Touching Country | Maarten Daudeij
Dates: December 2013 - January 2014
Where: Current Projects
From: odradekaeaf @ Australian Experimental Art Foundation
Details: Digital print on archival paper
Writer: Katherine Dionysius
Maarten Daudeij (1981) is a Dutch born, Adelaide-based artist. He was awarded a Bachelor-degree in new media from the Gerrit Rietveld Academy, Amsterdam and is currently undertaking a PhD by studio-project at the University of South Australia. He has exhibited and performed in formal as well as guerrilla shows in Europe, Asia, America and Australia. This includes venues such as Stedelijk Museum, Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia, Mildura Palimpsest, Art Gallery of South Australia, Aleppo Railway Station and Van Abbemuseum. Daudeij’s work is held in public collections in Europe and Australia as well as in many private collections worldwide.
Katherine Dionysius is an art writer and curator. She completed a Bachelor of Creative Industries (Visual Arts) with Honours at QUT in 2010, with a focus on curatorial studies. Her Honours research examined the contemporary art experience, by investigating shared curatorial strategies of art museums and alternative exhibition spaces. Katherine worked at QUT Art Museum from 2009 to 2013, and is a founding co-director of Brisbane based art collective, Current Projects. She is currently Head of Research at 89plus, an international research project co-curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist and Simon Castets, investigating the generation of creative practitioners born in and after 1989.
by Katherine Dionysius
It would be easy to categorise Maarten Daudeij as a ‘landscape artist’. As a European artist who recently immigrated to Australia and whose work draws largely from the Australian landscape for its subject matter, the title seems fitting. When I first saw his work, I was reminded of Arthur Streeton, Tom Roberts, Margaret Preston – artists whose work sought to capture a sense of the Australian identity through depicting the country’s unique landscape. However, when I spoke to Maarten about his work, while he agreed that his role as an immigrant and the cultural dilemmas surrounding this have become very acute, he said that by transcending these dilemmas, more and more there was an awareness of ‘something bigger going on.’[i] I asked, ‘Like what?’
Daudeij’s Touching country, exhibited in Current Project’s Windowbox at Ryan Renshaw Gallery, is a single photograph that shows the artist’s right hand touching the ground with his fingers spread and his palm flat against the hard clay soil typical of the Australian outback. The photograph was taken on a trip to a small farm in the Flinders Ranges in South Australia, belonging to the artist’s friends. Throughout the course of his PhD research, Daudeij has been to stay at the farm several times because he finds that within nature, the ideas for his work become sharper and gain depth.
For Maarten Daudeij, there is a moment when an artwork opens up or poetry can be written, which can only be found when he is immersed in nature. He explains, ‘There is… a force in me that sees… a life in me that sees… when that happens there is something which I understand and feel is more profound than the shapes [of the world].’[ii] In this moment of clarity, it is as if time collapses, and the artist is able to see ‘truths’ rather than ‘ideas’. This, of course, is the ‘stuff’ of art making, and Daudeij says that while he had moments like these while living in the Netherlands, he feels that they are much easier to experience in the Australian landscape.
If seeing ‘truths’ is the ‘stuff’ of good art making, then being able to communicate multiple, ‘truths’ simultaneously in one visual object is the ‘stuff’ of good art. For Daudeij, the idea of the artist putting up a work somewhere is, in some ways, similar to placing a flag. This idea was made explicit in the first work he made in Australia, White flag, which he considers to be the most powerful work he has made in his time here, because it is so simple yet so multi-faceted and so self-contradictory. Typically, the action of planting a flag is a means of marking territory, but here, the flag is white, signalling surrender. The colour white, however, is particularly poignant here, given Australia’s history of colonisation. Therefore, in a way, ‘surrendering’ is the worst possible thing the artist can do. According to Daudeij, these contradictions are difficult to deal with as a human being, but as an artist, it’s incredibly fruitful to explore these areas where paradoxes arise. He explains, ‘When I’m making work, I’m sitting in a space where two [opposing] truths can sit together… When I try to put it into words, it’s not possible.’[iii] This sense of duality is paramount to his practice, and can be clearly read in his work, Touching country.
Daudeij often takes photos of hands, for the reason that they are so symbolic of this sense of duality. For example, hands are tools that commit both beauty and atrocity; they can cleanse and they can be made unclean. In Touching country, one hand photographs the other hand – the right hand is ‘doing’ and the left hand is ‘documenting’, which could either be perceived as ‘not doing’ or as a different kind of ‘doing’. And what exactly is the right hand actually doing? Is it, like the flag, making a territorial mark? Or is simply preventing its owner from falling flat on his face? Perhaps it is both. Or neither.
The ability to be something and nothing simultaneously is one of the great things about visual art. It allows the viewer to break free from linear thinking and enter a space where two or more differing ideas can be ‘true’. Through art, a single object can argue several different points of view without using any language at all, to reveal truth. For Maarten Daudeij, seeking these truths through the Australian landscape is his way of discovering ‘something bigger going on’.
[i] Daudeij, M. Personal communication, 2014.