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?