Transformation

At the opening of Ans Swart’s exhibition in the Waag in Haarlem, North Holland, 8 October 2000, the following text was spoken by Dr. Doro Franck, cultural-literary scientist.


I want to say a few words to accompany this exhibition, in particular about the symbolic meaning and background to this impressive six-panelled work.
Normally it is a tricky situation to clarify works of art with concepts; a pictural work cannot in the end be replaced by words. Yes, words, which can soon lead to concepts, can become an obstacle between a work of art and a spectator. Art should not rely on concepts but on understanding.
Look with an unprejudiced eye despite all I tell you. The power of this colour-magic does not depend on an explanation.
In this case the paintings have to do with a certain symbolic meaning and I will add just a few notes which hopefully will not fade the view but increase the understanding.
At first people who know the earlier works of Ans Swart will be suprised. After her wildly moving and spontaneous paintings of an earlier period, which originated partly out of her expressive performances, the tranquillity of these paintings is suprising. This process was already taking place in her series of vases. But here not only does the movement fade away but also the last remnant of narrative figuration disappears. Though I would hesitate to call these paintings abstract and, as I will make clear, there is still movement, it is of a different character than before.
The inspiration for this study of colours - it can also be said - comes from a Tibetan purification ritual. A few years ago Ans Swart went on an adventurous trip through Tibet and since then she has studied a particular tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. But this particular ritual is only the start, a place of departure. By the way, I don't want to go into details of the symbolic meaning, that would be misleading and taking attention away from the work of art itself. In any case Ans Swart has added her own vision and interpretation.
The starting point of this ritual is visualisation. Six disturbing passions or emotions - and the matching worlds (lokas) - are symbolised through particular colours situated in the different chakras. The ritual purifies each colour in turn. Instead of being eliminated the negative emotion (like pride, jealousy, anger or attachment) is transformed into related wisdom. As a painter Ans saw a challenge. She searched for a way to make this inner transformation-process visible. She combined the given colours with their complementary colour. (You know for every colour there is an exact opposite or complementary colour; you can observe it in the after-image on your retina.) She let the two opposites blend into each other, from the top down. This brought, so to speak, a fight of antithesis at the point where the contrasting colours met. This is exactly the most interesting, because there where the battle should be the most vehement, there appears the most quiet zone of grey. In a negative sense grey could be seen as indifferent or doubting, but in this case it is more readily (it lays for the hand, a dutch way of saying, that it flys out of the before) seen as a form of calm and wisdom, of equanimity, balance and reconciliation.
Every passion must, to become purified, go through this grey zone. So there is really a movement of meaning in the process of transformation. There is a vertical line from top to bottom (or the other way around) and a horizontal from passion to passion: there is always another nuance of equilibrium which is arising. But there is still a third line, a third movement, the one of depth, the line to the spectator. Here the point is not only the grey or the purified colour which results. Here what matters is the total: all colours complete each other, having the same worth. There is no judgement here about good or bad colours c.q. emotions, what is relevant here is the total view, the process of integration. This integration succeeds only when the viewer takes the right distance. Intended or not intended this is psychologically symbolic. We only get self-knowledge through necessary distance, when we are able to look at ourselves sensibly and without judgement, yet with great precision and patience.
In this same Tibetan tradition it is said that, depending on circumstance and capacity, there are three ways to deal with passions and disturbing emotions etc.
1. one can avoid or neglect the passion.
2. one can transform it into its opposite, like hatred into love.
3. But one can also apply no judgement at all: integrating instead of eliminating or transforming. That means one is so relaxed and balanced that one can also give negative emotions a place. One experiences the energy of the emotions without allowing them to take over and determine our actions.
In these paintings the second as well the third process is present, depending on what the spectator wants to see.
In the final analysis it is the process, which means the path, which is of most importance, not the goal. Even though the scene for this integrated experience, -a way of looking which connects and balances all elements ¤" has been set by this work of art, in the end it is the creation of the spectator. Please grant this process the necessary time to unfold.
The adventure of the complementary colours is also applied in the other works seen here. Sometimes in a very subtle way, as when one sees only the grey on the frontside, the colours which, when mixed, result in this specific grey appear only around the frame. It is only when the colours are really their exact complementary that one reaches an balanced grey and, for instance, not a brown or purple or other mixture.-
I wish you a lot of joy-in-looking.

Dr. Dorothea Franck