Maaike Engelen

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Maaike Engelen


This text is written to give a philosophical and poetical voice to the exhibition ‘wssohwte?’, curated by Wapke Feenstra. The exhibition featured works by Paul Devens, Wapke Feenstra, Zeger Reyers, Toril Rygh, Anne Lise Stenseth and Martin Walde.

Where I am.

At the gathering of the colours

in areas red, green and blue,

arises the prospect on both of us

and the knowledge I love you.

In the sunlight on my legs and my

head free from the ground, spins my

heart from side to side, is fuse,

the colours which gather and the

smile around my mouth.

Waar ik ben.

Bij het samenkomen van de kleuren

in vlakken rood, groen en blauw,

ontstaat het uitzicht op ons beiden

en weet ik dat ik van je hou.

In het zonlicht op mijn benen en mijn

hoofd los van de grond, tolt mijn

hart naar alle kanten, is lont,

de kleuren die samenkomen en de

glimlach rond mijn mond.

Six artists from different countries came together in TENT., an exhibition space in Rotterdam.The Dutch artist Wapke Feenstra brought them together. She was impressed by the work of her fellow artists and wanted to do a show with them. She curated this show and participated in it as well. At the same time she invited some writers, including me, to give a textual impression of her show.

The moment I walked in I thought of a self-portrait. Together with the other artists, Wapke Feenstra had created a complicated self. It appeared to me this way, because of the sensual emanation the works together showed, and I wasn’t sure each work individually would radiate that physically. In fact I doubt it. I think it was the combination of the works that created this physical presence, this sensual person, which was not only being looked at but was looking back. Not only being touched, but also touching back, seeking a conversation about what it means to be oneself.


Space left over, sharply drawn,

space indicating sanguine growth,

grows in heads and opens hearts to bloom.
Space left behind; where to enter,

where to see through? Space, you bird in the tree

which I know is a blackbird and a sound

beyond the congenial.


Ruimte die overblijft, scherp getekend,

ruimte als teken van hoopvolle gewassen,

groeit in hoofden en ontgint harten de bloei in.

Ruimte die achterblijft; waar is de ingang,

de doorkijk? Ruimte jij vogel in de boom

die ik ken is een merel zwart en een klank

voorbij wat aangenaam is.

This complicated and compounded self came into existence because of a personal choice to create it. This came forth out of a personal interest in art and creating. I think that a deep longing in the necessity of creating, is to create something that is alive, because it has a soul. Because of this more or less hidden longing these artists together gave birth to a new creature that in a modest way was telling us something quite important: in this creature all our senses were activated, activated in a way that was not really astonishingly sensational. It happened unnoticed. And that I found very interesting.

Most of the works didn’t really try to challenge the visitor to use other senses than the eyes. But at the same time one found oneself touching a form of silicone, eating mussels, hearing a big bang while not immediately seeing what caused that, stroking wood, thinking about the feel of birds’ feathers and enjoying the light atmosphere of the exhibition space. All the works together were not intentionally meant to create a new tender looking person, but at the same time the works together most strongly made me experience such a person. Together they acquired an enchanting glow that could not be reduced to the glow of each individual work. Everything in me sensed this glow, I saw it, I smelled it, I heard it, I thought it, I tasted it, and I was smiling because of it. But I do not think I can explain rationally what caused it. Was it because the works individually were so very remarkable? I do not think that. I think many regular visitors of exhibitions see work that is like this kind of work, and are familiar with it. Also all the works together didn’t show us something quite extraordinary… but at the same time the whole atmosphere of the show was breathing with life. And that made this show as far as I experienced it different from other shows I have seen lately. It was its liveliness that struck me and what brought me to the experience of this self-portrait. Not so much the kind of works, or the quality of the works, or the combination of the works, however fine, but the vividness in the atmosphere created by the show. And this vividness was not created by a sensational event, but was just there in a quiet, serene way, and I really liked that.

