Anne Daems


An Artist’s Choice

Anne Daems’ work exists as drawings and photography. Works in both methods are registrations, more or less, of what she sees. The images are consistently taken in public spaces; it is a sleek world of the outside, of what is seen. At first it may seem the images are random; close perusal reveals a practise that is as playful as it is precise.

One can try to imagine this quiet, demure person standing on a corner waiting for a boy or a girl, who, in her eyes, could be a fashion model. She could also be patiently scanning the streets for people walking around with transparent plastic bags. The artist may for a while choose to pick on people waiting in launderettes. Other days she may be registering the work people do around their homes, washing their car or trimming their garden hedges. How she obtains these photographs precisely is uncertain, but it certainly places the viewer in the position of the voyeur. Like a spy looking for proof of some description, she catches her unwitting subjects off guard – engrossed in the acts of their daily lives. She operates in a manner worthy of a private detective, subtly prying, into the un-guarded aspects of our existence, and navigates its edges.

She focuses in, but not too explicitly, on matters that do not seem to be of primary importance. Her scope is off-centre, the centre of gravity lop-sided according to the beaten tracks of usual vision; she is looking outside of the box. For the mind, this is refreshing. She hones in on those parts of culture and existence that are presumed trivial. This can be the clustered patterns made by shampoo bottles left by the side of a swimming pool as she has depicted in her drawings. Or it can be the shopping items stuffed back into the wrong rack, no doubt by a shopper who suddenly needed to leave the shop. There is humour in this work; yet neither her subjects, nor her audience are the laughing stock.

Perhaps in her series the artist is trying to navigate a way through chaos. In the series she makes, repetition is a constant. And then, like a child counting the number of red cars passing by, the artist registers the turf counts of what she sees. She seems to be keeping a score. More than a sociological study, it seems as if she is measuring something, in a way that is bordering on the obsessive-compulsive.

In the series of women in fur coats and golden rings, her subjects, like repeated by like, seem easily interchangeable in their similarity. The images are cropped and focus on the cloaks these ladies wear, and the paper shopping bags of luxury brands on their arm. Colourful bags become rectangles of colour. Fur coats are the warm brown against which they are set off; the light these images capture crystal clear. She boils the picture down to a play of abstracts, yet one which has the attractiveness of a fashion photograph.

The image of a woman in a fur coat shopping on Madison Avenue is revealed as a generic prospect. In this view, one luxury brand is as good as another, as well as the arm of the person carrying it. It is a paradox: these items the wearers reach for in order to achieve some kind of social distinction, these very identifying features, this act carrying of a status-conferring bag, are all but absorbed into wilful anonymity. It is true the bags and coats are all slightly different, yet what unites them is greater, as the saying goes.

Another series, “72 boys and girls who could be models” is a fine booty of people who, by the artist’s estimation, were judged to possibly be fashion models or to have the potential to be so. In other words, she casts herself in the role of a scout, and at the same time peruses and records her specimens, these could-be fashion models, out “in the wild”, outside of the controlled environment of the photo studio laboratory. The speculative nature of the title in turn places the viewer in the role of scout, judge, as one who measures whether or not a person fits into the mould. Yet here again it is seen that the people she chooses with her lens are themselves voluntarily engaged in conforming to a certain kind of appearance.

The work Anne Daems makes is evocative of the question of free will. It seems to say that, like flocks of birds circling a church tower, human beings too, going about their daily business of being human, fall into patterns of behaviour which can be recognised, identified, if not explained. People in crowds or on their own in the open space move around, dress, speak, act, according to patterns, embodying a logic they aren’t even aware of themselves. It is like the behaviour of ants building an anthill, the patterns in the work of bees, the scatterings of stars that together make up a galaxy, or even the satisfying confirmation that fractals seem to give: that chaos, does, after all, in some telescoped-out kind of way, make sense. No answer is really given. The images thankfully breathe and speak for themselves. The method of approach isn’t even vaguely scientific. The images in their blankness exude the silence of the indistinct, whilst at the same time being taut, fresh, suggesting the levelling perspective that people and objects that populate this earth have an invisible cohesion, no matter how confusing the configuration. In any case cohesion, however random and inexplicable, is created in these series, which suggests that it is also, after all, a question of choice.

Kate Mayne for Wound magazine, December 2008