Robin Kolleman's sculptures turn our insides out. What we feel in our inner depths is mercilessly exposed to the outside world. Curator Jeroen Damen met up with her in her studio in Rotterdam.
"Oh sure, it's about landing, but it's also about flying, taking off, about desires and dreams, about Icarus and impossibilities, about what you feel deep down inside and where your body limits you. Sometimes hopelessness has the upper hand, sometimes the longing to escape."
"We are multi-faceted people with multiple personalities within us. We don't allow everyone to see all these personalities, some are reserved for a select group, others for just one person in our social circle, and some are never shown to anyone."
This is the way Robin and I were talking in her studio, prompted by the selection of sculptures she has put together for Bredelar, which are standing across from where we are sitting. And all the while, as we are talking, not a single word escapes these sculptures and their presence colours our conversation. That is the way our conversation proceeded in her studio, not starting out from a disciplined description of what were observing – the way I was trained as an art historian – but by making huge and sudden leaps -- bang, crash, from one association to another analogy that our thinking throws up. I feel somewhat irreverent.
The death of Aphrodite, Robin Kolleman
mixed media, life sized h = approx. 220cm
Next to the image of the naked, chained female figure, with arms bent like wings, feather-topped fingers, bird's feet created from hands, chains around her neck and breasts, and steel cables that keep her aloft yet prevent her from flying away -- next to that image stands a sexy beauty with feet fully extended in ballet shoes, balanced on a rock. The lower half of her body is covered by a lacy slip, stockings and shoes, her upper body is naked. A pearl gleams in her navel. She holds her arms up, crossed in front of her face as if in self-defence, but you can still clearly see that the neck leads to an empty skull, even more naked than the body, horrifying. The crossed arms are bound together with tie-wraps. Why does the one image have a hollow-eyed, skeleton-like face hidden behind a half-transparent veil, and the other a hollowed-out skull? "Just look at your own skull" says Robin, "whether you like it or not, death is always with you. That doesn't have to be a heavy thing, and not always at the forefront of your thoughts, but with these images I was asking myself: how can I introduce the concept of death, without the whole body being dead?"
She goes on to say how that process works for her, making these images. Sawing up existing mannequins, changing their poses, putting body parts back together again, filling seams, adding a polyester skin, sanding colours. A long process of a thousand and one actions and decisions, and all so untraceably applied that I am quite oblivious to them. With an improbable precision and perfectionist eye for detail that easily measures up to those other eras of sculpture, when the issue of how a thing is made was just as important as what it is trying to show.
Robin uses the most contemporary – often found – materials to turn our insides out. What we feel in our inner depths is mercilessly exposed to the outside world. We are persuaded to read these images as carriers of emotions; emotions we are not always willing to acknowledge. The conjuncture of these sculptures, their confrontation with each other and with ourselves, clarifies and strengthens any meaning they may have. This is just how they should be installed at Bredelar, where they can interact with the nuns of yesteryear, with their spirit and their fears, with everything human that has taken place within the confines of the abbey and is now looking outward. In an almost infinite chain of associations, for anyone who reads this image reads him or herself, and we who read it are infinite in number.