Femke Gerestein, Moving Through Thin Places / Photo Gunnar Meier
Vleeshal Art Prize: Femke Gerestein, Moving Through Thin Places
Jan 27 – Apr 21, 2024
Vleeshal
Middelburg, The Netherlands

In January 2023 Femke Gerestein (1982 Middelburg, NL) was selected by guest-curator Martha Jager as the recipient of the Vleeshal Art Prize. Since then Gerestein has developed a new body of work which is on view at Vleeshal from 27.01.2024 to 21.04.2024. Once every five years, Vleeshal awards the Vleeshal Art Prize to a promising artist from Middelburg to encourage the development of the artist’s work. Vleeshal appoints an external curator to select the winner and curate the accompanying exhibition. This time curator and artist Martha Jager was invited. She chose Femke Gerestein as the winner of the 2023 Vleeshal Art Prize. Upon her first encounter with Gerestein’s work, Jager was reminded of Sylvia Plath’s poem I Am Vertical from 1961. The title continues in the first sentence: “But I would rather be horizontal.” In the poem, Plath compares her distinct vertical stance to that of the non-human organisms which she admires, such as garden beds, as a way to question her role within the world and to articulate her desire to experience the opposite: the horizontal.

The work of Femke Gerestein is a poetic investigation of the body in time and place, as well as the body versus time and place, which echoes the sentiments and need for inclination brought forth by Plath. Preceded by performative acts in which Gerestein falls, jumps, rolls in or through the landscape or directly on paper, the detailed, almost forensic, large-scale drawings present us with an extensive archive of documentation of an existential journey into the self.

The solo show at Vleeshal, entitled Moving Through Thin Places, departs from the appreciation of Gerestein’s body of work as an archive of documentation of performative acts. It brings together new and existing works on paper, all featuring the artist’s body. As a local artist from Middelburg, and therefore well acquainted with Vleeshal, Gerestein welcomed the Vleeshal Art Prize to experiment with scale, materials, and installation. This has resulted in not only the largest works on paper by the artist to date, but also a change from her signature material of graphite to colored pencil on semi-translucent vellum paper. Installed freely in the space, suspended between ceiling and floor, the works engage with the light and capture an energy that appears lighter than in earlier works. Through the juxtaposition of existing and new work, a dialogue on the conditions and constructs that shape identity – and the desire to distort or escape them – is evoked.

The exhibition contains twenty-seven works, installed as three series. The installation, developed in collaboration with architect Stefan Voets, encourages the viewer to meander through the works and move back and forth, to take in the details and endurance that constitute each work. As it is likely only upon closer inspection that you might decipher the imprints of the gas mask Gerestein had to wear to make the graphite works that form Body Prints ‘22-’23, realize the amount of time and pencils needed to produce the two large-scale works Covered (vertebrae) and Covered (in between shoulder blades) and discover how the installation of Covered (my skin) forms a yardstick to the exhibition by mimicking Gerestein’s length.

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