Berend Strik

As piercing as two gigantic eyes, a monumental, psychedelic diptych replicates the image of a dome in Berend Strik’s latest exhibition—dominating the gallery space and encapsulating the characteristics that have been crucial to the artist’s work since the late 1980s: photographic images rigorously reworked as embroidery, with brightly colored fabrics and threads; a passion for architecture; and allusions to personal narrative. The Face in the Building or History Crying (all works 2009) forms a dazzling dissection and doubling of the cupola of the Szeged Synagogue in Hungary. Strik stitched numerous circular and flame-shaped patches of fabric (tulle, velvet, dyed cotton) to the greatly enlarged C-prints, making tangible the burst of color the stained-glass windows created at the moment the photo was taken. Referring to his methodology as “thixotropy”—a term in physics indicating a fluid’s change in viscosity—the artist emphasizes his role as an agitator of forms and mediums.

Yet in almost all other works on view, most of them begun during his recent travels to Israel and the West Bank, Strik’s intervention is much more subtle. In pictures of Israeli and Palestinian enclaves, streets and people are gently coated with pastel-tinted layers of tulle and other fabrics, which accentuate or organically radiate from objects or shapes in the image. The additions stress the subjectivity of photography, for Strik considers his snapshots, as he prefers to call them, imaginary and unfinished—a documentary recording that is altered in the arena of reception. By stitching and layering fabric, Strik integrates and even magnifies his idiosyncratic perception of, say, a tiny bit of lipstick and some frivolous head scarves (Scarves, Conversation Piece) or a deserted shopping street (Ramallah). The last work makes particularly evident the deliberate ambiguity resulting from Strik’s treatment of the photograph. One can only guess at the circumstances under which this image was taken—windows and doors blackened, garbage lying around, calm clouds of purple and beige fabric floating. Is this a common siesta, or the result of a hasty exodus from an imminent missile attack?

Nowhere, however, does Strik politicize his art. His approach is personal, not to say autobiographical, even in this political minefield. Still, in a recent interview, the artist expressed a desire to be an agent of change in his own way. By aestheticizing the images of this region overrun by the media, he hopes to entice the public to look at the situation anew. To Strik, then, thixotropy is also a metaphor for the perceptual power of the viewer who, through the act of looking, sets in motion the transformation of a hardened image to a more malleable one. While this may seem too idealistic a stance, Strik’s thixotropy is most successful where the artist is most assertive, instigating an intriguingly complex experience for viewers. It is less the overwhelming richness of the appliqué than Strik’s careful placement of delicate layers that mobilize the “imaginary” photograph through physical intervention.

Saskia van der Kroef