You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser to improve your experience.

Manon
Wertenbroek
I saw you smile yesterday — © 2017, Manon Wertenbroek
I saw you smile yesterday — © 2017, Manon Wertenbroek
I saw you smile yesterday — © 2017, Manon Wertenbroek
I saw you smile yesterday — © 2017, Manon Wertenbroek
I saw you smile yesterday — © 2017, Manon Wertenbroek
I saw you smile yesterday — © 2017, Manon Wertenbroek
I saw you smile yesterday — © 2017, Manon Wertenbroek
I saw you smile yesterday — © 2017, Manon Wertenbroek
I saw you smile yesterday — © 2017, Manon Wertenbroek
I saw you smile yesterday — © 2017, Manon Wertenbroek
I saw you smile yesterday — © 2017, Manon Wertenbroek

I saw you smile yesterday

Solo show at Coalmine, Winterthur, Switzerland
19.01–18.03.2017
Curated by Alexandra Blättler
Text by Alex Strecker
Photo cre­dit: Hannes Heinzer

Someone leans in for a kiss while your hand is awk­wardly exten­ded for a shake. A close friend rubs your arm affec­tio­na­tely and you feel an extra tingle of emo­tion; more than you should? Waiting in a crowd, someone makes eye contact and offers an honest, encou­ra­ging smile that warms you amidst the ano­ny­mous jostle.

Artists, above all else, are sen­si­tive people. Line, tex­ture and form are their mate­rial buil­ding blocks but it is their expe­riences within the social world that sup­ply their work with its under­lying emo­tions. Swiss/​Dutch artist Manon Wertenbroek ope­rates at exactly this nexus: the uneasy space of the unsayable, where inexact but dis­tinct fee­lings find their neces­sary out­let through varie­ga­ted colors, marks and forms.

This exhi­bi­tion inter­mixes work from two dif­ferent series. The first are moments ins­pi­red by Wertenbroek’s frequent bus rides through Paris; the second, fro­zen moments cap­tu­red from a variety of social gathe­rings: ver­nis­sages, ano­ny­mous awards cere­mo­nies, or mee­tings with old friends. Although these seem like dras­ti­cally dif­ferent contexts, each can be equally com­plex and confu­sed, filled with com­pe­ting fee­lings of phy­si­cal proxi­mity and emo­tio­nal dis­tance. Given her pho­to­gra­phic trai­ning, Wertenbroek dubs these images micro-crops of social body lan­guage”— tiny touches and ges­tures of inter­per­so­nal inter­ac­tion, the small but defi­ning move­ments you notice out of the cor­ner of your eye that make you feel either safe or uncom­for­table in a given moment.

For Wertenbroek, these images form a memoire emo­tio­nelle” of her past few years. But as vie­wers, we are not asked to plunge into the spe­ci­fics of each scene; rather, each piece creates a space where we can recol­lect our own emo­tio­nally char­ged moments of social inter­ac­tion. Through the works’ color­ful, expres­sio­nis­tic pull, our own fee­lings emerge: times when people unex­pec­tedly tou­ched our inti­macy, or conver­sely, the moments when we fai­led to reach out to someone who we hoped to get clo­ser with…

In terms of tech­nique, Wertenbroek is fond of mixing mediums and construc­ting ela­bo­rate chains of pro­duc­tion that span pho­to­gra­phy, sculp­ture, pain­ting and even har­ness the abs­tract glow of com­pu­ter screens. While the exact sequence varies, the end result is the same: pho­to­gra­phic images, prin­ted on reflec­tive metal paper whose sur­face has been wor­ked on by hand. In all the works, the shi­ning, metal­lic sur­faces are key. The resul­ting objects have depth, tex­ture and three-dimen­sions while also remai­ning incre­di­bly flat. Much as the life-like yet ulti­ma­tely cold digi­tal worlds where we devote so much of our time, these vibrant frames draw our atten­tion but keep us stub­bornly on the sur­face. Still, spend a few moments stu­dying each piece and you will feel com­pel­led to get clo­ser, look from dif­ferent sides and angles, per­haps even reach out and caress their sur­face.

Across these varied pieces, Wertenbroek’s fun­da­men­tal preoc­cu­pa­tions are the same; they are ques­tions we all ask our­selves: how do I act in front of others, how do I feel in front of stran­gers, what does it mean to be myself?” Appropriately, the Swiss-Germans have a word that per­fectly cap­tures this fear of social blun­der: fettnäpf­chen. Surprisingly, per­haps, we should take com­fort in this idiom—its exis­tence makes us rea­lize that our fee­lings of com­mu­nal anxiety are uni­ver­sal enough to war­rant a tai­lor-made word. In the same way, we can find solace in Wertenbroek’s work: even when it reminds us of moments of awk­ward­ness, mis­pla­ced emo­tion or dis­con­nec­tion, we would do well to remem­ber that we are never alone in having these fee­lings. What more can we ask of art­work than to make us feel less alone?

Read more