Rethorics in art criticism

Mark Rietmeijer reads from one sculpture to another

'Throughout history worlds of words evoke worlds of things,' Foucault stresses in his 'Les mots et les choses' The sculptor Mark Rietmeijer (1948) tends to endorse such a credo. Visual arts and linguistic philosophy are in his view closely related. In a blazingly lighted and dusty studio in The Hague/Holland, where the floor is covered with marble chips, Margreet den Buurman notes down the thoughts of this well-read artist. 'Many words precede the realization of my sculptures.'

'Nowadays artists cannot nail together two boards of wood without being "accused" by critics of taking position in visual arts. And such a point of view becomes elucidated by critics in text. Of course artists mean to "say" something. But the funny thing is that artists themselves often do not feel an urge to put any text aside their works of art. So interviews rarely produce something that surpasses the level of agricultural news, for it is in this vacuum that the critic shows his unbridled fling. Suddenly any coherence springs up out of the blue that did not exist before. Critics ought to be aware of the material they use to create such coherence: language. Critics should wake up to the fact that in writing they use rethorics.'

'Up till three years ago I was engaged on formal matters, while creating my own formproblems and solving them subsequently - stacking elements in space and inquiring the total form that arose. I just wanted to make beautiful sculptures and I hoped that people would experience them likewise. Since my interest in the philosophy of language my work has changed: nowadays I seek to tempt explicitly.'

'Rethorics were developed by Aristotle as a complementary technique of already greatly respected oratorical art. Rethorics have to do with logic, the art of convincing with linguistic means, with the tricks of the trade. I tended to surmise that in visual arts rethorics function likewise. Anyway, such a hypothesis forms the background of my work in the past three years. Catching up the signification of a text means nothing but indicating its moments of persuasion. I think that in a painting or a sculpture similar moments are equally demonstrable.'

Marble sculpture 'Atalanta Fugiens' by:  Mark Rietmeijer, Sculptor, Stonecarver, Philosopher.  Publication: Rethorics in art criticism 'Alchemistic texts are full of desires to wealth and eternal life. They describe experiments that invariably meant to derive gold from base metals and to discover elixirs that would make man immortal. First and foremost I was struck by the fact that they were phrased in terms of birth, friendship, marriage, suffering and death. Alchemy inspired me to the sculptures Atalanta Fugiens en The Alchimia, according to the book by Michael Maier (1617). The sculpture Atalanta Fugiens is about desires, cherished by alchemists; desires which at the same time try to escape from their embraces like a "fleeing butterfly". In these sculptures I started to apply lead for the first time. There is a main form and a contraform. As far as Atalanta Fugiens is concerned, the main form is a marble drapery: a lemniscate that expresses alchemy itself (the number "8" plays an important role in numerology or "kabbala"). The lead that moves around and through the marble expresses alchemists desires. And what to me became a very important association: I started to notice the similarity between lead and language. Language is also a base material, worn off by everyday use. Nevertheless it can be uplifted to the level of poetry! The sculpture De Alchimia is again Marble sculpture 'The Achimia' by:  Mark Rietmeijer, Sculptor, Stonecarver, Philosopher.  Publication: Rethorics in art criticism a marble drapery, of which the position expresses the blind alley to which alchemy was doomed. Here the lead forms a girding up of the waist and hangs down in rags from the shoulder. Desire has become a burden and language has been torn and tattered.'

'The book "Language and Desire", written by A. Mooy, attracted me because of its title, which appealed to the many songs of desires that hit me so deeply within the alchemy texts. This book became my first acquaintance with Lacan, who allocates a fundamental role to language, in which man formulates his longings and hopes and desires. To me this book was like a "stone in the pond". It stimulated me to go on reading: Freud, De Saussure, Derrida, Lacan, Ricoeur etc.'

'Do not underestimate the incredible and often lifelong devotion of the alchemist to the daydreams he cherished near his furnace. What nowadays remains is the texts about those desires. And what counts for alchemy texts also counts with regard to whatever text, whether it concerns literature or science. In every text rethorics are effective as cogency or persuasive power. When you look beyond - which is exactly what Derrida does - then it is all about desire: the desire to the one big truth, to something that can tell us about the meaning of life itself. The desire that we express in language by words and with which we create a world.'

'The art critic speaks in similes, in metaphors, to make manageable and comprehensible to himself whatever he comments upon. By means of language he makes connections and subsequently the next critic creates new contexts - man has an urge to interpret. Here we find back our longing for meaning: whereto serves our existence here on earth? But the best examples are derived from the advertisement business: for instance the ones from the "Volkskrant". You probably saw the one about a box with wooddrills or the one with a key-ring to which in both cases a crown pen was added. Or maybe the one about an electric plug in which the plus and minus poles were also replaced by crown pens. These advertisements exemplify what Derrida does. The most important rhetoric figure is the metaphor. In these ads the metaphor becomes exploited in a most special way. Wooddrills are meant to penetrate into the concerning material, whereas keys are meant to open inaccessible rooms. By showing drills and keys in combination with a crow pen, absolutely immaterial matters such as "intrusiveness" and "profoundness" are brought to a level of sensory perception. In other words: reading the "Volkskrant" would reveal what remains hidden otherwise. Here we are directly tackled on our desires to get to know the truth and on our believe in words.'

''What I want is to show the analogy between language and visual arts: the way in which language works and creates worlds is also relevant to a better understanding of arts. I want to give concrete form to this by putting materials and forms together in a way I never saw them together before. The mere fact of this togetherness makes things happen. That is inevitable.'.

Margreet den Buurman


Mark Rietmeijer, Sculptor, Stonecarver, Philosopher.  Publication: Rethorics in art criticism
Mark Rietmeijer
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The Netherlands