Beyond the mirror,
the poetry of the forbidden

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« I like to speculate on the concepts of enchantment and neglect. The film "Urbicide" is both utopian and dystopian, a dense space in a state of perpetual construction-destruction. We find this also in the silence, suddenly broken by a displaced noise. Everything is constructed from the camera eye, shooting backwards, the space, the perspectives, the play of mirrors that cut and break up the reflection over 15 meters of train track. This means that freedom is an illusion, that the apparently vast space is landlocked by borders. People first see the beauty, and only then the omnipresent limits» Tinka Pittoors (1)

In artificial turf, a miniature railway, the broken lines in a mirror, the ambiguity of the forbidden always looms in the poetic landscapes of Tinka Pittoors, bristly like strange and unlikely architectures. The film
Urbicide, -from the 2010 residency at Flacc in Genk-, is a perfect example. In 2011, it premiered at the Triangle Bleu gallery, in Stavelot.
What does this projection of an intimate and distressing world tell us? As an almost
live Vanity, the huge installation made ​​up of curious fantastic objects plays on the discomfort caused by the violence and the encounter one has with oneself.
The eye follows the paths that have been provided in the work ...," said Paul Klee already in 1925 in his Theory of modern art. The viewer may well hold on to some time and space-related references, still he will find himself thrown off balance by a rather simple technical feat: the camera pans backwards and films a sequence of events in a confined space, an extreme situation devoid of all the proportions found in apparent normality.
As the euphoria of the forbidden, this large three-dimensional organic landscape shudders to the syncopated rhythm of strategic ruptures. Whistling cheerfully to the unexpected and the illusion of reality - falling marbles, displaced sounds, mirrors, diverted objects - a miniature train takes us to the heart of the maelstrom. It oscillates, resonates in our minds and our bodies, inducing powers of unimagined associations!

Hybridizations of identity

« Art does not lie in the beds that have been made for it; it runs away as soon as you speak its name: what it loves is the unknown. Its best moments are when it forgets what it is called». Jean Dubuffet (1960).

As the
next-door neighbour of Art Brut, -even unconsciously so, especially in its logorrheic treatment of the landscape as the projection of the Self-, all the passionately inventive and identity-related work of Tinka Pittoors is contaminated. There is something magical about the poetry of the forbidden, concentrated in the compulsive flow of a strongly codified grammar of colour and a lexicon of associated forms.
Her writing is that of an all-encompassing poem, exciting to decipher. She creates narrative architectures on but a few fixed points of support. The most minute parts, visually improbable or disconnected, meld in a project of hybridization, and sow scratches, caresses, impromptu dialogue. Ladders, tables, a chair are always there for a mental climb, creating intimate connections. At your own risk and peril ...

The illusion of enchantment, the breakdown of guiding marks in even the most familiar objects salvaged from her environment form her vocabulary of choice. The play on words led to the same conclusion: the spectre of violence is ubiquitous in the work of Tinka Pittoors. But what kind of violence? A violence that is definitely devastating, but also nourishing, poetic and political, bearing a specific function within the economy of the universe.

Alice in the land of sacrifice

It all starts with the word. The neologism is a founding principle. Head to toe, they swarm the premises of a fascinating and cathartic tale. Under her mutinous guise of Alice in the land of sacrifice, Tinka Pittoors incessantly tracks new concepts on her laptop. This is the case of the word "Urbicide", instinctively understandable, of which the artist unveils the source: « I found this word on the internet. It was used during the wars in former Yugoslavia and in Kosovo. Urbicide was defined by Bogdan Bogdanovic to describe the ritual murder of cities. Urbicide describes violence aimed at the destruction of a city, a community, not as a strategic objective, but as an identity-related objective. So I started thinking about the concept. I like the principle of neologism: a known word to which something else is added which gives it a different meaning. The process is identical when I use everyday elements, adding new meaning to them. The film "Urbicide" is a reference to the general state of the world. » (2)

As a duel between Self and Play, the issue of meaning is omnipresent in all artistic work. What does really take place behind this proliferation of diverted objects? To pierce into heart of the foundation of creation, one must often wonder about what the artist does not show. Here it is the human figure, totally absent from the works, installations, sculptures or drawings dominated by the principles of instability and inherent rupture. However, in this absence perceived as reference/catalyst, the play of presence is yet enhanced as the hold of man over nature beats the time of all the scenographies set up like totems, in galleries or in the urban space. «I play on the natural and the" culturalized," specifies Tinka Pittoors. In the Amazon forest or on the pack ice, I see only the "culturalized" because these areas are marked by man, deforestation, global warming. Like the box trees in our gardens groomed like pet dogs. » (3)

