Prohibited to enter the Woods, but doing so nonetheless
The most obvious characteristic of Marian Hulshof, to my mind, has to do with prohibition and closely related to that, danger seeking.
Born amongst the woods of Gelderland (the Netherlands) she was naturally attracted by the trees, the woods, and the wish to explore them fully – parent’s warnings notwithstanding.
The esteemed dangerous woods are an almost archetypical phenomena. And the child that disregards the parental warnings and enters the apparently dangerous woods, does something we know all too well. The collection of fairy tales of Grimm knows such children. And the story of such children very often does not have a happy ending! In the fairy tale of Marian Hulshof we recover the children – she and her friend – in a tree. And they became – very fairy tale-like – invisible. Sitting in the tree they can see the people, but the people can’t see them.
It is here that we must begin to sketch a portrait of this artist: sitting, invisibly in a tree, looking down at the people. Although tree like forms are visually dominant in her work, and there are no explicitly human forms present, I cannot escape the feeling that the subject is people. Her trees behave, not just stand, they seem essential and with character, as if they speak: the human, observed from the tree, is portrayed by the image of the tree, a wonderful circular movement. With this closed circle Marian could fill a complete artistic life.
But there is something more at play in her work. She talks about ´the border´. A tree might be an archetype, a border is so, just as much. A border is only a real border if it is trespassed. The border is the room in the castle of Bluebeard that no one can set foot in: as long as that rule is obeyed, the room is only a door. Only by opening the door, the room comes to life, the secret is exposed, danger is unchained. And so it is with each border: it has to be trespassed to grant it the right to exist. This happens in the work of Marian. Again and again she has to cross a border, again and again she has to do things that are literally extraordinary.
One might think that the artists’ world is boundless. To outsiders, art is often considered a pre-eminently free world – indeed a symbol of ultimate freedom. Actually the opposite is true: the world of art knows borders, restrictions, order and prohibitions. In the woods of art there are no signs, no signposts that indicate prefabricated routes; there seems to be freedom. But there are plenty of codes, do’s and don’ts. So you would do better – certainly as a woman – not sew on your painting! Not to mention the fact that maybe you would do better in making a video, a photograph or an installation. But given the fact that you want to make paintings – which has become accepted again – than sewing is still not the best idea. For a woman it is gender stereotypical and that is definitely not a positive qualification. Marian however, goes beyond borders by embracing the female gender role, she crosses the border and visualizes the prohibition by defying it. Of course no one has said explicitly that you ought not to sew on a painting. Marian has visualized the prohibition in the discomfort you feel. As a male spectator I had moments in which I thought: is this really a good idea? But the rating of an idea lies in the quality of its implementation. A stereotype is only experienced as a stereotype when it lacks quality. But quality stops every person’s mouth that would have uttered: don’t do it. And that happened to me. The thing Marian did might be natural, but it is astonishing because of its quality. The border was trespassed and the danger warded off. With art’s own properties: the visual intelligence and the controlled handicraft.
But it became worse: the fabrics became baroque: velvet, satin, fluffy hair tufts. And then the colors: so flamboyant, even fluorescent. Add to this the dots, stains and ornaments. And the use of thickened acrylic and metallic paints like gold paint and one can establish: Marian Hulshof brings a complete wrong array of organ pipes into action to attain her aim. In fact just about every part of Marian’s work could have induced me to a flat disapproval. And not just me. Everybody knows that one can have too much of a good thing. Less is more is the most pronounced would-be-flower of speech in art education. In the hands of every other person the means Marian uses, would lead to a hopeless result. Not in her case! How is that possible?
In her work Marian does something that is indispensable for every good artistic calling, something that is easier said than done. Every artwork has to have its own necessity. And that necessity is always settled in the personality of the artist. Innere Notwendigkeit as it is called by Kandinski who introduces the notion in his book Das Geistige in der Kunst. Inner necessity, that is what it is about.
It helps when you have lived life. When you know a little bit more. It also helps when you are clever – when you are capable of looking, reasoning, drawing conclusions about the reality you are examining – whilst staying invisible yourself. It’s a great help when you have a vision. When you, besides questions, also have an opinion (an answer is not always necessary). It is then that you might see borders in a male-dominated world, that you – as a woman – must visualize by trespassing them. And you should not do it half hearted, but completely. You put the complete, outrageous lot of means, conceptions, materials, colors and techniques into play, without any reserve.
Of course, there is danger. You venture into unfamiliar grounds. You have to cut your own way. You brush past the gorge of the empty fuss. In Marian’s case the path leads through a tropical wilderness with enchanting colors, with scented flowers that tease our senses. It has shapes that appear to contain all kinds of stories, not necessarily the most innocent. There is a huge amount of erotic in the shape language of the magic garden into which we are lured.
Marian talks about her inner conflict between passion and control. In her work we experience this conflict, but this time as a strength. We see the control in the numerous actions needed to accomplish a work. I believe it is no exaggeration to talk about a sacrifice. The control is that of a professional woman who gives everything to create her work. And the shapes, they are full of passion. In the shapes she allows herself complete freedom. They are literally and figuratively a delight for the eye. Her inner conflict between control and passion is transformed unhindered into images. That is the way she cares about Innere Notwendigkeit. Doing so nothing really can go wrong. Then this whole baroque world can be poured out over us. Then, what everywhere else would be called kitsch, becomes art. We feel emotions, we are touched. That is the trespassing performance with which Marian Hulshof tempts us into the garden of Eden.
Allow yourself to be tempted.
Olphaert den Otter