Cool Hunter Predictions: Elise/Jürgen - Art Collector

Issue 47, January - March 2009

This profile appeared in the "Award Winners" feature, part of the annual special issue "50 Things Collectors Need to Know 2009"

The video installations of Elise Harmsen and Jürgen Kerkovius, working under the name Elise/Jürgen, possess a peculiarly mesmerising quality. Some see Butoh or Zen sensibilities in the work, while others see the influence of mathematics and science. Their installations are at once beautiful and transporting, at the same time challenging our perceptions of space and time. It is this exquisite tension that fascinates and takes hold of the viewer.

Harmsen and Kerkovius commenced their collaboration during their second year at Curtin University. Encouraged by art school peers, who noticed their shared conceptual interests and aesthetic, the pair have worked together ever since. Situated within the tradition of experimental film discourse, Elise/Jürgen are interested in the relationship of the body to virtual and filmic spaces. Asked to name some of their key influences, the duo cites artists Dan Graham, Bruce Nauman, Yves Klein and Smith/Stewart, along with architects Peter Eisenmann, John Nouvell and Marcos Novak.

Deceptively simple and lyrical at first, Elise/Jürgen’s work is produced in stages, the results consisting of a series of complex, interacting layers. Each piece features both artists interacting in dynamic sequences of movement and gesture – ranging from the sensuous to the unsettling – as they navigate the boundaries of each other’s bodies. The Elise/Jürgen installations create interspatial/ architectural environments, composed from intersecting composites of real, screen-based and projected spaces.

Their 2007 work, Experiments in Convergence, is made up of a suite of three large integrated video projections, titled Pressure/ Compression, Divergence and Kinesis. In each of these works, Elise/Jürgen perform a finely choreographed series of simple gestures. In Pressure/Compression the duo blow flour at each other in front of a black background. Back-lit and played out in slow motion, the clouds of white powder billow through the air and, for brief moments, obscure the two artists, merging them into a single, ethereal entity. During Divergence, one of the artists blows powder into the air while an image of the other artist appears momentarily, fleetingly projected onto the suspended screen of particles. Then, the process is repeated with roles reversed. In the third and final piece in the series, Kinesis, the artists face one another and, balancing on the tips of their toes, blow in each other’s direction. Each breath seems to throw the other off balance, threatening their teetering, fragile equilibrium. Similar in appearance, Harmsen and Kerkovius almost mirror each other, forming an almost perfect female/male complementary match.

In a more recent series of works, Experiments in Impossible Space, the artists resume their face-to-face position and, once again balancing on the balls of their feet, they sway backwards and forwards, this time divided by a membrane of thick black fabric. As they move, they appear to try to push through the membranous connection. Constantly shifting – or ebbing and flowing – the figures seem to move in unison at times, while at others, to move against, or in opposition, to one another.

Currently completing their honours degrees, Elise/Jürgen claim they would like to stay at art school forever. However, this pair is going places, and in just a short few years they have developed a small but impressive body of work that is compellingly rigorous, imaginative and visually arresting.

Melissa Keys

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