To see /not to see : the spirit of a conservation place.

Désirée Palmen's serial production does not always exploit points of view which are induced by the location of the surveillance cameras. In her most recent works (2009), she used an emblematic non-place of the history of art : that is to say the reserves of the ethnological museum of Leyde. Indeed, museum reserves question the look : they represent both a place which is forbidden to the public and paradoxically constitute the most important part of the collection which therefore cannot be seen. The photographic document, which has no title, can apparently disconcert the image reader. It shows us one of the alleys of the reserve where Indonesian sculptures are kept. The artistic reasoning subtly mixes painting, sculpture, architecture and photography in a process of intericonicity. On the right side of the document, the shelves, which are photographied from a frontal view, reveal anthropomorphic sculptures on wood, vertically displayed on a circular plinth. The left side of the picture shows a chariot placed in the middle of the reserve's alley. It is transporting a sculpture of the Kalimantan (region of Indonesia of the Borneo Island), as the subtitle shows us. The process of the double image enables us to distinguish a human outline which visually melts in the process of camouflage with the chariot and its contents. Désirée Palmen's intervention therefore creates a contradictory image, which presents a character who, like the roman divinity Janus, is capable of simultaneously turning its double vision towards past and future. Gérard Wajcman examines the power of both divine and human views :
« (...) when man sees, he always sees from only one point, from where he is. In which he is not God. Such is the irremediable human condition. » (1). This non-place's spirit, whose eyes are behind his head, reminds us of the double function of the museum space : on the one hand, it is turned towards the past, by its mission of conserving the cultural inheritance, but is also oriented towards the future, to make known its collections to young generations. What is more, the process of the double image here provides a means of materializing the notion of absence. Georges Didi- Huberman questioned himself on this capacity of showing emptiness : « What is a volume which can carry and show emptiness ? How can one show emptiness ? And how can one make a form out of this act- a form which looks at us ? » (2). The watchman's body, both present and absent, can be metaphorically associated with this non-place's spirit. Indeed, the watchman's role is also to see (supervising as discreetly as possible) and to be seen (as an element of dissuasion). Here, we find a recurrent theme in Désirée Palmen's artistic reasoning. In this Dutch ethnological museum, the allegory of the non-place's spirit also mixes with many other spirits, represented by the Indonesian statuary, as they have also been removed and uprooted from their place of origin. On this subject, Bernard Vouilloux reports a criticism written against the role of the first museums at the end of the XVIIIth century :

« One of the objections brought to light by Quatremère de Quincy against the young republic's museal policy is that by taking the master- pieces (...), not only did she dissociate them from the place which formed their physical, secular frame, but she cut memories, local traditions, customs which still existed, parallels and links which can only be made in the country itself. » (3)

This double vision on the ethnological museum's reserve reminds us that many works of art nowadays have lost their spiritual dimension to the advantage of and economical and touristic dimension. These Indonesian Genius Loci, uprooted and placed on the shelves of the Dutch museum, as simple items of merchandise, are also emblematic of our « World- Culture » :

« This universal inheritance, (...) founds a truly worldwide culture which, (...) creates a feeling of a world which is shared amongst all men, from what makes the beauty, specificity and greatness of each of its treasures. » (4)

Thus Désirée Palmen enables us to question ourselves on « what we see and what is watching us » (4). Here, this non-place's spirit, capable of multiple vision, incarnates the double vision that anyone could direct towards the past and the future, in order to grasp what founds our world's cultural inheritance today, in a more efficient way.
(1) Gérard Wajcman, Fenêtre, Chronique du regard et de l'intime, Lagrasse, Verdier, 2004, p. 352
(2) Georges Didi-Huberman, Ce que nous voyons, ce qui nous regarde, Paris, Les Editions de minuit, 1992, p. 15.
(3) Bernard Vouilloux, in Jacques, Morizot, Roger Pouivet, Dictionnaire d'esthétique et de philosophie de l'art, op.cit., p. 305.
(4) Gilles Lipovetsky, Jean Serroy, La Culture-monde Réponse à une société désorientée, Paris, Odile Jacob, 2008, p. 101.
(5) Georges Didi-Huberman, Ce que nous voyons, ce qui nous regarde, op.cit.
Sophie Limare
IUFM - Bordeaux IV

Translation :
Soraya Limare.