Sunday 4 August 2013

A Palace of Memory, A Face of Her Own

Although I have known her for a while now, I have recently had the pleasure of working a little more deeply with the Dutch artist Margje Bijl.  Many of you will be familiar with her uncanny work around the visual culture of Jane Morris, uniquely expressed through her own form, her own beauty.  Margje is more than just a reflection of a Stunner, she is a walking work of art, an exploration, a reincarnation, all of this and more.  She physically explores what it means to be Jane, to be herself, and I find her work inspiring and breath-taking.  It is with delight that I can bring you some of Margje's work today, so I will hand you over to Margje...

Rossetti's studio
Christina Rossetti
"The walls of the studio of Pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti were covered with his paintings and drawings depicting his muse Jane Morris. By a stretch of the imagination he might have fantasized about a device which would enable future generations to access his art, poetry and even his private correspondence with Janey. But never would he have been able to foresee a future in which a female artist, bearing an uncanny resemblance to his beloved muse, would put this same device to good use in her studio. Rossetti's imagination would probably spiral out of control if he could witness this double combining her own image with the photographs of Jane Morris, which he himself had commissioned to be taken in his own studio home and garden.

From Time to Time She Stole a Glance, 2009
Original photographs by Sipco Feenstra 
and John Robert Parsons
Sunlit studio, 2012 
Original photographs by Sipco Feenstra 
and John Robert Parsons
From her chair, bathed in the device's blue glow, Jane’s double would even be able, in her thoughts, to stroll along his street to view the front of his home from several angles. Another window of this device would bring his world even closer by allowing her to book a journey to his country. Eventually, she would appear upon his doorstep in person, accompanied by her lover at that time, a photographer.

In her hand she would carry a portable version of the device and would use it to repeat the words Rossetti himself once wrote: '...The photographer is coming at eleven on Wednesday. So I'll expect you as early as you can manage...'

On his doorstep, 2011
photograph by Hein van Liempd
Cheyne Walk
A new pattern for the Empress, 2011
photograph by Hein van Liempd
Red House
Preparing for the guests, 2011
photograph by Hein van Liempd
Victoria and Albert Museum
I cannot love you, 2011
photograph by Hein van Liempd
William Morris Gallery
At a certain moment it appeared that Rossetti had left his front door open, enabling me to escape. From the street I saw an estate agent's board in the garden, saying: 'Kelmscott House For Sale'. This puzzled me, as no rumours had been spread as yet about an imminent closure of the museum, and Jane herself was still living there.
She sat at a table by the window, bent over, and her hair had fallen forward, hiding her face. However, it was clear from her still posture that she was giving full attention to the to the massive volume lying on the table in front of her. I thought to myself: ‘Wait a moment, I've never seen this scene before, even though so many photographs of her were published!'

Moving to stand beside her, I offered her my square documentation booklet. Jane studied the frontispiece first, which showed the photograph 'Jane Morris, leaning forward, on an elbow'. About this photograph, which had introduced her to my life, she remarked: 'Yes, I do know this one.'
It was an exciting moment for me when Jane turned over the booklet to study the back cover. I was eager to see her reaction to the photograph which Sipco had made of me some twenty years earlier, just before the start of our relationship. I had added a sepia haze to his original black and white photograph and had surrounded my own portrait with a beautiful, subtle light.

Relaxed and intrigued, Jane studied my photograph, her expression less tormented than the look so well known from her photographs. After a while she murmured some barely decipherable words: 'Oh dear...', clearly affected by the sight of her double. She gently pulled me nearer because she wished to whisper something in my ear. 'You can simply be yourself.'"

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I think the aspect of Margje's work that I find most striking is her ability to be Jane and herself in a dual act of understanding of Jane's true character and the part she played for Rossetti.  I think you will agree the photographs that accompany her narrative are so lovely and the use of colour brings me back to Rossetti and the rich jewels of Venetian portraiture.  The way she plays with spaces is intriguing, stepping through portals of imagination, between William Morris Gallery, Cheyne Walk and the V&A that exist for her and Jane as both separate and simultaneous spaces.  Her art allows the truths of the buildings to whisper through and the surroundings of the Stunners are often as beautiful as the women that inhabited them.  

Margje Bijl's photographs from the series 'A Memory Palace of her own' will be exhibited in the William Morris Gallery, from January 11th till March 9th 2014, to celebrate the century of Jane Morris's death.  Her work can be seen on her website and on the Facebook page connected to her project.  

Margje Bijl's work is protected by Pictoright, Amsterdam.

I am very much looking forward to meeting her at the exhibition because she is possibly the nearest I will ever get to a Stunner.

Watch this space....

1 comment:

  1. I was looking at this picture of Katherine Hepburn in 'A Woman Rebels' made in 1936.

    Her pose; especially the way her hands are held, reminded me of Jane and I wonder if it was a conscious homage?


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