Both these artists are winners of the Baloise Art Prize, which is awarded annually at the ‘Art Basel’ international art fair. The winners receive a money prize, and their work has also been donated to two leading European museums, the Hamburger Kunsthalle and S.M.A.K.
Cathy Wilkes (b. 1966, Belfast, lives and workes in Glasgow) makes fragmentary but meticulously composed and poetic installations with sculptures, found objects and materials, which she picks up in a great variety of places. Although they are essentially abstract, Wilkes’ creations make a surprisingly narrative impression on the spectator. The explanation for this is the highly poetic principles on which Wilkes works when compiling her installations: she invariably acts on the basis of her intimate personal memories, which she then ‘dehumanises’ by means of a painstaking, detached yet hyper-personal choice of materials. The objects are hereby transformed into purely mechanical depictions of her thoughts. On the other hand the narrative and accessible aspect of her installations lies in their sometimes explicit references to human or animal figuration. By clever assemblages of a variety of materials that form a more or less anthropomorphic whole – which is often emphasised even more by paintings (usually figurative) close to the installation – the artist succeeds in making these mechanical representations of thoughts appear strikingly personal. In terms of form, Wilkes’ installations frequently refer to a number of significant precedents in art history. As a consequence of their non-figurative appearance, they are at first sight often reminiscent of the abstract geometrical sculptures of Minimal Art, except that they are made of found waste material that takes the edge off the industrial feel of most minimalist objects. In purely technical terms, Wilkes also draws avidly on a number of trends in recent art history. One example, her consistent use of a Dada-inspired assemblage technique, combining found objects with geometrically abstract structures, is a matter entirely of her awareness of the recent past and its art, as are the explicit references to such Futurists as Boccioni in the small paintings that accompany the installations. Precision, the work with which she won the Baloise Art Prize at Art Basel 2002, and which the Baloise company donated to SMAK, is absolutely in line with this characteristic approach. On the occasion of this donation, Wilkes will present a special installation specific to the exhibition space and based on the individual character of the work donated.
Spaces that deviate from our normal surroundings form a recurring motif in the work of Saskia Olde Wolbers (b. 1971, Breda, lives and workes in London). They often appear to be completely closed entities in which we endlessly wander around, and seem to originate in an utterly virtual and fantastic world. In fact it’s the opposite: in the filmed spaces the viewer occasionally recognises ordinary objects and waste materials, so that one begins to suspect that these films were made entirely in the traditional way. Unlike digital image manipulation, with which the most incredible dream landscapes can nowadays be created, Wolbers creates hers with craftsmanship and precision. With the aid of ingeniously produced models and a miniature camera she leads the viewer smoothly around in her science fiction-like landscapes. Wolbers’ videos are accessible. They always start out from a clearly-outlined story with hints of magic realism, told by a neutral voice-over recorded by the artist herself. An anonymous character tells of unlikely, dramatic and absurd incidents that have happened to them. This magical tale moves inexorably towards a surprising point where the viewer is confronted with an intimately personal view of the character’s experiences and the strange reality in which they take place. Wolbers invariably draws the inspiration for her video stories from the techniques of virtual reality – which create the possibility of making fantasies and hallucinations visible and tangible – and from the amalgam of all our day-to-day media. She is happy to employ techniques from both the more ‘serious’ reporting in news magazines and the discourse of soap and gossip column. The result of these slowly composed scenarios is fantastic visual stories in which Wolbers is able to transcend the visual polish with which such images are usually produced. Her traditional approach to virtual reality enables her to give this visual idiom a more authentic and realistic stamp, despite its hallucinatory nature.