Interview from Ute Riese with Maurice van Tellingen

text for exhibition ‘Telescopium’, Wilhelmshaven, march 2002 by Ute Riese

UR: Your miniatures, which you also refer to as “spatial paintings,” often remind me of stage sets. The spatiality of the works allows you to integrate other media such as video, sound and artificial light. In one of your works in the Wilhelmshaven exhibition, for example, you show the corner of a room with an integrated ticking clock; another work is a room with a video of a fire flickering in a fireplace. In a further work is a room with a shower stall in which a non-stop video shows a showering person. On the one hand, this uniform — often meditative — incorporation of the temporal dimension gives the works a “timeless” atmosphere; on the other hand, it leads to a strong element of suspense, because the viewer is in a constant state of expectation: In these rooms, something could happen any minute …
MvT: I’m fascinated by the tension between actual state and expectation. For example, a surveillance camera filming an empty room. Here a transmission is taking place without any apparent result. A fan that revolves endlessly, a running clock or a dripping faucet. But also an electric light — in other words, electrons moving in circuits, a lamp that is made to light up and then disperses light particles in a manner comparable to a shower.
There are also examples of this in human action. Sleeping, waiting, being bored, observing, meditating, watching. These are all “passive activities.” The reason I work with the fascination for these situations is the conviction that they can be used in a sense as the “punctuation” of an event.
I can thus create a situation that can be regarded as the ending and starting point of a story. These are situations, which really evoke the feeling that something is happening or just about to happen.
My urge to emphasise these moments can perhaps be attributed to a society in which one is exposed to an endless stream of information and constant interactions.
It is becoming more and more difficult to put together a history of our lives and one often has the impression that life is making a history out of us.
By emphasising the resting points, by inserting “capital letters” and “bookmarks” — and in any case by developing an awareness for such insertions — I am seeking ways of getting reality, as it presents itself to me, better under control.

UR: You seem to have a fascination for empty and abandoned sceneries. They provide an excellent projection surface for the viewer’s imagination …
MvT: First of all, my predilection for empty, abandoned places is rooted in the longing I just described – to produce images of resting points or “non-events,” situations in which there is relatively little information available.
Secondly I attempt to evoke the strongest possible illusions of reality in order to convey the situations I offer as experience.
I hope that the viewer is actually able to imagine himself in the reality of the work for just an instant. The fact that I introduce the “atmosphere” element (among other things) to my works serves to increase the illusion of reality enormously. And in my opinion “atmosphere” is perceived better when we are less distracted, when we are preoccupied more with the room than with people – i.e. in an empty room.
A third reason for the plainness and emptiness of my works is the danger that too many details in the miniature could reduce the whole thing to an illustration, just as a doll house often remains an illustration, a superficial imitation. I provide the framework of a room, so to speak, with the aid of which the room itself can “materialise” in one’s imagination.

: What do you regard to be the specific possibilities provided by the miniature?
MvT: In the past I have frequently created works that were on a 1:1 scale with reality. Through the combination of central perspective and three-dimensionality, the model still receives a special spatial quality. But it is too close to reality to be able to be absorbed by the imagination and it thus loses an important part of its effect. The miniature has the power of speaking to the fantasy and at the same time evoking a certain sympathy, a kind of gentle compassion.
The scale model therefore gives me the means I seek for creating a more reflective kind of image. My exploration of reality tends to be of a contemplative nature and not so strongly oriented towards direct interaction with it.

: Yet you began as a painter. Do you still regard your works to be related to painting?
MvT: That’s correct, I actually did start out as a painter, but in the 1990s I gradually began to make objects. They were inspired by articles of daily use, such as furniture for example, and were still strongly related to painting, i.e. to the act of producing a likeness of something on a flat surface. In reality the works were two-dimensional images, draped – so to speak – over the form of the illustrated object. Later I grouped these objects in installations, leading to the desire to stage a dramatic act.
In addition to practical considerations, this finally led to a reduction of the installations. I still regard the scale models I now make as paintings. In comparison to realistic painting I use the same means. I produce a scaled-down detail of reality, I make use of central perspective and sometimes I use paint in order to suggest light and dark.
There are two reasons for working with the third dimension. On the one hand it gives me the opportunity of introducing various media which have a spatial appearance themselves – such as video (picture tube or LCD screen) or electric light (light bulb). On the other hand, the duality of the two- and three-dimensional image brings about a surprising visual effect. The eye is slightly confused, causing the depiction to take on a certain transparency quite reminiscent of 3D photography. The spatiality that appears seems clearer and more forceful than reality itself.

: It is precisely the clear and extremely precise depiction of interiors that is an important aspect of the Dutch painting of the seventeenth century. Do you sence a spezial relationship to this style of painting?
MvT: I think my work can well be placed in the Dutch tradition. On the one hand, the reflective character of the work clearly has its roots in Dutch / Northern European art. While it is true that Expressionism also plays an important role in this context, the primary emphasis is on inwardly directed, psychologically oriented art. Furthermore, the predilection for the interior is also something that recurs often in the history of Dutch art. This is sure to have something to do with the climate, which forces us to spend a major proportion of our lives indoors, as opposed to warmer countries in which the house has a much different function. I imagine this factor is one thing that led to our tendency to be more inwardly directed and withdrawn.
I therefore really do feel a strong attraction to the genre painting of the seventeenth century, which corresponds to my work in many ways. The fascination with everyday life, with small gestures, with mood and naturally with the integration of scientific and technical advancements and insights into art, with which we can make the images more lifelike than ever. The “camera obscura” is employed, central perspective is improved and materiality is carried to the furthest extreme in order to attain the classical Dutch clarity, of which I am extremely fond.

: How important is it to you to make the works yourself? What role does handicraft play?
MvT: For me it is absolutely imperative to make the works myself.
I often begin with a hunch or a longing, linked with a specific image. On that basis I make a model sketch. Sometimes that’s as far as I get. Other times I use aspects of earlier attempts and add new aspects. When the model begins to stimulate my imagination I continue working on it until I have reached a preliminary form. Later I produce the same model again, so as to be able to make small improvements. It sometimes happens that I make the same model three or four times in order to obtain the desired result.
In other words, I work in a trial-and-error process. This excludes the possibility of making a design that could later be realised by someone else.
On the other hand, I attach relatively little importance to the manner in which the object is made. I want to attain a certain intensity, but the means to this end are of secondary importance, as is the choice of medium.

: In the austerity and often lapidary simplicity of the furnishings you choose, your miniatures seem to me to possess an element of very subtle humour…
MvT: It is by no means my primary intention to make jokes.
On the other hand, in my opinion art — or, better, poetry — has a quality similar to humour. What they have in common is contradiction and the unexpected turn.