Marilou van Lierop



Picturing Mood: the work of Marilou van Lierop

In a recent series of paintings Marilou van Lierop combines techniques and depictions prevalent through her work with a volumetric support that suggests more than simply an underpinning function. The paintings are done on large, semi-spherical convex surfaces patterned with small holes. They are similar, comparable to, climbing surfaces used for indoor bouldering found in sports climbing gyms. Placed on them is an array of diffuse imagery intimating obscure origins. One contains a swirling crowd together in a gathering; figures are sharply defined in the foreground beyond which is a dark swelling mass. Another painting shows a vortex-like sky view of a mineral mine behind which are the lineaments of a distant landscape. There is a largely dark grey painting bisected by a foreshortened white line with oblique lines springing from either side. It also contains washed-out strokes beneath the white ones, a part of the under-painting. Graphically, it is reminiscent of cryptic pre-historic landscape patterns. In this series is an example of an image with religious significance, Mount Arafat covered with pilgrims during the Hajj. While van Lierop has used different supports in the past, these images traverse a weighty structure, an emphasis on dimension that would seem to exceed pictorial significance. This property of the works, however, also spurs an embrace of ambiguity which occurs throughout the artist’s oeuvre: a disposition to the hidden.

Since graduating from the Academy of Fine Art in Antwerp in 1981, her work has been consistently driven by pictorial themes and technical innovation showing deep curiosity about both the natural and social worlds. Since beginning she has been concerned with natural law. Whether exploring it through drawing, in details of painting, or seeking the idea of natural order in other media such as film, the fascination is evident in landscape drawings, different formal aspects of painting, and in the study of crowds and figurative depictions. The concept of natural law, while not developed categorically into a scheme of work, is treated with affection as an on-going resource throughout her practice. The inexplicit has been immanent to the graphic content of her imagery, and in a multi-media formulation, to some of her choices of support, throughout. Threaded through her output is an on-going tension between formal demands and representation that establish a process of admixture of abstraction to signification. This creates scope for the visibility of explicitness in which is embedded implicit meaning. At the same time as illustrating possible stories her work also supplies cause for visual doubt as to their specificity. Meaning is, in this way, constantly a matter of interpretation, each piece is ‘read’ in layers of graphic significance. Since 2000, the work can be divided into three parts: early landscape and figurative drawings and paintings, paintings of crowds and groupings of figures enhanced through compositional frameworks, and studies of individual characters. The early landscape drawings are large, visually dense all-over studies. Other works combine this with three dimensional structures, as is the case with panoramic paintings from 2003 and 2006. Crowds and groups of people, as well as in some cases groups of animals, have occurred since 2005. Often in these paintings individuals are linked by white lines of varying tautness as an additional binding structure to the pictorial order. In many cases, however, this feature is absent and instead the environment, the place in which people are interacting, suffices in establishing the temper of representation. Van Lierop’s works involving single individuals often involve an accumulation of different elements of portrayal on them, and can be read with respect to animal and human combinations or through the inference of known iconography. The following is a selective survey that comprises the different parts since 2003, and a summary account of the importance of mood in what she does. Based in Antwerp, van Lierop’s contemporaries form a group of painters linked by similar aesthetic concerns. Luc Tuymans, Koen van den Broek, and Guy Van Bossche, are some who are known for figurative or landscape painting involving reduced pictorial detail either connecting figure-ground relationships or in rendering human environments. Although many of their paintings tend to muted tones and sparing depiction of features, and van Lierop’s work seemingly grasps at intricacy with which to lay out her pictures, her work does contain the puncturing psychology of these other artists. These artists offer a viewer a conundrum, an emotive difficulty in coming to terms with events relative to what appears, or in how what is excluded plays a part in what is depicted. There is, at the very least, a kind of absence of certainty at making plain the actuality of what is represented. Recent local art history has traits that have marked, in a wide sense, her agenda. This is by no means a matter either of the arbitrariness of influences on her nor is it determining as such in any parochially art historical way. It may be described as a role for the inconclusive in kindred practices that guide an interpretation of these artists together with respect to the sense of subject matter.

