Sofie Crabbé on the solo exhibition "Beyond Time" at Ingrid Deuss Gallery
Published in H ART magazine

March 2018


Twijfel wordt ondergewaardeerd. Is kunst niet de plaats bij uitstek waar mág getwijfeld worden? Fotografie is voor Julie van der Vaart alvast een geschikt medium om te wikken en te wegen. En een ideale ruimte om vragen te stellen. Over de kosmos bijvoorbeeld, en over tijd en ruimte.

Bij Ingrid Deuss Gallery hangen momenteel kleine prints van naakte, menselijke lichamen - fragmentarisch in beeld gebracht en als kostbare relikwieën gepresenteerd. Zwart-wit en een zeldzame keer in kleur. Nu eens lijken de lichamen op te lossen in de fotografische drager, soms is het alsof ze net te voorschijn komen. Steeds vormen ze het resultaat van een experimenteel ontwikkelproces. Lees: negatieven die nu eens langer of net minder lang ontwikkeld zijn, het licht dat even is aangestoken in de donkere kamer, prints die met chemicaliën bewerkt zijn of verschillende papieren dragers die zijn uitgetest. Niets nieuws onder de zon, verzuchten we, vernieuwing is een illusie.

Wat Julie van der Vaarts werk wél verfrissend maakt is hoe ze de wereld en zichzelf ziet vanuit de kosmos, als een nietig stipje in een constant veranderend, oneindig groot geheel. Die zelfrelativering lezen we in de vrijheid en de wendbaarheid van haar fotografie, dat duidelijk niet de taal is van een technische controlefreak, maar wel van een uiterst gevoelig persoon die kan loslaten. We staan hier oog in oog met de taal van iemand met een grote interesse voor tijd- en ruimtebeleving. Niet de klassieke lineaire tijd en een vastgepinde ruimte fascineert de Nederlandse fotografe, maar wel de de tijd en ruimte die we ons amper kunnen voorstellen. Bijvoorbeeld verschillende momenten (zoals vandaag, gisteren en morgen) die tegelijk plaatsvinden. Of deeltjes die tegelijk op verschillende plaatsen zijn. Kortom: een imaginaire tijd en ruimte. En net in dat speelveld, daar bevindt zich de fotografie van Julie van der Vaart.

Die wetenschappelijke dimensies gaat de fotografe tot op zekere hoogte onderzoeken. Niet zo gedetailleerd als haar vriend die biomedische wetenschappen studeerde, maar wel met een gretige belangstelling voor alles wat met astrofysica en kwantummechanica te maken heeft. Deze specifieke aandacht is ook in haar andere werk - dat weliswaar niet op de tentoonstelling te zien is - aanwezig. Julie van der Vaart richt er haar licht op eeuwenoude landschappen en grotten. Maar voor de expo bij Ingrid Deuss Gallery is er voor een duidelijke focus gekozen, namelijk naakte lichamen die meanderen tussen zijn en niet zijn, tussen zich hier bevinden of elders, tussen het verleden en de toekomst. Of alles tegelijk. Nee, laat varen alle hoop, gij die dit werk probeert te begrijpen.

"Haunting Nude Photographs Evading Time and Space" 
Edwina Langley on the series "Beyond Time" for AnOther magazine

February 2018

Yesterday, today, tomorrow. It is an inherent part of the human condition to think in timelines: where we’ve been, where we are, where we are going. But for Dutch artist Julie van der Vaart, this is a limited perspective. “When I was a child I looked at the stars and I could really imagine space going on forever. I had panic attacks because it wasn’t just above, but also below, and left, and right,” she explains. “I could envision space that went beyond the boundaries of my mind. When you close your eyes you see ‘an image’. What I was imagining went beyond that."

“Then I found out about the theory of imaginary time, in which time is not linear, you can move around in it. Then I knew that however things happen, everything was going to be fine; I’m already there, it’s already happening.”

Van der Vaart was a student of science and mathematics, forever absorbing information. When it came to her Masters, however, she strongly felt she needed to create, to put something out into the world. She looked first to fashion photography, but found it didn’t fit, so she turned her lens instead to portraiture. “I struggled a lot at the beginning because I didn’t know anything about photography or images or how to make a good image,” she says. “Everything was really bad.”

