Psychoanalysts in the Artist Village… An impression of an extimate experience

by Philippe Grisar on November 22, 2012

Note: This is reproduced, with permission, from, and is available here. This page is a text on experience as a ‘commentator’ in the Artists’ Village.

Introduction: Kort relaas over de tussenkomst als ‘commentator’in het Kunstenaarsdorp. Twee psychoanalytici tussen de kunstenaars… De tekst is in het Engels omwille van het internationale karakter van het ‘dorp’.

Main Text: After a concert of contemporary music performed by the recommendable Goeyvaerts String Trio, I met Stef Van Bellingen once again. We agreed to work together on a project on self-portraits, identity and etceteras. We sat discussing the project in the overgrown garden of the deceased local painter Jan Buytaert. In the warmth of a feeble sun, Stef explained me with his usual passion what the Artists’ Village is about. Interested in this revolving door between young artists and art professionals, I proposed to join the ‘commentators’. “To lend my professional ear”, I said. The aim was not to ‘comment’ but to listen to the artists and their work. As a psychoanalyst, I know that listening has its effects.

A psychoanalyst browses in art regularly, who doesn’t? Art contains a treasure. Freud knew this and produced a number of papers on art, literature, and culture as a whole. May be some will remember his essay on the ‘Uncanny’ [i]? Well, it would be nice to meet the artist her- or himself and maybe, give something in return.

Stef, chief of the village, warned my colleague Lieven Jonckheere and me, not without delight, that the news of our arrival had stirred his tribe. The signifier psychoanalyst seems to be enough to unsettle any community nowadays. And indeed the reactions varied between high expectations and – yes – a trifle of fear. As if the psychoanalyst were a shaman, who brings the repressed and unwanted cruel truth to the front with a snap of the fingers – or a flap of the ear in this case. We don’t.

Suspicion ebbed away quickly and made place for some very nice and interesting conversations. The artist, Eric van der Kooij, formulated the general shift of expectation in experience in this way: “From dreaded towards appreciated” (“Van gevreesd naar gewaardeerd.” Quoted from an e-mail). Thank you , Eric.

45 minutes is exactly the time of a therapeutic session. What an evil coincidence. ‘Lending an ear’ is not the same as handing out diagnoses and certainly not submitting our interlocutor to something in the realm of psychotherapy.

I had no plan. I did not (want to) know what to expect. Most commentators may have the desire to add something in the perspective on art: advice. To add-vice – allow me the pun –  is not what a psychoanalyst intends – there is usually enough.

The portfolio was the chosen starting point together with the intentions they had in or with their artwork. This was in itself very interesting. I wondered if it were the same story they told any commentator? Most of the time there was room for my little questions (hm, go on, what do you mean,..). Questions that made space to elaborate, to explore (together). I tried to make sense of what they said or had created.

Some talks became pretty personal and intense. Few artists kept on the level of their work and others allowed more openness. Every conversation was different and meandered around the art works, views on art or life,  stories around the work, life events etc. One is fragile, searching, growing, the other strong of vision and goal. A kaleidoscope of young artists passed the table.

A lot of works, so was my impression, tried to reveal (or at least tried to make some opening in) the space beyond the obvious, the imaginary. Sometimes deliberately perturbing the public. This beyond or in between, (even uncanny), emerged in several ways and in different articulations.

I remarked to an artist that she had shown me ‘nothing’. The ‘in between’ stitched in the art, made the viewer wait for the ‘real’ material to come forward. Making that kind of art or experiencing it, like a performer in the front stage desperately looking for the gap between the curtains where the actual stage is hidden. An inconvenient or even slightly unnerving experience.

Another artist showed with very small interventions space: showing the (almost) nothing with almost nothing. This theme kept coming in other works: the painted landscapes that appeared to be mere decors; black balloons with photos of dead family members in an Hungarian village which slowly deflated; shadows of people and public who suddenly find themselves in the art work; gazing children; or the installation as intervention in the rummaging in the odds and bits collected over time, etc…

Artists seem to be looking for something in between or beyond the folds of the expressible. And find ‘it’… again. A work that brings a beyond forward, isn’t that a presentation of the extimate (the most intimate to us, is however outside us)? This reminds me on my work with spoken words. Analysands tend to scrape for the one memory, the one word or sentence that unfolds the mystery of their construction or bricolage – to say it with Lévi-Strauss. Artists just produce it, for all of us…?

One of the artists may not be looking to de-construct the ambivalent relation with the Other. The art was a composition or construction of elements superposed as if the artist wanted to glue the world that is in constant danger to fall apart.

Some artists may have too much past, which made the work almost like art therapy. An interesting twilight. The elaborations and operations on the material, did give the material a new perspective. In this way, it wasn’t a private struggle anymore. The actual audio recordings they operated on, surpassed the particular hystory.

Art, so it seems, is not only a particular discourse but an intertwining between the singular and the universal. Therefore, it is not mere therapy, it is beyond.

For my part the artist village was a fascinating experience. The organization seemed impeccable, the entertainment (the Blue Rabbit Blues Band, the artist Koen Van Mechelen!) terrific. The melting pot of commentators proved to come up with a tasteful brew. The ambiance was warm and jovial.  Extimate of all were the very interesting conversations with the young artists themselves. Stella Baraklianou found the Village “a life changing experience”.  Let us hope that all the artists could pick up at least a little something.

[i] Sigmund Freud : The “Uncanny” : 1919h: published in Standard Edition, Volume 17, p219 : or in pfl Penguin Freud Library, Volume 14 – Art and Literature, p335


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