Van Lierop’s work gains strength by disrupting pictorial conventions. A charcoal drawing from 2003 shows the instantiation of both a naturalist attitude and a graphic elaboration that would undermine it. It appears to be an illustration of the upper edge of a hill or the side of a cliff exposing an anatomy of earth, or sand, lying beneath. The underground feature acts in a façade-like way covered with planar renderings and holes spread at points laterally across the upper middle of the picture. At the upper left, in the distance, is a tuft of bushes, they jut out to the left as if blown by a wind. This work is important because it is both believable as a landscape while inviting, on closer examination, a biological-like and almost animate organization of detail that is important apart from what role it might play as part of the larger image. As the drawing pulls the viewer into worlds representing phenomena it maintains a mystery of what constitutes the structure that holds nature together. The success of this draws attention away from a true-to-life portrayal and into a different type of world, seemingly out of order with what would otherwise be expected in the depiction. The large size of the work encourages engrossment in the meticulousness of its detailing. Similar strategies can be viewed in other work since this. Importantly, however, in the closest examples of similarity, it is necessary to regard the support as purposively difficult. This can be seen in her partial or completely panoramic paintings from 2003 and 2006. A particular mode of viewing is demanded of these, determined by the support. The panorama is a continuous landscape and the semi-circular panorama suggests one. Full of details from nature rendered quasi-naturalistically, the images are viewable on a narrow band requiring concerted effort to view. In the case of the fully panoramic, a viewer has not only to go into the space of viewing but separate the painting from surrounding objects.

Van Lierop’s paintings of crowds form networks, in some cases this is emphasized with the introduction of lines painted between depicted figures, or left un-delineated, they are instead implied by elements in paintings that draw together the attention of people. She has also carried similar ideas into other media. Early examples of this work are untitled, where the artist has chosen an enigmatic quality of the image to remain un-named. Any gleaned excitation or ennui in the viewer is coupled with giving an eponymous role over to him or her. The paintings are done largely in grey tones, and where the strands are represented, by lines. Different examples show various instances of linkage with different emphases. There are examples where groups of figures appear active toward one another or are brought together in relation to a common source of interest. In a painting from 2005 two women stand together with hands touching in the air, as though faith-healing, and are linked from there down to the bottoms of their dresses in flat white. Also from 2005, an image shows a group of men dressed in working clothes and wearing hats all attending to something un-shown in the foreground. Some of the men stand while others crouch, but the head of each is connected by a white line to the object of their collective attention. A painting of 2006 is composed of shelves of pigeons; black and white wires join them with the lower right.

Two works from 2008 show lines performing functions in which their pictorial presence seems requisite but limited, almost reflexive. One depicts three baby prams and a baby’s mobile chair, the chair smaller than the prams, all stationary on a set of tracks in the snow. The tracks form a complete elliptical circle contained within the traced paths of the baby carriers. The other portrays two groups of people crouching and handling a rope. The image is foreshortened, leading off to the upper left from the bottom right. The rope, represented as a white line, an absent or unpainted object, is parallel with two other lines in front and behind it in a scene most likely of a farmer’s field. In between the two groups of people is a circular white mass suggestive of a dangerous substance. The anonymous character of these paintings, all small and approximately the same size, provide unknown stories along with studied visual subversions, their staging issues forth intimate disturbance.

Later works such as these are larger in size, they represent a greater scale of crowds, employ more diverse imagery, and some contain titles. There is advancement in the type of imagery displayed in the work, from modest-sized realist paintings containing deliberative pictorial additions to fantastic and symbolic-like compositions in subtly different styles. The features of van Lierop’s paintings that act as supplemental devices linking figures, white lines, flat planes of white, remain in some of the later paintings. They are often less emphatically part of the picture, rather they isolate individuals or small groups within a larger setting. Works such as Mountain of Happiness of 2010, or Mountain of Happiness/sea of 2011, show such a progression. Detailing of white abstract lines between figures in 2010 reveals an integrated pictorial function, with the exception of a single spot-lighted figure in the foreground. In 2011 largely discrete groupings of people are selected for white outline, providing a flatness that highlights the idea of a figure/ground relation within a general aerial perspective. Another development showing the feature progressively minimized can be seen in two related works, respectively: White Suburbia of 2012 and White Suburbia 2 of 2015. The earlier painting, populated with a combination of surreal faces and dark passages, as well as naturalistically rendered human figures, is gathered together with the aid of white curves and implied angled rectilinear structures. The later painting is organized around a foreshortened swirl of a crowd on flat farming land. Centred in the swirl is a round dark build-up suggesting intense activity, figures painted in the surrounding area are either washed out in the background, in the foreground they fork into the composition with greater pictorial resolution. Surrounding rectilinear structures and curved lines open up the cluster to a larger dynamic flow. The sense of movement in the crowd, corresponding to something unknown but compelling, takes over from focus on representing, openly, its different characters. The more general and provisional the structure of the crowd, the more anonymous its source of interest becomes.

