SNAPline, Fall 2003 Issue
About the Artist...
by Anne Whitelaw, Associate Professor, Art History, Concordia University, Montreal
Helen Gerritzen’s print six x 2 is both a revelation and an enigma, a contrast between the impenetrability of the content and the traces of the work’s construction. What we appear to see are layers of sheets. The first set of transparencies, mirror images of each other are positioned side by side, overlapping in the center, the edges visible. The second layer, dramatically different in visual content, also seems to be made up of two sheets, laid out this time in a perpendicular manner. In this layer, however, the two parts seem to blend together seamlessly despite the visual indication of two separate units of textual and graphical information. The smudging of the ink and the blurring or the characters is testament to the instability of etching as a medium. Key here is the layering of images, each layer visible as they merge into a whole. We are witnesses to the elaborate process of printmaking; lithography, etching, chine collé: all reveal themselves to us as discrete moments in the making of this print.
In contrast to the ease with which the process of production reveals itself to us, the content remains largely opaque. Each of the two original “panels” show six circular objects, their shape reminiscent of metal snaps, bolts, or baby bottle nipples. The viewer’s questioning of the origin of these objects is welcomed by Gerritzen, answered in conversation, but not revealed through print title or description. The seductive quality of the shapes rather than their semiotic meaning is what initially attracts her, encouraging her to experiment with patterns and scale configurations, to take pleasure in the visual and tactile character of the object. This is an important component of what she wants to convey in her prints: the eye’s engagement with objects whose significance lies only in what they say on a formal level leaving the mind to search for real world referents.
On top of the circles is another image layer, in this case it is small columns of text. Some of the letters are legible, but on the whole the words are indecipherable, the graphs that illustrate the text meaningless without an accompanying explanation. There is something familiar about
the writing, however, a visual quality and significance that would be known to the student of art history: Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks. Gerritzen’s use of this source is intriguing because of the contradictory messages it conveys. On the one hand, the text is legible as the work one of the foremost artists of the Renaissance, a multidisciplinary figure who sought to explain the mysteries of his world through careful research and analysis. At the same time, the text and graphics reproduced in Gerritzen’s print are too small and too blurred to read. Much like the circular shapes over which they float, their meaning – or our access to that meaning – has been withheld; what would normally provide information (the text) only further obscures explanation.
But this is why six x 2 is such a fascinating print: there is a constant tension between legibility and illegibility, between our ability to identify what we are looking at (the print itself) and our inability to decipher or to get to the root of what is being represented. This is a tension that is never resolved, contributing to the visual pleasure afforded the viewer who takes the time to peel away the layers and appreciate both the revelation and the enigma.