An Introduction to the Work of Ann Dieltjens

A fusion of opposites

Ann Dieltjens makes abstract sculptures in a clear and simple formal language. Their interpretations are manifold. The work tells us something about evolutionary growth, architecture and industrial design, but also about universal human attitudes and relationships, archetypes and artefacts. And of course, there are also associations with the artist’s personal memories and emotions. In the fusion of all these elements, the opposites are set against each other: black versus white, organic versus constructed, mathematical versus arbitrary, introverted versus extroverted.

The main source of inspiration for her works is the genesis and growth of living organisms in an industrial environment. Calling forth as they do birth and development, they likewise evoke the opposite: a form of captivity. The construction keeps the free form in check, almost in the way the roots of a plant are confined in an undersized flowerpot. Constructing these abstract shapes, the artist assumes all along that the formal tensions within a sculpture are a kind of formula of relationships between people. Just like a plant growing into a fence, we may come, as mobile individuals, to a deadlock, we may have to function within a fixed scheme.The sculptures transform such areas of tension in human communication into form.

The works of Ann Dieltjens are never static, they always transmit a subtle dynamism. The first draft of a work often starts from an item in motion. The artist then allows her models on paper to grow, mutate, evolve … until she finds an adequate form for them. Sometimes, the works remind of futuristic architecture, or of archaeological excavations, at other times of pots and pans in the kitchen, or of a plant in growth. Whatever their content: emotional, intellectual, ironic or contemplative: the titles of the works throw some light on the rules of the game; or they offer at least a suggestion for an interpretation.

Between design and architecture

The works of Ann Dieltjens explore the border region between sculpture, design and architecture. The vague likeness between some of her works and articles of daily use makes one think indeed of the world of design. And yet, her works also have an architectural character: they invite the viewer to penetrate them or move around them. Even the smaller works convey this invitation of a spatial dialogue, this longing for monumentality.

For the white volumes, the artist often looks for inspiration in microscopic entities. She enlarges them, looks for new ones and allows them to choose an environment in which they can thrive. The volumes conjure up something meditative and remind of the fragile beauty of eggs, bones, seeds and fossils. They are ‘naked’ forms, suggesting the subtlety and softness of a smooth, white skin, sensual and with erotic connotations. That effect is intensified by the light, because an infinite number of shadow patterns and gradations makes the form even more tangible. Light and space complement each other and create, in the manner of a classical sculpture, the illusion of a transformation of material. In the same way as marble figures were once made to create the illusion of human bodies, Ann Dieltjens creates in ‘Elastic Blues’ the impression that the work is made of an elastic substance.

The artist surrounds the soft looking, amorphous shapes, with metal structures, the inspiration for which she looks for in the volumes of modernist buildings and iron structures. The metal she uses does not only have a formal function, it also brings content to the sculptures. Basic forms such as the cube and the rectangular prism create a space for thought, but they also call up the idea of cages. Furniture archetypes relate the works to something recognizable, providing a certain psychological tension. Ladders add rhythm and direction to the sculptures, they also suggest the idea of a covered distance.

The form of an idea

In the current conception of artists and scientists as individuals who, each in their own way, explore the limits of the world’s transformability, the artist is usually seen as the impulsive scatterbrain and the scientist as the methodical perfectionist. As an ‘impulsive perfectionist’, Ann Dieltjens finds herself at the crossing of these two worlds. She accurately investigates how formal data can be transformed into meaning, a process at which those investigations often begin to lead their own lives, guiding her into ever more unexplored territory.

The artist considers each three-dimensional object as a carrier of information, which in turn can be transformed into new information. She developed this self-determined vision during her last year at the art academy (Sint-Lukas, Brussels) and it has characterized her work ever since. Her sculptures of today however, though not fundamentally different from works of that early period, clearly show more depth and scope, both in method and in the creation of meaning.

Virtual images

The artist does not exclusively work out her ideas in three-dimensional forms, she also experiments with digital sculptures. The latter technique consists in drawing manually, and with the tools of Photoshop, three-dimensional amorphous shapes in a pre-photographed space or construction. While drawing, the artist can give expression to her ideas quickly and easily. Circumventing the restrictions attached to iron and plaster, she can also make sculptures impossible to realize in three-dimensional reality. It should be stressed that the virtual images are more than drafts or studies. They are to be seen as works of art in their own right, caught in an interesting interaction with the handmade sculptures. The digital mode is a source of inspiration for the three-dimensional one and vice versa.

Manual versus industrial.

Ann Dieltjens builds her sculptures with lime (plaster) and iron, two substances that require a different approach. Lime, building material of nature, asks for an instinctive, intuitive approach, with the accent on kneading, moulding, sanding and polishing. Iron, the basic industrial material, demands a more systematic approach. In combining the worlds of the industrial and the organic, the artist defies the technical potential of the material. This method of working does not only affect the form of her works, but also the meaning, the content. The emotional effect of the two materials on the viewer is quite different.

The artist flirts with the logic of industrial processes by using her raw material as building material, and yet she emphasizes the element of craftsmanship all along. Depending on the complexity of the white forms, she either applies moulding, a technique at which the form is made in clay and then cast, or she builds the forms directly on an armature of wire netting.
Even after extensive sanding, these forms keep something of their uneven surface, which underlines their handmade character. Unlike most of her fellow sculptors, who melt and emboss the metal, Ann Dieltjens really wants to construct with that material. Metal bars of variable gauge are purchased, cut up, welded and plied and then finished off with the grinding disc.  The basic material is made to remain clearly visible in the end result, so as to emphasize the attenuating role of manual work in the hard, mechanical whole.

Nathalie Huyghe – 2008