Van Lierop has expanded into other media. In 2008 she produced a maquette of a sports stadium, an interior lit structure with sloping planes from the upper outer edge to the central bottom. The surface of the planes is textured and marked as if to indicate crowds, a black linear complex connects parts of the crowds with the stadium ground, specifying a zone of activity but not the nature of it. In 2014 she made a film entitled Total recall of mundane conversations. A bird’s eye night vision security camera records a crowd of people shifting slowly as they witness a blaze beside a statue in a public square. In this case quite specific study is made of the crowd as a moving mass in the midst of an event. Occurrences happen within the crowd, to people in ever-present barely-decipherable detail, revealed in and by time. Time also shows the same movement simultaneously across the gathering, transmuting it into an organism seemingly pulsing away regardless of any natural law. The camera is like a participant in what is happening; uncertainty is what it records, separate and astonished. In fact the film records the fundamental fabric of group dynamics through a duration that can be entered into almost at any point. These developments are important in part because they extend the visualization of her paintings into other media, requiring greater awareness from a viewer, and in part because they also show more which may imply the unseen. They suggest that more explicitness in the visible; extended by an object and in film, the more that can remain hidden.

The artist’s studies of individuals, while maintaining technical consistency with her other work, add identity to people. This has occurred either through a modification of the human figure so that animal and human combinations are seen, or by linking the figure to known iconography. A small grey-toned painting of 2007 shows a girl holding a cat. Both the girl and the cat face out toward the viewer. Although human in general appearance, the girl’s face is formed to look like that of the cat, with particular emphasis on her eyes and the lower portion of her face. Work in 2010 contains animal and human combinations that can be seen using different techniques. A painting in oil on photo-paper contains a hybrid figure with three heads, each of a different type of animal. The figure stands forward, its left hand encased in a knight’s gauntlet and holding a sword at its waist. Its upper body is covered in chain mail, a Bolnisi cross is spread across its breast. Three depictions converge at the place of its head, similar to the wolf, lion, and dog in Titian’s Allegory of Prudence. They comprise instead the heads of three different animals, the one facing the viewer being a fawn, and the other two on either side of the head face away from each other. Surrounding the figure at the bottom are three different animals, all on plinths, two dogs and a fawn. The latter is outlined in white as if to link it to the forward-facing figure. In two separate photographs both entitled Mountain of Happiness an individual is shown wearing different masks and engaged differently. In one instance a person is standing still on a box, holding a neon light attached by wire beyond the picture. The individual wears two animal head masks in a Janus-like coupling and has several masks slung from his neck. Standing on a box holding a pair of glasses a dog sits to the left looking up at the costumed figure. In the other instance the person is crouched over to the right, wearing two animal head masks, and is holding a disk and a long stick. The idea of hybridity in these additive works is calculated to hide the face of the human, as if the mind of an animal controls our actions.

Paintings that refer to known iconography depicting people leave interpretation open as to the meaning for doing so. They do not correspond to a given theory of appropriation but instead instinctively subsume any theory to a precise and expressive visual elaboration. A work from 2010 portrays Saint Sebastian as a football player manipulated so as to appear in motion. His body is riddled with white line-like arrows, as if to suggest that the powerful and dynamic body is encumbered, slowed down by some act of martyrdom the nature of which is unknown. In 2011 the artist produced an image of a compromised man in front of a crowd of people, some sitting, others standing on a structure behind him. He leans forward wearing a long conical hat as if in some act of contrition. The work is reminiscent of Goya’s Inquisition Drawings, particularly his painting of the theme Inquisition Scene, 1812-1814. A painting from 2014 revisits, in part, the theme of Saint Sebastian, this time as a portrait. It depicts a frontal image of an albino man sitting on a bed. Painted in two tones, dividing the canvas horizontally approximately in half, the lower portion is naturalistic, the lower body of the man is sitting on the bed in a relaxed way. The upper portion, where the painting has been glazed, shows the chest and face of the man covered in white line-like arrows. His face appears calm and resolved to a martyr’s fate. Behind him are darkened shadows of figures, possibly of black people. These works provide enough detail to join existing images in art to the apparition-like curbing of naturalism common to van Lierop’s pictorial tactics. They refigure pre-existing imagery removing art historical importance, leaving behind an open-ended significance.

The hidden, the inexplicit, the inconclusive, the dissembling of the human; all describe the mood of the art. This has a double meaning: the work expresses different modes of being which are comprised of a mysterious tenor, nevertheless, provoking viewers by means of emotive content. The effect of her oeuvre shows not only ways of being but also, in a bare way, opening to riddles. In a recent publication her work has been interpreted to be a rewriting of stories, in the publication that accompanied the exhibition The String Traveller at the Municipal Museum of Contemporary Art in Ghent ‘she wants to focus on the underlying, unspoken storylines and rewrite them’ (S.M.A.K, 2014, p.21).1 While this may be a valid interpretation, it is also important to question how much the unconstructed story is effectively the message of her work.