Her professors at the Media, Arts and Design Faculty in Genk, Belgium, thought differently. They pushed her towards the medium and in 2011, she won the golden lens award at the 33rd International Photo-Festival in Knokke-Heist with an image depicting a boy on a bed, staring into nothing.

It would take leaving her studies to begin the process of developing a style. She revelled in the freedom to experiment, to take pictures unrestrained by both the boundaries of education and the weight of expectation. Unlike many of her contemporaries who were fixated on technology, Van der Vaart looked for images that evoked feeling. She found a muse in her boyfriend – though not the person himself, his body.

Bodies became a recurrent theme, employed as a means to express an idea. Intuitively too, the photographer leaned towards landscapes. “In nature you can find beauty and also the opposite – horror,” she says. “When you’re quiet you let yourself become one with nature, you have all the answers. It’s not meditative, but true, honest and real.”

Her oeuvre now encapsulates both bodies and landscapes, shot in analogue and black and white. “If you have colour you have this extra layer of information,” she explains. “You get more of the essential, central things if you get rid of that.” Romantic, sombre, ethereal, eerie; Van der Vaart’s work is both conceptual and “poetical”. She likes the balance between her own ideas and the viewer’s interpretation – that they can feel something while knowing nothing.

Beyond Time combines the artist’s fascination with the concept of time and her longstanding muse, the human body. Inspired by quantam mechanics – and in particular, Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History Of Time – she wanted to create timeless photographs, images that do not exist within the confines of the here and now. To do so, she experimented with chemicals to craft a cosmic effect within the images. The bodies on show look as though they could be dissolving into space, or emerging from it – or perhaps doing both simultaneously.

In a departure from her usual approach the collection includes a small number of prints in blue, to break the flow. The results are haunting and hypnotic; a series of intangible figures, floating in a world beyond our imagination.

"This Disconnecting Solace: Julie van der Vaart’s “Dusk”"
Brad Feuerhelm on the book "Dusk" for American Suburb X

March 2016

I often find that in this glycerine and petrol indoctrined age of the anthropocene there is akin to this, the strange feeling of having a clear and suffocating plastic bag contortioned over my head and drawn at the neck to drown out the hum of traffic, strangers and light alike. There is something of a new eclipse in my mind under condition of claustrophobia. It is as if the inhalation of this plastic world is what makes sense from the pulpit of this discomfiture. It is only when the onset of the evening comes into proximity of this ever present metaphorical bag that it becomes difficult to read much meaning into anything external. Inside-my breath becomes laboured, the temperature drops and my eyes begin to dry out. If they could crack like mud, they would. The only sick sense of self-preservation that I have in this environment is not to let my body-drift too close to any of the awkward strangers that are encompassing me and to perhaps curtail the potential bruising of my limbs from chairs, street lamps, rusty implements of found torture and the like. My limbs are at this point, fairly useless. I’d like to lie on the floor or the street like a dog if the passersby were certain to leave my body alone in this condition, not that I’m sure I want to feel it anymore apart from perhaps the way the overhead leaves brush past it on their own way to the cold concrete under my feet.

Night brings distance. It is as if to say that a body dysmorphia forms, but only below the neck. In the bag, obfuscated, if beleaguered of breath, I come closest to my interior world, yet I am still carried away by those awkward active limbs that find a way to attach themselves to my floating cranium. When my head is encapsulated and a distance between it and the world occurs, I am closest to home, to night and to the abstraction of a consciousness that I seek to inhabit.

Julie van der Vaart's DUSK is a shrouded piece of photographic investigation into nocturnal unreason where silver nitrate meets the dim slow hum of dull bulbs or flickering candles at best. It is somber. The bodies within are posed with an unnatural grace in their soft recline. There is a memory within of Awoiska van der Molen or Daisuke Yakota’s work. The grain is stretched and strained to tension the image-not unfamiliar in the work of the aforementioned or perhaps even like Harmony Korine's "The Bad Son". In the Bad Son, fading Xerox copies of an adolescent Macaulay Culkin dissipate into scratchy dissolve through repetition and mechanical degradation and generational printing. Van der Vaart is not overly partial to repletion of her images, which makes the work different from all of the above. The curious work is monotone and hints at an abstraction of the natural world, which is pleasant somehow. If you need to see something that pushes past quiet rumination to that of excessive cow-towing to shock or extremes, you will not find it here. My allegory above is something of a passive current-a synaptic and immediate response to the work. It leaves room to ponder which is something sadly lacking in many books these days.