This practice of diversion of images does not involve horrific apocalyptic scenes, but subtle arrangements of ordinary objects, mostly from recovery. The poisonous beauty of reality, pushed to the kitschy level of an extraordinary journey; all the codes here, seemingly thwarted, bring peace, torment or other emotions. A windmill painted candy pink, a scale model for a suburban garden, has its wings shorn off (
«Symbolic Violence»). A pink flamingo rests on one leg amid a chaos of off-kilter objects («Change Management»). Spheres of artificial boxwood or a football impose their falsely reassuring spherical shapes as progenitors amid a chaos of broken angles and planes («Urbicide»).
In this convergence of elements disengaged from understood reality, are we really this far from the violence of Goya, Matthew Barney, Jake & Dinos Chapman? Faded artificial colours are introduced on the fringes of an apple green, red or pink «girly» universe. Tinka Pittoors plays freely on differences in scale and reality in the manner of Lewis Carroll. Again, «poetry of the forbidden» ...
These recurring passages beyond the mirror do lead us somewhere. In an explosive creativity, the phantasmagoria visually impacts a multitude of cultivated fears codified with the greatest care and blind obstinacy.
Strategist? Candid player? As if to revive hidden forms, a soccer goal box framed with artificial plants cut flush with the bars still evokes the poetic forbiddenness with which the artist nurtures all her creations. «The «Zoning» installation speaks of delimitation, of prohibition: these are the boundaries of an urban area built according to strict rules, where houses designed according to a regulating family plan are lived in. The cut artificial plants evoke the idea of ​​discipline, of principles that are not questioned. » (4) The underlying notion of political control in the urban references precludes any illusion of freedom. Man has indeed transformed his vast natural landscape into a fragile environment, a physical and mental space that determines him just as much, in a radical way.

The art of confusion
  «Initially, the art of the puzzle seems to be a very limited art, a meagre art entirely contained within the mere teachings of Gestalt theory: the target object - be it an act of perception, of learning, a physiological system or, in the present case, a wooden puzzle – is not a sum of elements which would first have to be isolated and analysed, but an ensemble, that is to say, a form, a structure: the element does not pre-exist the whole, it is no more immediate or older, it is not the elements that determine the whole, but the whole that determines the elements: knowledge of the whole and its laws, as well as the ensemble and its structure cannot be deduced from the separate knowledge of its parts: this means that we can look at a piece of a puzzle for three days and believe to know everything about its configuration and colour without having made even the smallest progress: what matters only is the possibility of linking this piece to other pieces, and in this sense there is something in common between the art of the puzzle and the art of Go; it is only the assembled parts that will become readable in essence, that will become meaningful: considered in isolation, a piece of a puzzle is meaningless; it is a mere impossible question, an opaque challenge; but barely have we succeeded, after several minutes of trial and error, or in a prodigiously inspired half-second, to connect it to one of its neighbours, and the piece disappears, ceases to exist as a piece: the intense difficulty that has preceded this connection, which the word puzzle - enigma - so aptly describes in English, not only no longer has a purpose, but seems never to have had one, to the point where it has become evident: the two pieces joined together have miraculously become one, and in turn a source of error, hesitation, confusion and waiting. » Georges Perec (5)

quote by Perec applies to the puzzle art of Tinka Pittoors. In her narrative montages that converge on universal issues, her histrionic installations built around tools, chains, trees or nesting tables presented as identity markers, Tinka Pittoors suggests the gentle irony, opaque holdall and meticulous walk of Georges Perec. The artist also explores memorial stratification, while keeping an eye on political-economic logics. The present (the time of creation and perception), the future (the effect of foreknowledge) function within a dynamic that gives a central place to the person who is now «at work»: the viewer. Casually, the individual memory, the memory of codes, the social memory, will each infuse every creation with experience and imagination, creating a personal narrative. Into which one drifts, lost for meaning.

