The Complexity of Conversation - Riet Wijnen at P/////AKT

Issue no6
dec - jan 2022
zigzag 2022 > 2023 + nieuwe collectie

Conversation is both banal and crucial. It is taken for granted and the modus operandi of society. An argument could be made that there is a general societal numbness to the complexities of conversation. Riet Wijnen ruptures the banalities of conversation and shakes us into a mindful state with Conversation Four: First Person Moving at PAKT. This is the third part of a larger cycle of work, Sixteen Conversations on Abstraction, that is composed of sixteen fictive conversations, sixteen accompanying works, and one sculpture.

Wijnen specifically excels in her ability to take the concept of abstraction and use it to make legible the layers of certain complexities. It is by these means that she breaches the banalities of conversation and triggers an awareness for the viewer. Layers are critical for Wijnen, as seen in the layered organization of her larger work that she breaks down into conversational layers or parts.

Along with layering, self-reflexivity and duality are also critical motifs throughout the larger work and this exhibition. Abstraction is the key notion examined. The fictive and scripted conversations, each paired with a work, are the vehicles by which this notion is explored. Each pairing focuses on a specific subject in relation to abstraction. The conversations and works engage with one another to produce a conceptual and exploratory space for the examination of abstraction.

Conversation Four: First Person Moving includes eight works in total; one sculpture, three photogram diagrams, three untitled works, and the script of Conversation Four: First Person Moving in the form of stapled photocopies. The sculpture, which debuted in this exhibition, serves as a diagram and map between the different conversations. The sculpture functions as the physical manifestation and representation of the conceptual developments occurring throughout the cycle of work. Its main structure is sixteen concentric squares reflecting the sixteen conversations. Upon the completion of a conversation, the sculpture is updated to include the most recent information and a photogram is made to capture the specific step in the development of the sculpture. The photograms each illustrate a different level of abstraction. One photogram reflects the main structure without any additional information or data. A second photogram reveals the main structure with the information from Conversation Three added. The third photogram reflects the developmental stage with data from both Conversation One and Conversation Three added to the sculpture. Each photogram is a snapshot of a stage of development, a precise layer.

Previous parts of the cycle of work, Conversation One and Conversation Three, had central subjects of language (spoken and written) and visibility respectively. ‘Movement’ is the crucial subject for Conversation Four: First Person Moving. Three protagonists, each related to the notion of movement, have a fictional conversation through which movement in its myriad of meanings is interrogated. Movement is examined in its broadest sense ranging from physical and neurological movements to societal and historical movements.

The chosen protagonists each bring a distinct perspective and context to the proverbial table that flirts with dualities and self-reflexivity in their connotative cannons. The three protagonists are; Thomas Metzinger, who is a German philosopher that is interested in consciousness and the relationship between mind and body, Silvia Federici, who is an academic, activist, and feminist writer who is well known for her role in the Wages for housework movement, and Abstraction-Création, which is an artist group formed in 1931 to foster abstract art and to counteract surrealism and representationalism.

As the conversation evolves, the motif of duality and self-reflexivity gain prominence. Metzinger is fascinated with the ‘I’ or Ego and its role in the individual and its counterpart of the societal whole. Federici forms a feminist framework and approach that focuses on self-identification and uses the dichotomies between wage and the commons and theory and practice. Abstraction-Création contrasts the abstract and the concrete. The three untitled works each correspond to a protagonist reflecting and abstracting their writings and opinions. The untitled works are made of metal, wood, silkscreen on paper, paint, and tape.

Within this exhibition, both the material and conceptual embody and express the movement of conversation. The design and function of the photocopied and stapled script encapsulates this. The front and back cover, framing the script, is a black and white color block. When a dual frame is constructed space for movement between the duality is also created. Two booklets are stapled together to present a four-page spread while reading. Flipping through the pages becomes a more sizable gesture and movement encouraging a sense of continuity while constantly reminding the reader of the essentiality of movement in conversation.

The conversation is the heart of the exhibit. In a very self-reflexive sense, the conversation is a sequence of movements occurring in the form of statements and responses that are in turn teasing out the varying notions of the word movement. The statements and responses follow a strictly dual pattern. One protagonist will make a statement and the other two will reply either yes or no, then another protagonist makes a statement that is responded to with either yes or no and so the conversation continues. The structure of the script is clearly delineated as one of two things, either yes or no reply or statement. There is no oscillation between these two, yet it is this very oscillation or movement that is of key concern.


While the dual structure of the script does not change throughout the conversation, there does emerge a strong sense of movement and oscillation by the end of the conversation. This is somewhat surprising since the conversation begins with no apparent connection or engagement between the protagonists. They at first appear quite separate as if the three were not conversing with one another at all, but by the middle of the conversation threads of connectivity become decipherable, and by the end of the conversation there is a sense of engagement and interconnection. The statements move from the isolated and abstract to the relational and representational. The yes and no replies do not waver in form, yet they move from seemingly binary to responsively engaging. The statements and replies move not on their own, but from within the conversation. The conversation departed from the static and disconnected, and moved to the dynamic and progressive. A dynamic dialogue gradually unfolds and the conversation is revealed to be a catalyst for exploring abstraction.

With Conversation Four: First Person Moving, the presentation of a self-reflexive work with seemingly disconnected dualities and layers eventually leads to a perspective on abstraction and an awareness of intertwining movements. Abstraction-Création makes the statement that “movement embraces everything, wraps everything, dominates everything, penetrates everything.” The viewer becomes mindful of abstraction as movement and is thus presented with a layer of the complexity of conversation. Wijnen successfully creates a conceptual space in which abstraction and movement are intensely investigated.

All images Riet Wijnen, Conversation Four: First Person Moving, 2016, exhibition view, courtesy P/////AKT, Amsterdam, photographer Charlott Markus


Pense-Bête VI, Object: image and language, Riet Wijnen – Conversation Four: First Person Moving, P/////AKT, Amsterdam, 20.11 t/m 18.12.2016

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