Maurice van Tellingen, architect of reality
Text for catalogue Selected works 2001 2004, March 2004
by Flos Wildschut
"And now, I said, let me clarify with an image to what extend our
minds are enlightened or not enlightened: listen!"
A television is set up in a prominent spot in
the studio of Amsterdam artist Maurice van Tellingen. The set is switched
on. A Hitchcock-like film is showing on the screen. Maurice van Tellingen
is showing me a recent project, which is not yet completely finished.
He meticulously cut all interiors from a stack of B-films he picked up
at a flea market and edited them together, resulting in a new film. Very
soon it becomes clear that this film, consisting of fragments that are
edited together, will have no denouement, but even so I can hardly turn
away from it. The atmosphere of suspense keeps me curious about the next
scene. The fragments seem to tell a story. I hear footsteps. Erotic sighs
are smothered by the sound of a typewriter. An LP is turning slowly on
a record player. Instead of music, I hear a telephone ringing. An old-fashioned
fifties sound. A fire is burning in the fireplace. Excruciatingly slowly,
a doorknob is turned. Something horrible is bound to happen. A drop of
blood is slowly running down a hideous chandelier and falls on the floor.
The clock keeps on ticking. There is no sign of people; there is only
the suggestion of their presence. Somebody must have lit the fire and
put a record on the turntable. The door is not opened by a mere breeze.
And then there are the sounds: the ringing phone reveals there is a person
on the other end of the line.This recent piece is typical of Maurice van
Tellingen's whole oeuvre: the interior is one of his central subjects.
In the pieces the interior becomes manifest in the form of small peepshow-like
boxes. Maurice van Tellingen himself prefers to call these miniature interiors
three-dimensional paintings, but they may also be compared to 17th-century
genre paintings. This comparison places Maurice van Tellingen in the Dutch
tradition of painting interior scenes, but, while the interiors of Johannes
Vermeer and Pieter de Hoogh are inhabited, the interiors of Maurice van
Tellingen are void of people. None the less, you can sense their presence
in Maurice van Tellingen's interiors by means of the subtle use of light,
which does not seem to have a natural or a divine source; it is clearly
introduced by humans. Whenever human presence becomes visible, it is always
indirectly, in the form of shadows.In Schaduwman (Shadow Man), a work
made in 1999-2000, a shadow is pacing up and down a room. The space is
solely defined by a glass door and the shadow of a windowsill on the wall.
This sparse information is enough to imagine ourselves in a typical 1950s
house. The mood is set at once; the endless pacing of the inhabitant recalls
a long gone era, when time seemed to stand still. What a difference compared
to our current society of the spectacle! The 'train of inertia' started
to move, it is accelerating and it is unable to stop. Every day, the interiors
of our houses are invaded by a stream of televised images from all over
the world. Peace and quiet, it seems, are no longer to be found. Maurice
van Tellingen tries to restore time to us with his scale models. Sometimes,
this aim is literally represented by a ticking clock. He gives us the
time to experience the value of everyday reality.
In the piece significantly entitled Verisimilitude, which translates literally
into 'probability', Maurice van Tellingen has used a picture of an interior
taken from an IKEA catalogue. He has fitted a small video screen behind
the television set. The television is showing commercials. The perspective
in the images that are fitted in the picture creates a tremendous three-dimensional
effect and the tableau acquires a surreal aspect, even though its title
indicates that it wants to be as convincing as possible. There is a pleasant
contrast between the interior, which is rather boring, and the flood of
commercials on the television screen. Exactly because of the enormous
contrast with his own work, Maurice van Tellingen is fascinated by commercials.
Whereas Maurice van Tellingen emphasises ordinary and quotidian life,
the commercial world needs to jazz it up. The title of the piece causes
etymological, philosophical and even some religious contemplation. Verisimilitude
is a compound of two Latin words: verum and simulare. This compound has
only one meaning, but the separate words can be interpreted in various
ways. Verum, for instance, may mean 'the truth', 'the real circumstances',
or 'in fact'; the verb simulare may indicate 'to feign' or 'to pretend'
but also 'to mimic' or 'to represent'. And it is only a small step from
verum to veritas; from truth to reality. Is Maurice van Tellingen trying
to show us something that bears an outward resemblance to the truth
which has a strong religious connotation or is he just trying,
in a more down-to-earth way, to mimic reality? Maybe these two desires
are merged in his work. It also made me think of the term presentia realis,
which is connected to Greek Orthodox icons.
Icons that depict Christ or the apostles are sacred in the Greek Orthodox
Church, because the depicted are considered to be present in reality.
And what is reality anyway? Plato's allegory of the cave urges some deeper
contemplation of this issue. Do we see reality or do we only see a shadow,
a derivative of a higher reality: the shadow of a man pacing to and fro?
Do we actually know what reality is? Is it probable that there is only
one reality or does every person have his own reality? To what extent
can reality be imitated? Building a scale model of reality or at
least trying to build one may be the best way to grasp an essentially
intangible phenomenon. In architecture, mock-ups are relied on as a way
to clarify the structure and the spatial characteristics of a building.
The scale model is more compact and therefore it creates a more powerful
image than the building itself, which can not be taken in at a single
glance. Furthermore, scale model all the cluttering details are discarded
in an attempt to render the essence.
Although Maurice van Tellingen may prefer to call himself a three-dimensional
painter, I choose to place him in the architectural tradition. To me,
he is more like an architect of reality; every time you look at one of
his scale models, he impels you to construct new, personal realities
in your head. Isn't that the seat of reality anyway?