For that reason I found this show also to be a self-portrait of the senses themselves. We use them and partly are them; hardly being able to make a constant conscious distinction between them and us, and without giving that very much of attention. We find it quite normal, we live in the world and have experiences all the time, we do not find that very sensational, but this show made me wonder about that, wonder about the fact why we do not find it so very sensational to experience all the time. There is no switch to turn us on and of, it is there or it is dead. I found in this modest living creature a confrontation with my own sensing all the time, and how sensational in fact that is. How sensational in fact it is that I do not all the time make a distinction between my seeing, my hearing, my touching, my smelling, my tasting, my perceiving, and my reflecting. These are happening all the time, and all together at the same time, all together they create something more than they are themselves and something that can not be reduced to the individual sensations, they create me.


I can’t perish more gently

than in eternity, without falling

to pieces, or flinging

my arms around me.

If nowhere I am, and exist, possibly

as thought, then what do I hold on to,

of whom may I expect

endurance of such kind?


Ik kan niet zachter vergaan

dan in eeuwigheid, zonder uiteen

te vallen in verschillende delen of de

armen om me heen te slaan.
Als ik nergens ben en zo besta, mogelijk

als gedachte, waar houd ik dan aan vast,

van wie mag ik verwachten dat hij

zich zo kan uithouden?

In the choices she made Wapke showed her courage, being vulnerable, selecting work of others out of love for their creations, or for a completely pragmatic reason, not judging the one choice, the better choice, but accepting that both ways of dealing with art are part of being an artist.

At the same time there was a connection between the works of the artists; all created work containing a tension between making something beautiful and making something out of necessity, all were aware of the tension between those two options and played with it. This connection was there because it is a theme in Wapke’s works too, and this theme in her work obviously led her in her choices, more than anything else. It is a broad theme and a theme that allows one a lot of different choices.


From beyond breath is being

raised to my countenance,

have I sprung, away

from the buds in the trees,

from the blossom my heart,

from the water lawless,

I am.

Van gene zijde komt de adem,

in mijn aangezicht geheven,

ben ik verder weg ontsprongen

aan de knoppen in de bomen

aan de bloesem die mijn hart is

aan het water dat geen wet is,

ben ik.

Her choices also made it more clear to me how her own work is part of this creature. It showed me the sensitiveness her work expresses. The sensitiveness for what is hidden in the materials themselves she uses. What is gracefully hidden in her work is that beauty is a choice one has to make.

But because she knows it is a choice one has to make, she understands how easily this beauty will vanish or will be corrupted by it or others.

She shows with her work that beauty is more than an aesthetical thing. She shows us that beauty has a moral dimension as well, and has a spiritual dimension too. The conceptual choice to make something beautiful is her way of saying that one can also act in a beautiful way, a morally rightful way. Her work shows the tension in this being beautiful. Everything in it is presented to us with a smile around it; this could have been something very ugly or not noticeable too.

I think what she liked in the silicon mountain, or silicon breast, or silicon jellyfish of Martin Walde, this multi-interpretable form in a tub of water, was that it had something very awkward and ugly about it, it could have been ‘nothing’ as well, instead of art. But at the same time it remained fascinating because one kept on thinking whether this was meant to be this way or not.

The very physical works of Toril Rygh, had the same kind of tension. The old gravures were quite beautiful and impressive and not created by her, and the bodily forms in front of them and created by her, were more or less ugly, banal, almost laughable, but jointly they created a secretive, almost holy sacrifice of the human being of flesh and blood, unable to be something like a flying angel.

This work brought the experience of having one’s feet on the ground and one’s head in the clouds very near. In this work the tension between understanding and beauty was expressed. It is difficult to keep on experiencing the beauty of what one understands completely.


I am as birds in flocks gone by, in a vague cloud of dreams

still unfolding from somewhere.

I am becoming a day whose noon is taken in by light,

expressed in every fibre of every cell, on water, land, in human hand.

Now I sing with the blackbirds a tune revering what exists, a melody

without sense, but full of meaning is everything going by in my stride.


