For her first solo show at Mathew, Heike-Karin Foell borrowed the title of Jean-Paul Sartre’s multi-volume, unfinished biography of Flaubert, L’idiot de la famille (1971–72). ‘What, at this point in time’ Sartre asks programmatically in the very first sentence, ‘can we know about a man?’ Foell’s exhibition seemed to ask a similar question: ‘What, at this point in time, can we know about an artist?’ How is the meaning of a work produced and what does it tell us about the artist? How intimate to their work does an artist have to get? How much must one reveal?
Based on a series of the artist’s books – a constant feature of her practice – the exhibition developed through a play of interlinking references and the provision and denial of information – starting with the fact that the eight books, displayed on two long, thin plywood tables, could not be flicked through, but were held open at specific spreads by small hooks. Clearly these were journals, private mood boards of recorded impressions, thoughts, images and ideas. The visible pages contained annotated texts (including the list of works from an earlier group show at Mathew), inserted sheets of paper, pictures from fashion shows, film stills, a photograph of a painting in a studio and a flattened paper cup. Here, these ongoing notes became immobilized; the documented unfolding of the artist’s everyday working life was arrested. What followed on the next page?
The other elements in the show continued the game of teasing reference and refusal. On the walls hung two large sheets of paper. One listed the titles and chapters of five of the artist’s books (Index n° 31, n° 22, n° 24, n° 95, n° 139, 2014), some but not all of which were on view here. The other showed a detailed table of contents for book n° 17. This book was not on the tables, but in one of the archive boxes stacked in the window space at the entrance (along with paper cups in a deliberately casual arrangement) – at least, this was suggested by the installation’s title, n° 17 (2014). Here, too, it was impossible to check – the content was alluded to but not on display. Finally there were three paintings, two hung on one side of the gallery and one hidden in the back room. With their unprimed canvases, loose brushstrokes and thinly applied paint, these airy pictures, too, emphasized the processual quality of painting. Lines were drawn from one element to another, echoing the connections presented in the artist’s books: It Painting (2014) incorporated two pages of photocopied text and Princess Street (2014), featured a series of circular holes cut using one of the paper cups in the window space as a template.
In this way, the exhibition created a system of interconnected references of objects. While everything pointed to open-endedness – meaning being produced by the way individual objects were embedded in a network of persons, references and logistics – it was presented in a rigid and rigorous form: the exhibition as an interruption of the artistic process and its provisional mooring. Ultimately, L’idiot de la famille balanced precisely and cunningly on the dividing line between inside and outside, between what one can and cannot know and between what an artist does and does not reveal. After all, to an extent exhibitions always present the artists themselves, as much as their work.
Translated by Nicholas Grindell
First published in Issue 14