Annet Gaaikema and the dualty of being
One trait persistently pervades Annet Gaaikema's art. From the very beginning she has expressed herself in a dualistic pictorial language in which exuberant organic forms live happily together with elementary geometric structures. A recurrent theme is the contrast between particular, sensory accidence, and universal, rational necessity.
Jenny D. Kalma
Her jubilee exhibition "Between Helios and Selene", however, witnesses a remarkable development. The joining together of counterparts itself has become one of the main subjects. This is expressed in a series of abstract gatelike forms the symbolism of which can hardly be missed. Gates symbolize the contrast alluded to above. Standing in a gate one can oversee two territories. One can both look back to the past and look forward to the future. One can both perceive external reality and the subjective landscape of one's inner feelings. The number of possible contrasts is actually incountable. A gate may bring us back to memory the fate of Persephone, the woman who spent half of the year in the underworld while spending the other half on earth. It symbolizes the area between life and death, between unborn and actual existence, between love and hatred. It represents dawn's province, the territory governed by Aurora, Helios' and Selene's little sister.
A central place must be allotted to the object called Ianus. Ianus is the patron of public gates and passages, and, in general, of all beginnings. The old Romans depict him as a two-faced figure. From his position he can overview two domains, and this often enables him to gain success, security and peace for himself and those he protects. However, whereas in Antiquity the threats are either external (e.g. invading enemies), or supernatural (fate, punishment by the gods), present-day man encounters just himself from whichever side he approaches the object.
The pieces of art exhibited are of an authentic beauty. Annet Gaaikema's craftmanship enables her to explore and exploit the aesthetic possibilities embodied in this theme without ever falling prey to an anaemic symbolism. There is more, however. It is inconceivable for artists to let themselves be so intensely captured by a theme without this itself playing an important role in their personal lives. And indeed, it is hard to deny such a commitment in this case. It is this commitment which endows Gaaikema's art with an expressive power going far beyond aesthetic perfection.
Attempting to derive a philosophy of values from art would be to yield to a wrong type of hybris. Nevertheless, one may experience this art as an incitement to opt for a life lived from as many gates as one can endure. Vistas of new teritories will constantly open up, each one equipped with its own contrasts. Whoever ventures to look over such landscapes jeopardizes every single feeling of safety and commits himself to a life full of risks. No one can tell which personal abysses he will come across. On the other hand, through his two-sidedness Ianus could acquire what he coveted most. Such is the ultimate gate position, the inevitable duality of being.
Between a serial plane survey and baroque expression
Colourful textile appliques; rich, rhythmically crocheted sisal tapestry; piled up woollen textile miniatures; thin wire sculptures; transparent gauzy dishes; spiry wooden towers painted with geometrical patterns. The work Annet Gaaikema has presented, from her first exhibition in 1969 in Winschoten at Ina Budde's till her 25th anniversary jubilee exhibition at Jan Katuin's art gallery of Anderwereld, combines a technically divergent plane survey with monumental expressivity. With the patience of a monk she set up endless variations on always new themes; thanks to her baroque imagination flat and threedimensional structures got a great power of expression.
by Friggo Visser
Straight across the so diverse designs that characterize the visual art works of Annet Gaaikema (Holwierde, Netherlands, 1944) from 1969, runs the thread of passionate 'building'.
Whatever technique or theme she chose in all those years, the outstanding feature is that with great traditional skill she continues building quite serially on patterns and structures. Also unorthodox materials have been processed by her with a whim ease. Characteristic is furthermore that her plane surveys initiated a dialogue with space all the time.
Due to the materials selected, the warm colours and the visual symbols used, her structural visual survey is square to the clinical sterility that was, particularly in the seventies, asserted in fundamental arts. From the work of Annet Gaaikema on the contrary pure human feelings can be read. Some of her wood
sculptures even assumed anthropomorphous shapes.
Annet Gaaikema made her debut as a textile artist at a golden moment. In the rebellion of the sixties textile art filled a renovating part. While the art of painting was ostracized, the experimentally appliqued, knotted, knit, woven tapestry made an enormous advance in the exhibition world. Distinct from the cliched existential painter's passions of imitators of COBRA and Ecole de Paris, the refreshing expressive language of textile came up, in which the vital primitive art of the Polish and American countryside were reflected. As a contrast with painting, considered as elite if only for the philosophical explanations around the art of painting of the fifties, textile came up with its technical accessibility, breaking down barriers since it could be done by anyone. Time demanded a
democratization that textile art could give.
In those years Annet Gaaikema not only made textile tapestry and objects, she was also emphatically involved in teaching those techniques. The `Margriet' editor at the time, Nora Hana, invited her in 1970 to write an instruction booklet for 'Margriets Workshop'. She wrote a workbook about 'making tapestry with yarn and string' in which she discussed in addition to the knitting also the darning technique of crocheting.
Crocheting - not with thin yarns but quite soon with increasingly heavier natural fibres -became her trademark. What she crocheted was rich tapestry. Her work betrayed physical power and hard labour. Intrinsic to the technique she crocheted long, large twines following serial patterns. A systematic framework playfully decorated with fantastic bulges.
