Article about Hamelinks NEW BODY OF WORK

 

Chaos as Ordering Principle 

Badriah Hamelink – Sculptor

Text by Marieke C. McKenna

 

What does it mean to be engaged in the process of creation? This is the question that underlies the coming into being of the new sculptural series by Badriah Hamelink (1985, Amsterdam). For a sculptor, this question is deeply intertwined with the material one works with. In Badriah’s case, first stone and bronze, now clay. One of the earliest recorded art forms, sculpture has the profound power to instill matter with spirit, depict lived experience as well as cultural concepts, all while being an ongoing inquiry into form. 

The history of sculpture holds many examples of lineage; established artists, who through mentorship and tutelage, fulfilled the honorable role of fueling the embers of the next generation. A well known example of a place where such age-old traditions are kept alive is the charming Tuscan city of Pietrasanta. Even during Michelangelo’s time it was considered the ‘the Mecca of sculpture’ due to its vicinity to the marble caves of Carrara, where the earth for centuries has supplied artists with the matter for their forms. A bustling hub even today, artists and artisano’s alike frequent Pietrasanta for regular working periods. Such is also the case for Badriah Hamelink, and many other sculptors who came before her, including Helaine Blumenfeld OBE (1942, New York) – revered for her monumental works in marble and bronze. It was through The Royal Society of Sculptors in London however, that Hamelink came into contact with Blumenfeld, who would go on to become her mentor. In line with a long tradition of transference of artistic insight and intimate knowledge of the creative method – Blumenfeld, who herself was trained by Ossip Zadkine and exhibited together with Henry Moore, helped Badriah develop new ways of working. 

Fascinated by meditative traditions and martial arts, as well as literature and philosophy, Badriah Hamelink was born into an ancestral lineage that includes Dutch, Arabic, and Indonesian heritage. This exposure to a melting pot of ways of being, understanding and feeling has allowed various elements of her rich cultural tapestry to make their way into her creative process, and ultimately, her work. Fathered by Dutch poet and writer Jacques Hamelink and with the founder of the first Arab study center in the Netherlands for a grandmother, Hamelink grew up in a predominantly intellectual environment. Nevertheless she found her own path leading away from the rational towards the intuitive. From scarily fragile to bold and rough, her works never fail to use the power of suggestion – yet come from a deeply contemplative place.

 

Sculpture as a Mirror of the Artist’s Mind

 

Creation is often a messy, complex and at times violent process. An artistic challenge in the context of the method we will discuss here, is to develop the balance between openness and focus, in order to allow the creation to be led by its own innate movement towards being, rather than to guide the process towards a preconceived idea of the final work. In order to become manifestor of this process, one – paradoxically – must consciously move away from the conscious mind and strive to allow the subconscious to take hold. The artist is at once the creator, vessel, and – through the interactive process – the created. On how this relationship manifests itself throughout her recent work, Badriah remarks: ‘I used to seek to give form to matter. Now my process has changed; rather, I find form. First I act, then the change I make is processed by my subconscious, spitting out a conscious categorisation in response, which is in turn laid upon the perceived. In that sense it is a dialogue with the material, in which the material and I are both at once the former and the formed, and the middle ground between conscious and subconscious takes center stage.’ By letting go of structure, and inviting chaos in as an ordering principle, Badriah has developed an approach in which she does not yet know what is being created through her, by means of her being open to the creative flow of the process when she starts working. During her working residency in 2021 in Bagni di Lucca in Italy, for instance, she would get up early and start work immediately, whilst barely awake, so as to stay in the flow of the subconscious. Part of the artistic challenge is to develop the innate intuition of the work’s full fruition. Hamelink: ‘Sometimes I have the Midas-touch and works just seem to happen all by themselves. At other times it is a laborious process that might take months or even years to complete. One of the best ways of arriving at the right mental state is to trick myself into non-thinking. This can be achieved through systematically challenging the critical mind to abandon any and every form of a plan for what is to be created. Another – and a much more effective way, is to work from a mental state in which the critical mind is less present, in order for the sculpture to become itself most purely.’

