Bearing fruit

Astrid Polman – Bearing fruit  

In a presentation scale model of a design for a building and its surroundings, architects have a tendency to emphasise their own design. The surroundings are without detail and white so that the design is shown off to perfection. Naturally the building stands out to advantage in this manipulated, surreal world. In contrast, on the face of it artist Astrid Polman looks for a balance between forms of artistic expression: lead grey pencil drawing and fiery red embroidery work. The binding element is the line work.

The pencil drawings of Astrid Polman (born in 1963 in Arnhem, Netherlands) are a rewarding humus layer from which red thread playfully spreads out and becomes entangled in itself. Carmen puellarum (Poem of the young girls) is a fine example of this unbridled growth. The two girls drawn in pencil are bound to one another and to the paper by a spreading system of red embroidery thread. The thread that ‘froths’ forth from their petticoats is in essence an echo of the background of white paper fretwork. The prolific grey crosshatching finds its fellow in the dense embroidery. The closely related Carmen omnium 2 depicts ‘septuplets in the womb’ with three networks of umbilical cord – in white paper, pencil and embroidery thread – linking the diminutive silhouette figures together. It is as if they must find their own way in the same way as those deliberately entangled line drawings in children’s puzzle books (‘help the squirrel find his winter hoard of nuts’).
Polman usually restricts herself to the colour red that fits in so well with her vessel systems – too much colour is distracting. But as the cliché has it, the exception proves the rule. The flowery works Carmen omnium 1 and De Aankondiging require a more colourful palette. What she is signalling in the latter is difficult to guess. Is it that feeling of spring that is always present in every human being waiting to blossom at any sign of change? In ‘the poem for everyone’ face and body are overgrown with forget‐me‐nots, like a plucky beekeeper who allows his bees to use his head as a plaything. This gardener – entangled in his own corpulent irrigation canals – makes his flowery opulence available to whoever is prepared to look. He himself conspicuously takes cover behind the flowers, which nevertheless actually symbolise the wish to be remembered.
Astrid Polman’s objects look labour intensive, and they are. This is part of the work. The simple means and the repetitive character of the no less simple, recurring techniques lead to the required dedicated diligence. The contemplative is joined by the intuitive, which means that the way out of this self‐styled labyrinth is never set out beforehand. Life itself works like this too; as John Lennon put it: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
Astrid Polman protects her drawings from literal platitudes by cutting out the paper and the addition of embroidery thread; since 2007, with the advent of felt she can actually model her thoughts about life forms through the “sensual kneading of wool”. Vruchtbeginsel 1 looks a lot like a botanical seed structure, whereas Vruchtbeginsel 2 could reflect animal or even human conception. Depending on the interpretation, frogspawn or early embryonic development can be seen. The idea that the complete recipe of properties for everything that lives can be found in each separate cell expires in Alles ademt. Each sphere has its own small mouth and even the extremities of the large artery are pried open to receive life‐giving oxygen. The work Adam en Eva waren hier is less easy to capture in words. From the title one could derive that it has something to do the original ancestors of the human race. The starting point however was their ‘modesty leaves’, which surprisingly during the shaping process appear to have been gradually transformed into shells. Such an unwittingly chosen form suggests the mythical horn of plenty. The many beads could now perhaps symbolise all the individuals who will populate the world. In that case these leaf‐like shells simultaneously articulate both the wombs and the incubators of mankind.
Those counting on an unambiguous explanation of Astrid Polman’s work will be disappointed.
Although some elements remain decipherable, inspired by what nature has to offer, she arrives at a new creative vocabulary, that is to say her own notions of nature.