You take in the image that you see before you in an instant: a father carrying his daughter on his shoulders. A simple sculpture with contemporary, smooth forms. There's not that much to think about, really. But what is it about this image then that lingers, that stays in your head?
Is it its size? The girl looks down at us from a height of three metres. Or is she looking at the ground, a little fearful of that immeasurable depth, slightly scared of falling? Her feet are stretched out, in a downward position, as if she is trying to balance herself.
The father and daughter seem rather clumsy, ungainly, helpless perhaps. It's as if they're saying - we can't help it, can we, that we are the way we are?
Is she still a girl, in fact, or is she a woman? Is the dress she is wearing not rather old for her? What do those uncovered body parts mean, grouped together as they are: the father's forearms, his bare hands holding the bare legs of the girl?
But hang on, this is an endearing image, isn't it? Isn't this what every daughter wants, to be borne along on her father's strong shoulders? And surely that's what every father wants, to gallop across the room carrying her on his strong shoulders, while she clings to his head. And yet... take another good look at the girl. There's no galloping, no clinging to be seen here. She is
running one of her hands through her hair in a rather hesitant gesture. Her dress covers the head of the father, which makes it balloon out to such an extent that it almost makes her look pregnant. And he is not galloping, he is not bounding across the room; he is waiting - his knees slightly bent, very carefully, with his feet placed side by side.
Maybe what we are seeing here is the moment at which both father and daughter realise that the time for such games has past. That each of them will go their separate ways from now, she to another man and he without her. But no, of course there is already a lot of him in her, and if, in the future, she were ever to become really pregnant, something of him will also be present in her child. The sculpture couldn't make that any clearer.
It is the sculpture itself that sets off this philosophical train of thought, while, caught in an intimate silence with these two figures, you look at them in way that feels almost inappropriate. It feels uncomfortable to be so close, even though it should be the most natural thing in the world, something too normal almost, a father and daughter...
When I was asked to open an exhibition of Paul's in the Stedelijk Museum in Kampen, in 2012, I said the following: 'In an age that is awash with news about abuse within the church, in childcare centres and in foster families, but which is at the same time an age in which 4 million people settle down on a Sunday night in front of the TV to watch reality shows in which hordes of women try to catch their favourite farmer, for example – in such an age, ideas about intimacy, including sexual intimacy, need to be re-thought. This is not about false sentiments, or about moral condemnation, but about taking into account all the many aspects that are related to intimacy. It seems to me that Paul de Reus has found an excellent way of doing this: by freezing his sculptures at the very moment when our emotions are being shaken up the most intensely.'
Seen in this way, Father and Daughter is a contemporary sculpture with an everlasting message. It fits into the context of an exhibition in an abbey that was founded as a convent for nuns, in an age when women joined such institutions for more than just religious reasons. The image itself invites a new way of thinking about women, while it also acquires a new meaning through its place in this exhibition. The image and the exhibition exert a mutual influence on each other.