Margriet Luyten

Life's Work

16 Nov 2013 through 26 Jan 2014

 Life’s Work by Margriet Luyten (1952) is  a video work centered around nine visual artists who were born between 1913 and 1929. When Luyten started on the project three years ago, Armando, Loes van der Horst, Ata Kandó, Ger Lataster, Henk Peeters, Roger Raveel, Nono Reinhold, JCJ Vanderheyden and Co Westerik were among the oldest generation of living artists. Since then five of them have passed away. During the late 1950s and early 60s they made their debuts in painting, sculpture, photography, printmaking and textile art. In subsequent decades they helped to shape the Dutch and Belgian visual art scenes with their innovative approaches and frequently unconventional use of material.

Although the past is implicitly present throughout Life’s Work, Luyten envisaged something other than a retrospective view of that period. In the nine-part work that she has composed on the basis of these artists, she actually gives consideration to their present ages. Their lives as artists are contained in double portraits, each one opening a segment. The black-and-white photograph on the left dates from the artist's early days, while the portrait on the right is recent. Time has left its mark; but in the young face there is sometimes a glimpse of an attitude toward life that shows in the older one, just as the aged countenance can, on the other hand, be alight with some hint of the artist from bygone years.

Starting with the close-up in black-and-white, the portraits are slowly developed with sound, color and movement. A turn of the head, an expression on the lips, a blink of the eye: they’ve all been portrayed with intent and close observation. Almost in passing, the artists talk about getting older, or about their lives as artists. The most telling moments, however, are those of calm and intimacy, when they've abandoned any urge to keep up appearances.

With Life’s Work Margriet Luyten has given new meaning to the theme that has continued to fascinate her since undertaking a photo project on the final stage of her mother’s life. In Ella (2002-2005) and in the photo series Insomnia (2008-2009) and Mortals (2006-2008), she employed the technique of gum printing and the cyanotype process as a visual metaphor for the impalpable quality of life and death. Luyten has made use of moving images for the first time in Life’s Work; now, too, the way in which she uses the medium contributes greatly to the intensity of the work. The calm of old age is visually translated into a subdued use of color, scant sound and slow images. The stratification inherent in the printing procedures of previous projects now takes shape through intervals of time. The nine portraits share the same structure in which sound, color, movement and space are employed as successive elements. Within the limited time span of each of these four minutes, the portraits assume depth and nuance. Luyten attempts to fathom the essence of life’s final phase and, at the same time, shows how every artist actively continues to characterize his or her own sense of age: with resignation or denial, somewhat rebelliously or rather with mild perspective, with astonishment or perhaps a tinge of aloof irony. 

Accompanying the exhibition is the book Levenswerk.