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Preface by Philippe Piguet

A mental journey 


In his book Théorie du voyage [A Theory of Journeying] the French philosopher Michel Onfray regards the nomadic and the sedentary as “two ways of being in the world”. To represent this “the genealogic and mythological narrative engendered the figures of the shepherd and the peasant”. Drawing upon a biblical comparison, he finds them both in the figures of Cain and Abel, the farmer who kills the shepherd, the tiller of the ground who murders the keeper of flocks; and Cain, cursed by the Almighty, is condemned to restless wandering. In this story, Michel Onfray sees both “the genesis of roaming: the curse” and “the genealogy of eternal wandering: atonement”. And he concludes,

“the traveller originates in Cain’s race, so dear to Baudelaire”.

The analysis made by the hedonist philosopher is far from being verified, and no form of nomadic life we could consider confirms it. But interestingly, it lays bare the roots of the motivation for each and every traveller and travel, in other words, the quest for a somewhere else. At stake here is the irrepressible need to escape “social time, collective and constraining, to favour a time made singular by virtue of subjective periods and festive moments, all yearned for and desired”, to quote Michel Onfray once more.

To set Dominique Kippelen’s approach against this gloss does not mean it could be viewed as an application, nor does it turn her work into a mere illustration of it. The philosopher’s words are here brought into play to question the artist’s permanent wandering – that which justifies her work. The significant choice of a geographical approach for the book – Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East – tells us a great deal about the necessity that drives her to voyage out into the unknown. The crux of the matter is the question of determinism: which of the two, the artist or the given place, informs the other? On this issue, Michel Onfray’s assertion is peremptory: “You do not choose your favourite places, you are summoned to them”. A declaration he then softens: “Each temperament tallies with a given geography. It still remains to be found.”

Dominique Kippelen is summoned, not only by space, but also by the memory that lies in the places she comes across, as well as their potential for metamorphosis. Every location is for her a territory she could delve into although she has a particular liking for places loaded with history, places that have been, or still are, the scenes of public or private, social or economic, natural or cultural activities: a former fertilizer factory, a hunter’s hut, an old and dilapidated textile plant, a glass architecture, an improbable garden, a historical water tank, traditional kilns, the floor of a museum, an old shed… These are some of the venues she filled, transformed, and lived in. In order to create

ephemeral interventions there, she operated a mental expansion by choosing to superimpose an invented space and to impart another memory to them. The artist insists on the sociological dimension and the communicative side of her work, yet she also evokes, suggests, and brings to the fore something left unsaid. She knows that nothing is more important than moments of tension, silence and secret.

Kippelen’s art stems from a refined combination between disparity and unity, instant and a certain duration, between an attentive insight gained into the place and an ambitious vision of the global. The stance Dominique Kippelen takes in her site-specific interventions comes close to that of the Land Art artists. As it was for them, it enables her to re-position the artist status in relation to the outer world. Refusing to restrict herself to the sole production of transportable images fabricated in the solitude of her studio, she places herself amidst the social body, in close relationship with others, their culture and living conditions both material and psychological. This confers a sociological,

even political signification to the artistic act, without failing to add a poetic dimension. Or perhaps, the interweaving of these two qualities creates a novel situation, both temporary and memorable. From the moment a new venue is available, Dominique Kippelen starts taking her bearings: she must put the place to the test, feel it and

experience it so as to grasp the lineaments of its history, perceive its character and the singularity of its personality, measure up its capacity for metamorphosis. At stake, there is culture but also language, spirit

but also body, space but also matter. One of the sine qua non conditions for a work to exist concerns the possibility for the artist to interfere with the place – even if only to subvert it at a later stage – rather

than simply stamp it with her own hallmark. As mentioned previously, she aims at informing it with a new history, a new memory, and this can only happen in the recesses of a shared intimacy.

Attentive to all the particulars of a place – whatever their tonality –, Dominique Kippelen makes every effort to incorporate them into her project. Subsequently, her own imaginative contribution accounts for a real graft, in the most organic sense of the term, and with that quality of hybridization that contemporary art displays so strongly. When

one discovers her work, one perceives rapidly how sensitive she is to the idea of nature, which several of her works elicit. It does not only constitute a mere pretext, but operates as a medium or a binder. The artist handles the vegetal the way a painter handles various materials he knows will allow him to play with light, compose forms, construct a

specific meaning, and perhaps even coat his image with another layer of time. Dominique Kippelen likes to indulge herself with operating all sorts of material and physical transmutations. The visual situations she devises aim at putting the spectator in a position to perform an experiment, all his senses activated so that he can be taught again how to use them. For each of her works seems to teach us how to remember and re-appraise our senses. She could not proceed otherwise, should her intention be to oppose an era that boasts norms and standards and holds the concept of formatting at the highest level of a virtual culture.

Therefore her work is like an act of health since the way she mixes genres, styles, materials and pictures contributes to keep our sensés on the alert. What is more, it is conducive to a perpetual bedazzlement.

Most of Kippelen’s works resort to the idea of wandering, passage and crossing. These terms indeed embody the idea of travelling and determine the founding concept of nomadism, but here they are loaded with several other meanings. Historically, strolling, to which Land Art gave a form, resounded as an appropriation of the work by means of a walk in a largely open space; in other words the walk was a constituent of the work. Kippelen’s works rule this out in a different manner insofar as the territory occupied by her works is limited in surface and unfolds inside an enclosed area. Consequently, a definite and structured trail often fixes the conditions of their discovery. Such a constrained layout does not, however, curb the freedom of the stroller since it is principally a mental and perceptive process. The drifting he or her is invited to takes him to an inner rather than external adventurous roving. He allows the place he is walking through to overcome him, and can expérience the poetic dimension engendered by the artist’s work in a leisurely way, given that “poetry is invasion, not escape” as Cocteau used

to say. In her installations, Dominique Kippelen takes pleasure in entertaining several possible paths by means of a series of passageways that determine a sort of red guideline visitors will not lose while they move around to discover the whole of the place taken up by the artist. They push a door, walk along a corridor, cross a space, climb up on a gangway, and pass from one level to another. Guided by light, sometimes darkness, carried along by images, sounds and even odours, the stroller is encouraged, so to speak, to survey the space where all the passages he has been through play the role of branching off routes that connect split moments. His or her présent experience is reminiscent of the manner the gaze strays away and then collects itself again in front of a print by Piranesi. Something is at work in Kippelen’s approach that is redolent of the idea of labyrinth, in that it implies the image of a complex network, a maze of paths, as well as of an experimental setting opening onto the beyond.

Through which looking-glass are we invited to pass, if not the encounter with images of the world that are no other than images of oneself?  Such is travel, whatever the journey. “During the journey you discover only what you brought with you”, notes Michel Onfray, “the vacuity of the traveller fabricates the emptiness of the travel, his richness produces its greatness”. The artist’s stance aims precisely at filling us so that we will be of this second nature. The mere principle of invasion. And as the philosopher says: “Any documentation feeds the mental iconography of the traveller.” It goes to show that Dominique Kippelen’s art is an invitation to dreaming with all that we may envisage in terms of perceptive and sensitive upheaval. An invitation for a kind of unexpected day out that would rouse the mind not to vacancy but to an exciting bubbling of signs, images and sounds, to a frame of mind between epiphany and disappearance. Exactly as an inner journey, from the moment you come close to the mirror, find yourself in it, and then enter it to attempt to find yourself again.


dominique kippelen