Ik ben zoals de vogels in vluchten ver verstreken, in vage wolk van dromen

nog steeds ergens vandaan aan het komen.
Ik ben een dag aan het worden waarvan het middaguur is opgenomen door het licht,

in iedere vezel van elke cel is uitgedrukt, op water, land, in mensenhand.

Nu zing ik helder met de merels een wijs die eerbiedigt wat bestaat, een melodie

zonder zin maar vol betekenis is alles wat in mijn gang vergaat.

Again this insight brought me back to the term ‘self-portrait’. Because a self-portrait is always expressing this tension between being beautiful and being average or ugly, between being a good person, a nobody or a bad person. The face, created by the self, is not able to make a choice that is one-dimensional. Even the worst self-portrait gives expression to this understanding of the tension in itself.

What brought me to a self-portrait too is the fact that one most easily thinks about a painted image of the face. But a self-portrait of course is also the autobiography, the self-portrait poem, the three-dimensional sculpture, the house one designs, the garden one develops, the way one raises one’s children and even the meal one cooks. So what a self-portrait is, is easily connected with the theme of the exhibition in a most unsensational way, as the exhibition itself is not sensational but thoughtful. It is obvious not only a painting can be a self-portrait, but it is as obvious it is one of the first things to think about.


I have never ever been written, never slipped and landed in the water,

I have never ever reached out my arms, and haven’t been a bird blind,

I have never ever sung with a voice, left my eyes open, moistened my lips:

‘I love you dearly, so dearly, my dear.’
I have a second voice, my third being on its way, I have a spade

for planting, I need a broom and a rake, ever since I love the earth.

I need more tools to stand upright, for I am hungry

as never before.

‘I love you dearly, so dearly, my dear.’

Ik ben nog nooit geschreven, niet uitgegleden in het water terechtgekomen,

ik heb nog nooit mijn armen uitgestrekt en ben geen blinde vogel geweest,

ik heb nog nooit gezongen met een stem, mijn ogen opengelaten, mijn

lippen bevochtigd:

‘ik heb je lief, zo lief, mijn lief.’

Ik heb een tweede stem, en mijn derde stem is onderweg, ik heb een spade

om te poten, ik heb een bezem nodig en een hark, sinds ik van de aarde hou.

Ik heb meer instrumenten nodig om rechtop te staan, want ik ben hongerig

als nooit tevoren.

‘Ik heb je lief, zo lief, mijn lief.’

Also the work of the other artists was very personal, pointing out an almost tender approach towards life. The technical aspect of Paul Devens’ work seemed at first sight not that tender but more funny, or astonishing, but through the surprise effect in the ‘big bang’ of his sheet of corrugated iron, which sounded every six minutes and had nothing to do with walking over it or not, some irony was brought in about the efficiency technical things are supposed to have. As a sheet of corrugated iron on the floor, it had no use besides eliciting the expectation something should happen by walking over it. But that proved to be wrong, for what happened, happened for its own sake. With that the efficiency of technology was questioned, and tenderness was brought in. It was like thinking about one’s car as a living person, talking with it, as with one’s computer. Feeling that in all kind of material some soul is still hidden, however much it is mechanised. It is almost impossible not to personalize objects if one takes them serious. Even a simple sheet of corrugated iron talks out of itself.

As said, I experienced all the works together as a new work, as a personality with a complex structure; defensive, tender, intelligent, ironical, joyful, in a hidden way quite aggressive, and secretive. A person that would not easily reveal itself to others, only to very close friends. But at the same time a person most people would be able to feel at ease with, especially children who understand the sensational in everyday sensing very well.
A beautiful person to look at, with a tender handshake, dark eyes but with a cool complexion. A person with a rather low voice but a gracious walk and having very much light in the smile.

Someone easily trusted by others, but not often understood rightfully.

That is the person these six artists created together. And I as a seventh ‘voice’, I too give my voice to this art-person; I hope she will keep on existing, joyfully inviting others to learn to know her.
This is also a self-portrait of Maaike Engelen, philosopher and poet.

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