The drawing, from visual confrontation to a new table of orientation

«My drawing is very straightforward, precise. I often work from photographs taken everywhere. «Metamapping, », is perhaps what we see on a Google map, and then we add other elements drawn from memory. I compare my work to an alphabet: from 26 signs, we can make thousands of words, sentences, books. These structures provide new opportunities in the labyrinth ... » Tinka Pittoors (6)
A vertigious film, an exotic and hybrid installation, just to talk about drawing? In terms of mirroring play, the drawings, Tinka Pittoors’ daily supports, are so dense that their primal aspect creates confusion, exclusion. The act of drawing is a necessity that cannot be separated from the monumental work, functioning both as a mental fissure as well as a vital new way to interact with the sculptural work in which the dominance of the elements on and through each other makes play with the fundamental element of life that is precariousness, instability. They explain a state of being in an autonomous way.
Drawings that reveal a total confinement on the design, here the danger came from the artist's desired position: the point of view that dominates the installation, so as to decode its boundaries. Judgment, control, do not explain the visual interpretation, or its symbols. The graphic work was still the product of conscious aesthetic injunctions, even down to the dense intricacies of the normative lines.
In 2011, along with the extremely physical deconstruction of the monumental sculpture «Symbolic Violence», presented at the Botanical Garden of Louvain, the tradition of the drawing is suddenly completely altered.
The design is made by design, purposely leaving room for chance. Up to now, the desire for simplicity would capture a maximum through a minimum of lines, including these geometries, embedded into each other. Emerging from the graphic labyrinth, the magnitude of the line freed from its contingencies, the drips of paint of the «Symbolic Violence» piece affect the drawing, imparting a pictorial dynamic, a new freedom in which fragility, the unexpected, and a precious colorism, finally dare oppose the rigidity of the line. These constitute the most immediate, most authentic and a priori discrete expressions of Tinka Pittoors. (7)

This new approach strongly interrogates the gaze, whether the work is sculptural or graphic. The aspect of memory remains but the weight of the temporal creative act fades in favour of a new dimension: the complex pleasure of colour. The imagination of the artist is freed from the posture of the commonly visible. Ghettos of large cities, domesticated and abused nature, social and political environments remain the powerful engines of creation, which now slide into a promising freedom, outside the walls and boundaries of the forbidden.
Beyond the masks, the crippled ladders, the complex maps with sensitive dimensions, beyond the play on the truncated representation, emerges a space quite different from the utopian interlacement of prohibitions. Why does this gesture reach beyond aesthetics? After having tasted it to the fullest, Tinka Pittoors now ventures into this new reality, knowing that the hand never takes the same path.

Journalist and art critic.
« Le Soir », Brussels.

« L’interdit poétique de Tinka Pittoors », by Dominique Legrand, Le Soir, 30 March 2011. Exhibition at Galerie Triangle Bleu, Stavelot.
« Symbolic Violence » at the Jardin Botanique de Louvain, by Dominique Legrand, Le Soir, 17 August 2011.
Georges Perec, « La vie mode d’emploi », Hachette Littératures, 1978.« L’interdit poétique de Tinka Pittoors », by Dominique Legrand, Le Soir, 30 MArch 2011. Exhibition at Galerie Triangle Bleu, Stavelot.
Exhibition at Galerie Cypres, Leuven, September 2011.
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It is interesting and thought provoking to reflect on Tinka Pittoors’ Plastic Territory in the context of the constant evolution of existing and new urban terrestrial and aquatic landscapes. The artwork originates from a deep-rooted fascination with micro-universes, the artificiality of new metropolises, types of coexistence and their evolution, territories and borders. Pittoors’ interest in decay and ruination spurns from thoughts about “urbicide,” translated as “violence against the city” caused by war, urban clearances (the governmentally imposed expelling, or marginalizing and neglecting of a group of people) (14), and natural disasters.
Against the backdrop of such heavily charged subjects, Plastic Territory begins to express a rather lonely, claustrophobic, bittersweet, sensational boredom. Just imagine being a sole passenger on the scale model train, looking out the window as it moves glacially through a largely abandoned, science fiction landscape. Getting off the train is not an option. There is no specific destination, no apparent beginning or end of the journey. At the decelerated cadence of the train, the passenger paces passively between numerous, semi-identical, mirroring walls. Remains of monumental arcs, overpasses, or granite monuments converse with clusters of trees, anonymous flags on poles, disco balls, and a single eruption of steam or smoke. (15)
Is it solely based on the evident ruination of the created, artificial landscape, morphed into an effective visual distraction? Perhaps the artist herself has become a wanderer through multiple, interconnected, mental landscapes, similar to the one she documented and eventually demolished in Plastic Territory. The process itself is a process with an unquestionable romantic pattern of demiurgic creation (17), observation and meditation, disappearance, loss, and commemoration.
Jan van woensel

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When driving across the concrete strips that cut through Belgium, a traveller cannot help but notice the densely built areas and endless rows of houses along every road. This local phenomenon gave rise to an unrelenting cliché: “Between the few big cities in Belgium there are only elongated villages”. This soon led to another platitude of a higher order: “Belgium has no landscape”. After all, the modest country is littered with roads that bear the marks of feverish building activities and an equally zealous disregard for zoning laws. As a consequence, little room for green areas remains.