Should the technique of crocheting remind of home crafts, from the start Annet Gaaikema made it clear that with her visual survey she reflected a 20th century visual idiom. In her structures she adopted the contrasts between hollow and bulgy, between open and closed, introduced by the cubic sculptor Archipenko.
Because of the monumental design of the tapestry her work soon got an international response. She received invitations for Workshops in Hanover and Edinburgh, and her national breakthrough was set in by an impressive exhibition in the halls of the old Groningen Museum where managing director Bram Westers presented her tapestry together with abstract stone sculptures by the sculptor Ad Molendijk from Nieuweschans. Some of the tapestries later found a place in the Heineken branch at Zoeterwoude.
Afterwards she received orders from dozens of architectural firms. Work that appealed to her_As a maker of tapestry - in spite of all the success she was not eager to promote herself as a visual artist- she saw as her most important function: 'supplying a useful contribution to the space in which we live'. `Textile builds bridges between man and his direct environment...
Textile is physically familiar to man - many people consciously or unconsciously associate textile with intimity, warmth, security, safety.' (From: H.J. Plenter, 'Monumental textile from Annet Gaaikema', Meeden,1980.)
In the tapestry of a man's height, offering warmth and security to many public buildings, a rather baroque design structure could be recognized. Round, female shapes - in some cases recognizable as a vaginal sign - were contrasted by her with sturdy, vertical, phallic accents. In later tapestry of the seventies the arranging
systematic principle gained the upperhand. Strings of sisal rope and unpainted brown and black wool assumed patterns evoking more and more associations with the landscape. The strings set one thinking of furrows through the fat, brownish black clay of the North Groningen land. The round element that previously filled a central part, only returned in free hanging loops.
Annet Gaaikema did not become a slave of technique and success. Around 1980 when interest in the world of visual art and architecture started to ebb away, she already set off on a new course. After years of monumental work she threw herself into textile miniatures. Those `face cloths' - initially she dealt with her survey a little disparagingly - were based on the principle of always ten stitches per row (or line). On completion of the tenth row she continued in the same way, but now with one more thread. By repeating this basic pattern nine times ten cloths appeared that became thicker and broader. She piled up the cloths, one on top of the other, like a merchant in Persian rugs piles up carpets. The piling itself assumed an intriguing mastaba-like shape. To the most beautiful miniatures of that time belonged a variation with a colour shading in red. With these miniatures too she was internationally successful. That way she was balloted for a prestigious exhibition of textile miniatures in Hungary.
In the meantime Annet Gaaikema had embarked on an even more experimental course. Having been invited for an exhibition in the large double rooms of 'Kunstlievend Genootschap Pictura' at Groningen she did not make the exhibition of easily saleable monumental tapestry as anticipated by the management, but in the rooms she also built thin threedimensional wire sculptures. She set out triangular structures in which she always tightened seven loose and flossy threads. An interplay of lines alternately in red and black gave her work a new dimension. In the Pictura exhibition she also introduced plane shifts with a triangle on textile squares implemented in various techniques. Until then she still felt like a real textile artist. In an interview that I had with her for an article in 'Kunstbeeld' springtime 1984, she remarked that she could also paint parts of these plane surveys; her choice however was the material familiar to her and the techniques known to her.
Three years later she definitely parted with the monumental textiles. The interest in the technique had become zero. She too got tired of the expression possibilities. But she did not sit still. Open as she is to all new developments - Annet Gaaikema is one of those artists that you will always meet at exhibitions
- she became fascinated by the designs that came `on the market'. She discovered the possibility of modelling stiffened gauze into a dish. An artifice that she successfully presented at exhibitions at the time in her home gallery in Meeden and afterwards at the 'Puntgaaf' design gallery.
Autonomous wood sculptures
Illustrative for her open and free attitude towards art is the eagerness with which Annet Gaaikema subsequently started to design wooden columns on which she exhibited those thin grey dishes in public. These columns were painted by her in geometrical line and plane patterns in brown and black shades. She enjoyed this painting so intensely that she did not mind releasing the dish as a functional element in order to pursue the design of autonomous, painted wood sculptures. That step to the 'free' arts resulted as a consequence in the changing of art gallery. Since then her cultic wood objects that are continuously getting a more complex painting have been presented by her at Jan Katuiri s. The columns turned into towers. Bizarre boundary posts perhaps, objects that refer with their colours to what she experienced as sources of inspiration during study tours through the Mediterranean. The golden glow of Byzantine art, the springtime shades of idyllic Arcadia, the fading shades of frescos. These towers for their part turned into gates that were given an emphatic mythological charge by her. Pagoda-like constructions alternate with decorative columns involving spectators in the scene by mirrors. Additional attributes as a lump of natural stone or design looking like an excavated book give rise to literary associations. The baroque content is an unmistakable aspect, but more important is that when painting with diluted acrylic paint she can give a new implementation to her urge to 'build' on the flat plane. Once more she works out geometrically interwoven structures; once more it is her patience of a monk that is taking effect. Time and again she puts one thin paint layer over the other. By doing so the ideas for new structures arise, just as with her former crochets. The survey took a new material shape, but the quality of the survey continued.