 

Venturing into Uncharted Territory 

 

Originally drawn to the cool and timeless quality of stone, Badriah’s earlier work quite clearly evoked Platonic ideals; the sculptures seem to be of the realm of ideas (as in geometry), moving towards a state of perfection. These forms of contemplative beauty evoke a certain hermetic coolness, an impenetrable shell. Peaceful as they are, they also evoke a sense of undeniable isolation. The early sculptures are at times reminiscent of fossils in the sense that they are time capsules, the former capturing what once was lived experience – the latter capturing what once was life. Badriah’s early works seem to extend a timeless invitation to engage with a paradoxically historical present, materialized in the contemporary setting. 

In order to understand the radical departure from her earlier series, and why she adopted clay as a new material, it is key to gain a sense of the creative and personal process Badriah underwent in order to create her more recent works. Although always striving to provide abstract answers to abstract questions through her sculptures, learning to work with ‘chaos as an ordering principle’ has been a theme throughout Hamelink’s personal life in a concrete way. These exercises in acceptance and non-attachment, provided by lived life experiences such as encounters with the depths of the psyche – as well as death and new life – became guiding principles in her artistic method. 

The essence of the new works lies in the acceptance of the chaos of existence in which absolute truths and Platonic ideals stand in stark contrast with the reality of lived organic experience. This is where the Aristotelian way of understanding the world is more apt: rather than focusing on the idea or the end result – movement, change and process are considered the most fundamental metaphysical principles (as in nature). Spontaneity, randomness, coincidence, chance and even accident are welcomed forces. Hamelink’s new series can be understood as an answer to the question her other mentor, artist Eylem Aladogan, once posed to her: ‘How might you express the splitting of the stone without literally splitting the stone?’

 

Seeing Forms in Matter 

 

Humans are evolutionarily wired to be predisposed to recognize forms in matter. Hamelink: ‘The dance of meaning takes place between the form and the observer of the form. The natural and cultural archetypal framework resulting from this tendency says much about us as humans’. Although we are further removed from archetypal thinking than our ancestors, we still embody and inherit the sensitivity towards this way of seeing. This allows us to conceive the embodiment of spirit into matter, which for Badriah, is the essence of sculpture. This can be understood as psychological, cultural, but also spiritual. In a society that is increasingly less focused on spirituality, the pervasiveness of our ability to feel such images when observing nature and art, testifies to our cultural history as a species. She continues: ‘Perhaps, in order to invite observers back into this space, modern spiritual art must be offered in such a way that it provides one with a way back to this old way of knowing and feeling, deeply imprinted in our DNA. This is what my work aspires to do.’

 

From the Ancients to Metamodernism

 

Within Hamelink’s oeuvre a distinct difference can be observed between that which is expressed during the different phases throughout her practice. Starting out with the reduced, the still and the mindful, one might call her early works Apollonian in nature. Over the course of years however, Hamelink started to venture into Dionysian territory, exploring the expressive and the dynamic. Where first she left out the dirty, the emotional and the chaotic, she now moves towards a more human, narrated form.

As a result of the nature of Hamelink’s method, her new work moves counter to the linear, the pre-defined, the pre-conceived and certainly to the nihilist. It embraces truth, chaos and the organic as creative principles, and echoes the action-reaction dynamic found in art history. Such juxtapositions and contrasts between one movement and the next have defined the progression of human creative expression; in the last century we have witnessed the modern being opposed by the post-modern – currently we find ourselves at the dawn of the Metamodern.

 As defined by critical scholarship, the Meta in metamodernism captures the sense of in-betweenness. In the case of Metamodernism this means being in-between Modernity and Postmodernity. However, it is not simply a middle ground; metamodernism is qualitatively very different from postmodernism: it accepts progress, hierarchy, sincerity, spirituality, development, grand narratives, both-and thinking and much else. It puts forward dreams and makes suggestions. And it is still being born.

This ‘being born-ness’ is what ties Hamelink’s creative process and the results thereof, to the broader tapestry of our cultural Zeitgeist. She adopts an approach that is forward-moving, yet in reverence to ancient, universal and therefore contemporary wisdom. She strives to create that which wants to be created during this time. Progress and process are deeply intertwined; but trust herein must be exerted time and time again, which is the core of her practice. And hence, perhaps the simplest way to describe Hamelink’s contemporary work, is that it is the dance of creativity and ultimately the dance of life itself.