Ribbon development is in fact a symptom of urban sprawl, the rampant expansion of a large city in an uncontrollable flow away from the centre, thereby causing the spread and dilution of the main socio-economic functions. The Brussels region is a common example, and the typical policy of laissez-faire makes that Belgium, in terms of urban planning, is still an unparalleled disaster.
Crossing the country and moving along these strips of traditional housing, farm houses, oversized villas and horribly cosy suburbs, one feature appears predominant: the well-maintained yards. Obviously, home gardens are a more widely spread phenomenon, but the way many Belgians design theirs is remarkable and evidently inspired by the high volumes of passing traffic - including along the back yard - which necessarily imply a larger viewing audience. The landscaping appears heterogeneous but there is, apparently, a standard ideal. Hedges are cut straight; ornamental iron gates add a hint of grandeur to the driveways, flower beds provide colour in which plaster statues compete for attention. Garden and do-it-yourself centres, invariably located along the many regional roads, are but all too eager to take great advantage of this situation.
All this bears witness to a familiar and much described idea: man interacts with the land(scape) on the basis of needs, for instance for raw materials, energy or space. In essence, nature as such is used in an ultra-utilitarian manner. However, it is now quite obvious that we have reached a breaking point and must now come to face the consequences of the damage we have caused.
In stark contradiction, there is the romanticised view with which many continue to view the landscape; in its most extreme form, this feeling is born from a static view of the countryside. An environment, however, changes continuously – this is one of the primary laws of our biosphere. Between these constant transformations of nature on the one hand, and human intervention on the other, a correlation has occurred, one which artist Robert Smithson in the seventies of last century termed “dialectical”. Nature incessantly adapts, modifies, mutates and/or colonises.

Tinka Pittoors was raised in a Belgian suburban environment– replete with typical gardens– and is thus very familiar with this concept. Her current fascination is therefore mainly directed to the friction point between two notions that are traditionally regarded as antipodes: nature and culture. The artist realises but all too well that these concepts are inextricably linked and continuously affect each other. This explains her curiosity for artificial landscape elements, constructed pseudo-environments and the overarching idea of humankind’s attempt to control nature.
In addition, she frequently refers to the aforementioned, typical garden architecture, including through the adoption of its common decorative and additional aspects in her work. In this way, little wooden fences are scattered throughout the installation ‘Symbolic Violence’ (2011), in which a decorative kitschy sculpture – a pink, bucolic windmill to be precise – takes central place. In ‘Change Management’ (2011), a similar kind of showpiece has been added, in this case a flamingo.
Another regularly occurring object is the (beach)ball. It is an object that often lies carelessly on a meticulously well-cut lawn. Other times, it seems cautiously placed in a particular spot together with the other compositional parts of the garden. In Pittoors’ praxis, these balls appear both as physical forms and as visual elements in her paintings and drawings. Flags are used in a similar way: we recognise them from for example golf courses: natural stretches of land that are flawlessly maintained for human leisure. Another connotation is that of the beacon or even the symbols of occupation and conquest of land.
Then there are the objects that relate to the broader environment of these gardens, and in particular to the regional roads. These are very colourful, eye-catching elements that to some extent embellish the dull highways, yet actually serve a practical purpose, often in the context of construction or road works such as traffic and detour signage, traffic signs, barriers and fencing of all kinds. In Pittoors’ oeuvre, they appear in abundance.
It could therefore be argued that her art is basically synthetic in nature, for it invariably consists of assemblages of objet trouvés [found objects], converted elements and self-assembled components – in combinations that generate new meanings. In this regard, the artist herself often refers to the analogy with neologisms in language, in which words are distorted and/or placed together to form a new signifier. She explicitly illustrates this in the work ‘Steenzeer’ (2011): a neon sculpture that represents this new word. Here she combines the Dutch words ‘steen’ (stone) and ‘zeer’ (pain, sore) into a neologism full of potential for innumerable associations. Moreover, the letter Z has been inverted, to make it clear that the characters of the word are not only representations of certain sounds – a materialisation of the enunciation of (part of) the word – but are also used as individual sculptural elements.

