Kamerschatten

Text for exhibition ‘Kamerschatten’, Den Bosch, October 1999
by Anna van Driel

Maurice van Tellingen calls them ‘spatial paintings’. But the mini-interiors he makes could equally be called little theatres. Podia where drama is played out according to the principles of classical tragedy: unity of time, place and action. Mise-en-scenes that function for him as metaphors of human consciousness. In the interiors very little actually happens – at least not visibly. In an empty, abandoned room, a long-playing record unflaggingly sounds its classical melody. In another model the only movement is the play of shadows, constantly changing as the daylight filters through. A security camera (in yet another work) focuses on a hotel corridor no-one ever walks down and where nothing worth mentioning ever happens. No people feature in Van Tellingen’s models; there are no signs of life in his scaled-down living spaces. Only the worn floor coverings indicate that people were here, once, while the only reference to the passage of time is the wallpaper faded by sun. Van Tellingen (1957) makes models of reality. As faithful as possible, but on a smaller scale and markedly more frugal in decor. For his doll’s house rooms seek to explore the no man’s land where an image approaches reality but at the same time deviates from it. In order to seduce and imaginatively draw the viewer in, but also to expel him as quickly as possible. Push and pull. The way in which his scale models deviate from reality clarifies the way in which that reality is constructed. The interiors Van Tellingen depicts have been pared down; they comprise scenes from daily life that have been reduced to a simple event, viewed from a specific standpoint and within a particular frame of reference. Scenes that are played out in a single space and time. Van Tellingen regards the idea of classical tragedy as an ‘adequate and succinct way’ of representing reality. In the same way, the principles he takes from painting – the central perspective and the frame – function as ‘pure abstractions’ of a far more complex reality. Both traditions have long since lost their currency, but that is precisely why they lend themselves to his quest into the nature of reality, believes Van Tellingen. In one of his miniatures the walls run at a slant and the floor slopes upwards, while the door in the rear wall appears to be hanging out of joint. The room complies with the laws of the central perspective – a redundant perspective, predicated on a rigid viewpoint that seldom corresponds to the actual position of the observer, much less the perspective that is thereby created. Persisting in a single viewpoint, Van Tellingen shows, is no longer possible – either physically or in terms of content. Still less is it possible to speak of a clearly demarcated space that coincides with a measured unit of time. What is space? And what is time? Van Tellingen explores such questions by seeking out, in his words, the ‘limiting values, the margins’. This is illustrated by one of the later works, in which -- unlike his earlier doll’s house interiors – he uses video and slide projection. Here he shows the footage recorded by a security camera in a hotel corridor. The camera shows nothing apart from the passage of time. But at the same time, ‘time’ seems to be precisely what is missing from the video. Or rather time is unfathomable, for there is nothing to measure it against. It cannot be measured against the movement of people (for they never venture down the corridor) nor can it be inferred from the changes in daylight (which has been replaced by constant artificial light). There is no way of telling whether time has stood still, moves on, or has been speeded up. Time is not a simple concept, as Van Tellingen demonstrates. And there is no simple measure of time because it can be experienced so differently. How we conceive of time (short or long, static or dynamic) depends on our consciousness. Moreover, it is our consciousness that undermines the idea of the classical tragedy and its unity of time and space. Past and present, flashbacks and future imaginings co-exist side-by-side in our daily awareness – just as you can be cycling along on your bike, paying attention to the traffic and at the same time thinking about something that happened last week. In the same way, one’s consciousness is unfettered by the boundaries of a space or an action, as Van Tellingen shows in a recent work. It depicts a shadow play enacted on the curtain in an illuminated window frame. Inside, you are led to believe, are people – people of whom Van Tellingen gives only their ‘limiting values’, the absolute minimum, their shadows. Nor does Van Tellingen show the space in which they move, but merely suggests it. Just as he reduces their actions to a non-drama. What is happening behind the curtain is barely visible, but we see enough to spark the imagination. The minimal resources required to spur one’s consciousness to imaginary leaps in time or space or to project the continuation of an action are explored by Van Tellingen in his work for Kamerschatten. His model is a replica (in miniature and stripped of all superfluous detail) of two rooms in the 1950s villa where he works, with one room having a door opening onto an adjoining hallway. Through its strange doubling the model exposes the dogma and cliches of post-war modernist architecture – cold, detached and sterile. On the spotless white wall the shadow of a man can be seen killing time by reading a paper, smoking a cigarette and pacing up and down through the house. That is all that van Tellingen gives us. But it is enough to allow you to imagine yourself in his interior. And subsequently for you to imagine you have been transported back to the Fifties in the real interior. In the image of the model citizen’s claustrophobic existence.