Anyone entering the two exhibition rooms housing Maurice van Tellingen’s work may feel like they have walked into a conservatory consisting of frozen spatial images: here an architectural wall object, there a miniature on a plinth and a three-dimensional print – all complementing each other in a condense, poetic ensemble in which time appears to have oddly stood still. However, the components of his staging are not only linked by their atmospheric effect but also by a recurring, symbolic motif – a bare-branched, dead tree. This tree appears as a small, dual model on a paved square, a potted plant in front of the door to the room as well as in the form of a fragment of woodland that the observer glimpses from behind an illusory door. Located like this halfway between indoors and out, between the public and private sphere a multimedia triptych arises in which nature becomes a mirror image of human design and the human condition.
However, let us take things one by one: on a white plinth, under a plexiglass hood, we see the model of a public square featuring two defoliated trees standing in circular recesses. Apart from a narrow strip of asphalt, this area is otherwise entirely sealed with grey paving stones. Here the artist toys with an imaginary incidence of light, especially since on the ground we see not only the cast shadows of the two trees but also a dark, diagonal zone indicating corresponding peripheral buildings. And while the scale and presentation format may be reminiscent of relevant models for town planning tenders, the modelled location provides a stark contrast to this: it would not be possible to win any tender with a model of this kind. For what Maurice van Tellingen presents to us is the uniformity of urban planning, a slice of urban wasteland in which nature merely acts as dead and desolate decoration. One almost mistakes this for an example of “The Inhospitability of our Cities” as described by Alexander Mitscherlich in his famous lampoon of the same name dating from 1965. By naming his model “Agora” after places of congregation in Ancient Greece, those political and cultic centres of the polis community, the artist generates a euphemism making the collapse of the public space all the more evident. One other association also strikes the observer: the bleak square looks like an empty stage, perhaps the venue for an event that took or will take place there – a contamination that ultimately remains within the realm of the imaginary.
Add to this so-called lenticular printing, a technique that creates the illusion of depth familiar from kitsch postcards that move back and forth depending on the angle you look at them from. This three-dimensional flip effect is used by Maurice van Tellingen to give his work the aspect of a contemporary interior. Here we see a withered yucca plant by the room door in an otherwise unfurnished corner of the room. The scene is primarily marked by different patterns and material textures: the opaque milky glass panel in the wooden-framed door, the grey tiled floor and the imitation claybrick wall – these all fit together into a lifeless, almost aseptic backdrop which, thanks to the dried-out potted plant, entirely freezes into an image of rigidity and absence. At the same time the 3D effect allows the view of the room to lose its static form; it becomes a caricature or distorted image of memories pervaded by different temporal and spatial levels. What we see may be reminiscent of childhood memories, of a bleak Sunday afternoon at home, of tortuous hours with no perspective of distraction. Just as easily it could be a potential crime scene which, in view of the dead plant, fuels evil speculations on the fate of the residents. All the while the weather seems fine as a dark shadow falls on the walls of the light-filled room suggesting bright sunlight coming in from outside rather than artificial light.
Another separate piece presented by the artist in the neighbouring room is a compact, centrally located wall object featuring a transom window through which one’s gaze falls, close range, upon defoliated woodland. The artist has distorted this white peep box with its subtle shading in such a way as to produce a slightly lateral, low-angle perspective which also shifts the window very slightly out of its right angle. The observer is therefore not allocated a clear viewing location, which gives the object an oddly floating feel. Consequently, a state of “locationlessness” arises, undetermined and instable, which has direct impact on one’s own position in the room as if the walls and floor were wobbling. By contrast the hazy interior of the case looks all the more lifeless: as if gazing through mist we look upon a piece of “dead nature”, upon tree stumps and bare branches while spatial relationships remain ambiguous. Are we looking from the inside towards the outside or vice versa? Instead this creates the absurd impression that we are looking from the outside out, namely through an oriel window from the street side into a park or garden that is located behind a Potemkin façade. And this possible interpretation also immediately impacts the room’s atmosphere because it runs blatantly counter to conventional window logic – and thereby any unequivocal indication as to our own location. So where in fact are we?
Furthermore, if we observe the window object in spatial relation to the two other pieces of work this then becomes a pivotal feature, an intended link – and it comes as no surprise that the artist repeatedly picks up on this extremely complex topos: allowing the window views in and views out produces fragmented situations, a zone of transition that is hard to control in ontological terms, one at the threshold between the public and private sphere. Very much in the spirit of these features the window can be described as an ambivalent viewing medium both through itself and at the presented motif – something which suggests both technical and organic comparisons. For the dark, perforated space – the camera obscura – is the original model for all imaging processes. It is an immobile counterpart to the photographic camera and, what’s more, also to the human eye. We see through the window and at the same time see ourselves reflected in it.
It is precisely at this vague and ambiguous interface between space and image production that Maurice van Tellingen’s models reveal their true impact. In a precise mise-en-scène of colour and light using painted shadows, patterned structures and material imitations the artist constructs hybrid, strangely abstracted room fragments that look far beyond the secular inventory of what is visible by becoming projection surfaces for one’s own emotions and speculations. In other words, the familiar environment of modern interior and exterior spaces as well as the standards of contemporary architecture that Maurice van Tellingen stages in his work in a highly artificial manner resorting even to trompes-l’œil not least serve as bate to draw the observer into the fragmented context full of indeterminate suspicions – a context that also always has a physical impact. Without ever being narrational his models – that are ultimately both time and location-less – are therefore viewing and storage media, both for imaginary events and individual reminiscences.
And if his interiors doubtlessly reflect the long tradition of this specifically Dutch genre, the exteriors the artist gradually approaches in his Bonn installation also suggest an art history derivation against the backdrop of classical image motifs. For in contemporary diction one could describe them as sculptural still lives – precisely representing the double meaning of this genre to which two (seemingly) conflicting definitions are ascribed in a mirror-inverted relationship, as it were. Thus, they display both: the still life and – nature morte – the dead nature.