Sometimes a work of art can have an unsettling effect. It evokes an emotion in you even before you've even finished looking at it properly. Scientists differentiate between emotion and feeling: emotion is a physical response – your heart beats faster, you blush, get excited. Feeling comes later, when you become aware of your emotion and you recognise that you are excited, puzzled or embarrassed.
In any case it is about experience, in the sense of becoming aware. This is about experiential learning – about allowing something that took place earlier into your inner being again and becoming aware of it again. The medium of sculpture makes particular use of this, as does Karin Arink.
Her sculpture Petrified Nike (shown above) is not large in terms of size. What it expresses, above all, is a sense of vulnerability. It looks like a skin stretched on a frame, made up of several layers. The uppermost pink layer is cracked and wrinkled, wounded, laying as a scab over the underlying layer of pink flesh. This layer is in turn attached to the white body below. The whole thing is suspended from hooks in the wall by strips of cloth. The form is unpleasantly familiar although what it is exactly is not quite clear. It's not a person; it may be an animal, but it doesn't have a head, so even that is not clear. Are those two arms? Is that protrusion at the bottom a neck? Do I see an inverted torso?
We are thrown into confusion by the fact that not one but two experiences are evoked, both of which have occurred before. One of these comes from a sculpture, the other from a painting, both from the Louvre. The first of these is by an unknown artist, the second by Rembrandt.
Nike of Samothrace, 190 BCE, Unknown, Marble, h = 328cm, Louvre, Paris
Of course the arms of Karin Arunk's sculpture correspond visually to the wings of the famous goddess of victory in the Louvre. Moreover, she has chosen to name her sculpture after the goddess Nike. Nike is the ancient Greek goddess of victory. Karin's choice of title reminds us immediately of the Hellenistic sculpture. It also explains the missing head and the two inward folds where the legs could be expected to begin.
This may all be true, but Karin Arink has not made a pure copy of the Nike. She is doing her own thing. She limits the form and focuses on the skin, peeling away the goddess's invincibility as it were. Her Petrified Nike is more reminiscent of a vanquished woman. By stretching it out and focusing on the skin, she also calls a completely different work to mind.
The slaughtered ox 1655, Rembrandt van Rijn, Oil on canvass 94 x 76 cm, Louvre, Paris
The famous 'slaughtered ox' by Rembrandt van Rijn, copied by Chaim Soutine and Marc Mulders, among others. A Biblical theme taken from the parable of the prodigal son, (Luke 15 verse 23: Bring hither the fatted calf and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry). The calf was sacrificed to prepare a festive meal. The hung carcass reminds us of a crucifixion, which may be why it was also painted by Marten van Cleve in de 17th century and Marc Chagall and Francis Bacon in the 20th, the latter also adding Velasquez' Pope Pius X . I am convinced that Karin Arink is familiar with both these works. And even though she may not have consciously thought of them when creating her Petrified Nike, the thought was surely running through her subconscious mind.
The contradictory image of victory and sacrifice, both present under the skin, are what evokes the confusing emotions experienced when looking at this sculpture by Karin Arink. It seems to be trying to say: no matter how strong it may appear, all strength is vulnerable. And just like in the Nike of Samothrace and the Slaughtered Ox, this vulnerability contains a kind of unexpected beauty. A vulnerability that moves you.