Additionally, the arrangement of the spatial constellations of Pittoors’ three-dimensional works follows a similar line of thought as Robert Smithson’s with his dialectical landscape. In this way, her installations originate from what we might conveniently call ‘floor plans’: logical, spatial diagrams that are delineated by a number of markers. Common in her art is the black and white tile motive, sometimes laid in real ceramic tiles, while at other times a linoleum floor covering is used, such as for instance in ‘Change Management’ (2011), and in the works of the series ‘Lifestyle Storage’ from 2008.
Another method of laying out a ground plan involves Astroturf, a material that lends itself very well to Pittoors’ content-related preoccupations. Yet another approach was shown in ‘Zoning’, which she created in the Botanical Garden of Leuven (B) in 2011. The title of the piece is indeed significant; it is derived from a term used in the field of spatial planning, and refers to the division of land in functional areas. Pittoors marked out a patch of lawn in the garden by means of a tilted, metal-framed soccer goal, delineating an artistic zone.
This setup is then used by the artist as the basis for a sprawling excess of all kinds of elements. This is for instance clearly apparent in ‘Zoning’, with its tangle of bright-coloured epoxy shapes that seem, in a way, almost natural. These winding fabrications – often found in other sculptures as well - consistently contrast with the existing structure: irregularity versus rigidity, playfulness versus order and so on. Often, the various familiar, found objects seem to go their own way, as if they had set out to explore the space by themselves and ended up in some arbitrary configuration.
Nevertheless, the placing of every sculptural part has been well thought out, precisely in order to evoke this air of “artistic colonisation”. The available space is indeed invaded, territorialised. Like living organisms, many works seem to overtake, invade and overgrow the space. As a consequence, many of Pittoors’ installations are hard to grasp at a glance; the first approach yields a fragmented image, while the viewer initially focuses on the many details before taking in the whole.
Moreover, it is Pittoors’ intent to confuse and even corrupt the viewer’s experience of scale, visual referencing, and sense of boundaries. This is most noticeable when looking at the photographs in her oeuvre: small-scale works seem to have enormous proportions and vice versa. To this end, the artist employs other strategies as well. In this way, she likes to use all kinds of mirrors to double (parts of) an artwork and even deregulate the viewer’s vision. Another method is the use of man-size scale model toy dolls. With Pittoors, it is no coincidence these are invariably photographers.
The video ‘Plastic Territory – Urbicide’ from 2010, is a remarkable example of this principle. As is well known, film lends itself well for these kinds of optical deceptions and Pittoors clearly tried to get the most out of the medium in this respect. The looped film shows a track across a wide and diverse landscape in which there is much to see and plenty going on. But in fact it is an illusion: the artist built a model and ran a miniature train with a built-in camera slowly through it. Through both the accurate placing of mirrors in this bizarre setting – again, replete with figures of photographers– and the large-scale projection, it all looks like an inviting human-scale wonderland one could just step into.
An important factor in all this is the use of colour, in which Pittoors clearly excels. As has been mentioned before, her palette is often intense and bright but most of all artificial. Her colours are often exaggerated and over-saturated, to the point where all natural sensibility seems to completely disappear. With this approach, she very deliberately tries to differentiate the actual carriers of colour – often these are items referring to naturalness. A bright green, plastic box tree or a collection of reddish fake plants illustrate the dichotomy between the notions of naturalness and artificiality but all too well. But the colour palette of the entire composition is very precise and well balanced as well; this is possibly where Pittoors’ training in painting shows its influence.
She never really abandoned this activity, and along with the three-dimensional segment of her work, the artist still continues to paint and draw. The link between both types of art is in the case of Pittoors atypical. Usually, drawings and even paintings are preliminary studies for later three-dimensional realisations. Alternatively, sculptures can function as an inspirational source for works on paper, canvas or wood. But in Pittoors’ case, however, the interaction between both is intense; they are closely connected and bear witness of an inherent, consistent subject matter. Also noticeable here is the same use of ground plans with a concentration of contours, colours and other visual elements that are either, or both, recognisable and abstract. Here again, she subverts the perception of space: perspectives are repeatedly distorted or manipulated.

Finally, whoever, after reading this concise introduction, plans a drive along the many Belgian back roads – perhaps on the way home after visiting an exhibition of Tinka Pittoors – might come to appreciate their surroundings in quite a different way. A way which Pittoors has already been showing us for several years.

Tom nys 2011

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