on the painted (or sculpted) image.3 Or must image-based art justify itself to forms of art relying on language? This has often been the case in more recent history.

Such speculation, I believe, is neither too specialised nor too historical for discussing the art of our time. I find it particularly relevant for approaching the relentlessly innovative oeuvre of Lili Dujourie, which spans nearly half a century of time that we may call ours.

When Gotthold Ephraim Lessing published his polemical Laocoon: An Essay upon the Limits of Painting and Poetry in 1766,

  1. The quotes that punctuate this article are based on notes from my interviews with Lili Dujourie on 24 May and 22 June 2013 in her combined home and studio at Lovendegem, a village — which in densely populated Flanders means an enhanced presence of houses and gardens in a continuum of inhabited space — between Ghent and Bruges. Dujourie may be defined as a ‘studio artist’, always working at her own pace in her own space, and it was therefore appropriate to visit her there.

  2. Anders Kreuger, ‘O, Outside, show me your innermost! Simryn Gill’s My Own Private Angkor’, Afterall, issue 33, Summer 2013, pp.89—97.

  3. Horace, Ars Poetica (c.18 BCE), reprinted in Robert W. Corrigan (ed.), Roman Drama: In Modern Translations (trans. Norman J. De Witt), New York: Dell Publishing, 1966, p.375.

  4. Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Laocoon: An Essay upon the Limits of Painting and Poetry (1766, trans. Ellen Frothingham), Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1887, p.91.

  5. This is consistent with the title of Mieke Bal’s book about Dujourie, Hovering Between Thing and Event: Encounters with Lili Dujourie (London, Brussels and Munich: Lisson Gallery, Galerie Xavier Hufkens and Kunstverein München, 1998), although the text largely focuses on how to read Dujourie’s oeuvre through the experience of studying the Baroque.

  6. The Belgian Congo, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, gained independence in 1960, as did the states of Rwanda and Burundi (the former Ruanda-Urundi) in 1962.

  7. See Koen Brams and Dirk Pültau’s interview with Dujourie in De Witte Raaf, no.126, March—April 2007, available at http://www.ernahecey.com/files/deWitteRaaf126.pdf (last accessed on 27 July 2013).

  8. It also exists in an alternative manifestation, as a series of delicate pastel drawings representing the variously coloured metal plates, made in 1972. The installation was not realised until 1979, in the exhibition ‘Aktuele Kunst in België, Inzicht/Overzicht, Overzicht/Inzicht (‘Current Art in Belgium: Insight/Overview; Overview/Insight’) at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Ghent, 23 March— 30 April 1979.

  9. The Oxford English Dictionary entry for enjambment, available at http://oxforddictionaries.com/ definition/english/enjambement?q=enjambement (last accessed on 27 July 2013).

  10. In their interview with Dujourie, K. Brams and D. Pültau remark: ‘In 1982 the collectors Jan Dewilde and Christian Mys organised the exhibition "Contemporary Belgian Art" in the Maagdendale monastery in Oudenaarde. For the poster you made a group photograph of all the participants: Jacques Charlier, Jef Geys, Bernd Lohaus, Panamarenko, Jan Vercruysse, Didier Vermeiren and yourself. [...] Het Gewad [the name of a street in Ghent] was an association for contemporary art, run by collectors such as Anton Herbert and art specialists such as Joost Declercq and Jan Debbaut. They made sure another voice was heard in Ghent, alongside the Museum of Contemporary Art and its association. Het Gewad published a journal, where artists wrote about each other’s work. Jan Vercruysse, for instance, wrote about your work and that of André Cadere. [...] In 1982 you begin to make works in silk and velvet. You exhibit them at Galerie Micheline Szwajcer [in Antwerp] (1983), Galerie ‘t Venster in Rotterdam (1984) and Lisson Gallery in London (1984). The beginning of an international career.’ ‘Interview with Lili Dujourie’, De Witte Raaf, no.124, November—December 2006. Translation the author’s.

  11. Rudi Fuchs curated Documenta 7 in 1982 and Jan Hoet Documenta 9 in 1992.

  12. See Lynne Cooke, ‘Lili Dujourie: Time Regained’, in Lili Dujourie: Jeux de dames (exh. cat.), Brussels: Bozarbooks, 2005, pp.18—20.

  13. See L. Cooke, Lili Dujourie: Nature’s Lore (exh. brochure), Madrid: Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, 2011, unpaginated.

  14. The title is a quote from Flemish poet Hugues C. Pernath.

  15. Rogier van der Weyden was a Flemish painter from the fifteenth century, much appreciated in his own time and until the seventeenth century, when his art went out of fashion and many of his key works were destroyed. Today he is considered one of the greatest of the Vlaamse primitieven, or Flemish Primitives.

  16. Dujourie has said: ‘What I found fascinating with Rogier van der Weyden is the autonomy of his garments. They form a second skin. The figures move, and the garments remain hanging, making a counter-movement, arresting the body.’ ‘Interview with Lili Dujourie’, De Witte Raaf, no.124, op. cit. Translation the author’s.

  17. M. Bal, Hovering Between Thing and Event, op. cit., p.109. Leibniz writes, in a letter to Antoine Arnauld on 14 July 1686: ‘I think there is an infinity of possible ways in which to create the world, according to the different designs which God could form, and that each possible world depends on certain principal designs or purposes of God which are distinctive of it.’ See http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ leibniz-modal (last accessed on 27 July 2013).

  18. Conversation with the artist, 24 May 2013.

  19. Despite the explicit literary reference in the title, I cannot help thinking of Witold Gombrowicz's under-recognised Gothic novel Opętani (The Possessed, serialised in two Polish newspapers just before the German invasion on 1 September 1939), in which one of the main characters is a towel hanging on the kitchen wall in a haunted castle, always moving, as if blown by an other-worldly breeze...

  20. Three of these works (Cecilia, Cyrus and Dolores) were exhibited at documenta 12 in 2007, together with works in fired clay and collages from the Roman series.

  21. Conversation with the artist, 24 May 2013. The Maelstroem series is not yet finished. A piece based on the pink newspaper Financial Times remains to be made.

  22. ‘La naturaleza es sabia’ (‘Nature’s Lore’) was a solo exhibition curated by Lynne Cooke and organised by the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía at the Santo Domingo de Silos Abbey, 10 June— 25 September 2011.

  23. G.E. Lessing, Laocoon, op. cit., pp.91—92.