Essay by Rob Perrée
In the exhibition Ch ch ch changes, transformation is presented in many guises. It is precisely this diversity in Ch ch ch changes that demonstrates how rich and timeless a theme can be.

There are many forms of transformation. The Czech Franz Kafka once wrote a short story in which the principle character awakes as a dung beetle. At the time, the writer was unaware that the absurd events that followed would pass into proverb and end up bearing his name. Decades later, his British colleague Roald Dahl wrote a story in which the central figure gradually transforms into a wasp. Dahl was a master of building tension by playing with the passage of time. In science fiction literature, transformation is one of the most important means by which the reader can be persuaded to believe in an incredible and implausible world.

David Bowie altered his appearance so often and so convincingly that his fans began to question his sexual inclination. By carefully nurturing that mystery, he managed to keep them loyal to him for decades. Madonna followed his example and transformed herself into a femme fatale who left no doubt as to what she wanted and who she wanted to dance to her tune. By so doing she evidently overplayed her credibility, because when she eventually presented herself to the world as a caring, faithful married mother with a growing brood of children, she lost many of her fans.


In crime novels and cop films, the transformation occurs in order to track down the culprit and catch them red-handed. By making the readers and viewers accomplices to the story’s disguises, the writer generates so much tension that they are unable to do anything other than finish the book or watch the film to the end.

Actors are probably the only professional group for whom transformation is an essential skill. They transform not to please their public. They do it not to create tension or to deliberately appear to be someone they are not. Often in interviews, one reads that they deliver a better performance when the role lies further from their own character and they need to work harder to play it convincingly.

People who celebrate carnival know that transformation makes it possible for them to do what they would never dare, be able, or permitted to in their everyday life. Metamorphosis as a token excuse. Since the disguise is only temporary, that excuse is usually accepted in advance.

All of this makes it logical that transformation also plays a role in visual art. In its most elemental form, it is even the basis of what people have come to regard as art. The straightforward representation of reality, however skilfully executed, has not been considered art since the modernists. The artist is expected to transform reality and thus give a taste of his or her original ability.

Apart from that, in the course of art history a number of artists have adopted transformation as their theme, for very different reasons. Cindy Sherman already loved dressing up when she was a child, as a young woman she discovered that this gave her a feeling of confidence and security in a metropolitan environment, and as an artist she converted this fondness for disguise into a large number of photographic works. She did this in a time ? late seventies, early eighties? in which representation was setting the tone in the discourse on visual art. How does the mass-media influence conceptualisation? In what misleading ways are women and minority groups being represented in the media? Is it not time for the reality depicted on television, in films and magazines to be deconstructed? Sherman’s work linked into this seamlessly. The Japanese artist Yasumasa Morimura, to give another example, played a different role in each of his photographs in order to make ironic comments on the typical Western discourse on representation, and to point out that transformation is normal within the tradition of Japanese theatre. The Dutch artist Rob Birza says that he chose transformation as a theme in his work in order to undermine the conditioned values and meanings and create a space for himself in which everything is still free and fluid.


In the exhibition Ch ch ch changes, transformation is presented in many guises. Jorrit Paaijmans ‘manipulates’ his ink drawings and thus clears the way for chance and coincidence. Levi van Veluw adorns his face with changing patterns, by which his representation assumes a slightly different form every time. Els van Biervliet gives her figures a different identity by linking them to existing and recognized icons or by literally using a mask. Jeremy Swinnen allows forces of nature such as the wind to determine the image that the observer is shown. The sculptures by Pieter de Clercq appear unwilling to choose between a human, animal or abstract form, making every form possible through the interpretation of the viewer. The work of Reinier Kranendonk continues in this vein. His industrial constructions have human characteristics. In Jasmijn Visser’s work, reality has been transformed into a world that stands midway between a fairytale and a science fiction story.

It is precisely this diversity in Ch ch ch changes that demonstrates how rich and timeless a theme can be.

Written by Rob Perrée
Brooklyn, oktober 2007.

Linked exhibition:
Ch Ch Ch changes

Mike Ritchie


Website by HOAX Amsterdam