PORTRAIT SEEKS COVER
As a child you can sit under a table and think nobody misses you. A grown-up likes to dream about a distant island, such a place where even the revenue cannot find you. The desire to step out of social context, the wish not to be noticed can overcome you for various reasons. A train robber, who wants to stay out of sight from the police, usually goes in search of a new continent and a new identity. But what does an average person without a pack of thieves past or without a lot of money do when he or she wants to hide from peoples' view?
An oyster closes its shell, a hare comes out of its form. Animals make themselves invisible in various ways - for the good or safety of their own. One of the most fascinating ways in which they do this, is the capacity to 'enter into' the environment. Some fishes, sitting birds or chameleons can adapt themselves in colour and pattern to their surroundings so that they become one with it. They disguise so you can't see them. Or even better: you see but you can't distinguish them.
In the past Desiree Palmen has showed great interest in biology and geology. In drawings she added her own interpretations to scientific facts. She exhibited in natural history surroundings, and in other museums more often than in the art museums. And then only in the surrounding countries such as Belgium and Germany, as if she, argued from the point of view of the Dutch art world, only puts her work under the care of a disguised context - even before the camouflage became her topic.
Hence nobody was prepared, as her work popped up in Amsterdam in full maturity. Her exhibition at Reuten Galerie impressed immediately. Desiree Palmen, who was born in 1963, studied at the Academy of Arts and the Jan van Eyck Academy in Maastricht, showed her obsession with the natural habitat now in staged photos. Now the human being was paramount. Not the human as an individual, but the human being as a member in his species, the inhabitant of the built settings. Did her dwelling place Rotterdam influence her? A Nice detail is that the contact with the gallery went through Rotterdam. Palmen is on the same football team as Vanessa Jane Pfaff, a painter who got by way of Reuten a, -with lightning speed- career.
Palmens obsession with the human being in behaviour-determining surroundings was announced already some years ago in Vienna. There she did a performance in a restaurant. It was a place with red checked tablecloths on the tables. The artist herself was also dressed in red checks. Her dress was of the same as piece the tablecloth. While the other visitors went away after their consumption, she had to remain seated, since she was stuck to the tablecloth. In a simple metaphorical manner she reminded us that we move less freely than we think, bound as we are to the codes of our social environment. Although her actions were modest by nature, on location they caused lots of commotion. Three photos in which the principle person 'goes up into' the tablecloth, were particularly bought for the restaurant of the AMC (Academic Medical Centre). Also, the photo on the facing page (in AMC Magazine: photo CAMOUFLAGE WITH FLOOR 1999), is seen in the hallway near the day centre (of the AMC), restores a moment of a performance. We see a person in a camouflage suit with a turned away face. A Mister Nobody who, wrapped up in the pattern of the environment, poses him or herself so that he perfectly hides in it. By standing as still as possible, he reaches the highest effect. What was photographically captured, is an action of as small as possible activity.
Again the photo proves itself to be a well-chosen preservative for a conceptual work, in which the preparation is a laborious procedure. The artist herself produces the camouflage suit. For each photo, for each environment of her choice, she designs a new suit, which again and again has to be made with the greatest precision, or the illusive effect will not work. By uniting the figure with the background, Desiree Palmen reaches a surprising visual effect that requests a special effort for the observing eye: it must disentangle what is flat and what is spatial. While the proper space guarantees dept by marking out as a corner. Herewith this work adds an opinionated refrain to the art historian epic about the flat support with imaginary perspicacity.
As regards content the work is of a less triumphal tone. The portrait of an under cover non-individual renders pictorially the back of our in economical sense, such successful community. We read in it the hesitation, the fear and the recalcitrance to be part of a world in which you don't have a hold. A world that, on the other hand, does have a hold on you. This world keeps you detained in the artificial light everywhere-represented and in an optimal visibility, for the use of a controlled society. Only those who adapt themselves can possibly withdraw from it.
With her critical subtext Desiree Palmen connects herself to a generation of young artists who choose the urban surrounding as an exploration field and give it a personal contribution.
Artists like Renée Kool, Rirkrit Tiravanijia, Alicia Framis and Otto Berchem fight against anonymity through their direct physical approach during temporary performances. The big difference is that Palmens commentary is concealed and reserved. She doesn't step towards the spectator, she does the reverse. Her work invites the spectator to step closer. However, close to the hiding place is a context for social escape.
Tineke Reijnders /AMC Magazine /Juni 2002
Translation: Mary Mattingly / Desiree Palmen