Visiting one of Karin van Dam’s installations is like embarking on a fabulous journey through an unknown urban landscape. At first sight, her drawings and immense installations resemble the chaotic world of an unfamiliar city: complex structures full of arteries, conduits and underground cells, where you have to learn to find your way around. She herself is an explorer, for ever on the move and never arriving.
Her materials – the pipes, ducts and other connecting elements that form the palette for a new installation – are also the product of chance discovery. This summer Van Dam is creating a new installation in the Projects Gallery of the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag. Entitled Born in a Balloon, the work gives visitors the opportunity to experience a dark no man’s land of the artist’s imagination: a place to hide, as if coming from nowhere and going nowhere, safe from both the past and the future.
The Invisible Cities
Van Dam’s installations are like cities or worlds in themselves. In this respect, her work is reminiscent of Italian writer Italo Calvino’s legendary novel Invisible Cities, in which the author describes a series of imaginary cities through the mouth of the protagonist, explorer Marco Polo. Van Dam feels a sense of ‘found kinship’ with the novel and there is a similarity in the way in which her work considers the urban environment, starting from the inside, with the city’s life, energy and flows of water, air and other organic elements. In addition to this literary source, Van Dam’s work also owes something to that of Constant, whose New Babylon constitutes a quest for an urban utopia. The Gemeentemuseum Den Haag is therefore the ideal place to exhibit Karin van Dam’s work, under the same roof as that of Constant.
Van Dam likes to spend her days on long train journeys, for ever ‘in transit’. This sense of an unending journey is the key to her work and she is not concerned with creating enduring artworks. She is always in search of new materials with which to construct her vast installations and, once the works have completed their temporary lifespan, all that remains of them is a media record. The installation in the Gemeentemuseum will centre round black balloons covered with knitted shells. The various textures of the artwork – rubber, plastic and soft materials like textiles: familiar materials endowed with a new function – will be an experience in themselves. The basic elements of the construction will be brought together on site and the artist will spin a complex web of ropes, clamps and hooks to fill the space around them. The title Born in a Balloon is a quote from Alfred Hitchcock’s film The 39 Steps, where the male protagonist constantly finds himself an involuntary participant in a series of apparently unrelated situations, all somehow due to a woman who says she comes from nowhere and is going nowhere. In other words, she is ‘born in a balloon’.
The exhibition is accompanied by a lavishly illustrated artist’s book, published by NAI Publishers and designed by SYB (price € 27.50).
The exhibition and book are sponsored by Fonds BKVB, the Tijlfonds and Stichting Mommerskwartier/Audax Textielmuseum Tilburg.