Ex Voto, Courthouse, Groningen

The objects are transparent but as soon as they absorb the slightest amount of light they seem to be made of liquid silver. A carefully folded men’s shirt, a baby dress, a mobile phone, and a canteen, like the contents of a suitcase. A bit further down two fish and a dishcloth make up a contemporary still life. The objects make up a composition that is almost musical, following a rhythm that is interrupted by breaks. For the visitors sitting here, waiting and watching, the objects slowly become references to an undecided story. A large red copper beech and the changing skies above Groningen are the backdrop for this work. Rein Jelle Terpstra made the 82 transparent objects of lead crystal. The castings are somewhat nostalgic, as some of the objects seem dated, such as a flashlight from the 1960s. At the same time, this collection of objects also includes very modern products such as the latest Philips electric razor and a mobile phone.

Placing this work in the courthouse influences its interpretation. The objects are no longer neutral but seem to have acquired the status of corpus delicti. Marie Corelli’s book Temporal Power amidst the many other objects on the glass wall is a direct reference to the administration of justice taking place inside this building. At the same time, this book with its Jugendstil cover demonstrates the division between worldly power and the ethereal nature of the installation with its strange, light material: a symbol of spiritual power. The lightness of the objects, both old-fashioned and contemporary, combined with the random way in which they were chosen, makes this ‘installation’ universal and elusive, but also recognizable and familiar.

Terpstra often makes use of photography in his work for public places, for instance in his installation for the high-rise apartment building Groeneveen in the Bijlmermeer suburb of Amsterdam, where he used photographs of urban and green landscapes in round objects that are reminiscent of satellite dishes. He also, in 2002, initiated the exhibition After Images at the Nederlands Fotomuseum, which consisted of never taken photographs in contributions by various photographers and artists. Terpstra asked the participants about their story of the photograph that was not taken but that nevertheless still haunted their memories as an after image. The courthouse installation fits in well with Terpstra’s photographic oeuvre. He applies elements from photography, such as the use of light or the recording of reality, to various artworks at the interface of visual art and photography. Casting objects, like photography, is a way of recording and interpreting reality.

Machteld Leij

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