Simon Deakin

(on) assumed narratives

Marilou van Lierop: (on) assumed narratives There is this chaos we live in. A non-chaos, perhaps. Or still a chaos but only because we decided to name it as such. For it is man's privilege to consider an everything: to contemplate a totality in which the incomprehensible web of variable correlations makes sense. And so, every day, we re-stretch Ariadne's thread and connect the singular elements, patrolling the structures that guide us, arming ourselves for the whole of existence that frightened Kierkegaard just as much. The whole and its parts; the fragments and their alleged affiliations. It is a motif that continues throughout Marilou van Lierop’s oeuvre and is evident in many of her works. As she calls on our persistent tendency to generate coherent stories with independent bits, amidst the inescapable chaos that makes creativity imperative. A chaos she, in fact, does not so much arouse, yet valiantly addresses, as the state in which we find ourselves, the perpetual condition of what surrounds us. It shows in her composed landscapes: her painterly depictions where she explores the laws of nature and how they may interact with other natural, social and existential phenomena. Her near-fictious panoramas which she applies on, for instance, large, semi-spherical surfaces. On volumes she derived from indoor climbing walls and then provides with an array of diffuse images; with ephemeral topographies which, devoid of characters, become their own protagonists. Since these places she presents are recurrently deserted, only reminiscent of the possible ranges of human activities which may (have) take(n) place there. Still, it is ever more striking when the landscapes become ‘peoplescapes’ and she does make the actors appear, usually in numbers. Consider, for example, the two-part series of drawings 'July Days I & II' from 2019, in which van Lierop evokes a turbulent seascape in pencil as the setting for a group of tightly crammed people in a simple vehicle. How, on the one hand, they refer to the continuous flow of bodies, the ongoing migration and translocation of individuals that has since always determined human history, even helped it progress. How, on the other hand, and perhaps today more than ever, it confronts us with the frontiers we have steadily established throughout that same history; those virtual lines over an equitable surface we imposed as a compelling reality, with restrictive effects on the flows of movements and feigning the management of that ever-growing and increasingly competitive global population. In van Lierop’s video’s, photomontages, drawings and paintings: people often gather. Sometimes following arbitrary patterns, other times for a specific occasion, yet always surrounded by the allusion that what brings them together is more than just coincidence. Even though it is never mentioned. Or at least never directly. And just as with the landscapes – those evocative settings in which the narrative is lacking but all the more available – she proposes interhuman realities that can only obtain ‘truth’ in the observer’s perception; an act to which she effectively incites. She provides clues, referring discursively, suggesting social mechanisms and interpersonal dynamics; implying the invisible fabric woven between us, who belongs and who stands outside. All on the understanding that there are no anchors and no fixed perspectives, only an indifferent disorder that increases rhizomatically, will always be one step ahead of us, in every direction. As such, all the works are inescapably ambiguous, appealing both to the fascination for individuals who gather and the collective forces that drive them, and to the vulnerability of each congregation and the sinister capacity of crowds. Or look at the video 'Total Recall of Mundane Conversations' from 2014, where van Lierop masterfully extends the idiom of her paintings and drawings in another medium and where the pictured moment is prolonged in time, flirts with the presumed accuracy of the objective registration. In it, she again shows a gathering of people, this time during the performance of an assumed yet unspecified act, perhaps a ritual: with its mass moving simultaneously, in a staged choreography, as if it were one organism. The camera above them, above ‘it’: a chosen angle. It could be everything and everywhere, both harmless and dire, it could speak as much of before as of today and tomorrow; simultaneously specific and universal. In keeping with all this, van Lierop selects her techniques and media attentively. She draws on existing photographic sources, repeating their themes and allowing them to overlap, thus acquiring a layering that reflects the complexity of what surrounds us. At other times, she appropriates available attributes to highlight our habit of making our untamed nature manageable. Or she paints on spherical objects whose surfaces in essence have no internal hierarchy, endlessly starting over again. And even an applied line, first and foremost a brush stroke, an artistic gesture, claims a role in the conceptual interplay with which the works engage with the world, respond to it. So that it all together amounts to a reaction to our need for control and its immanent impossibility, underlining that any attempt to organize reality always runs through a narration.
Jonas Lescrauwaet

The legs of the ladder

Marilou van Lierop's work consists of photos and photo-collages that she then paints. This alters their meaning; the original context disappears and is replaced by a new one. Typically, small or large groups of people are depicted, sometimes enormous masses. It is not the individual but the group that is central.

At first she painted nature – unbounded landscapes, in which different viewpoints were combined into one work; as such, nature leads a life of its own, independent of human regard. In this way, the complexity and chaos are expressed. And it is this complexity and chaos, as found in our social reality, which is the subject of her recent work. Expressed more aptly, it deals with our inability to handle this reality and the strategies we develop as a response. The constructions we make, the stories we devise, these are ways to escape this complexity.

This collective manner of thinking and working is laid bare. Plans and grids are placed like a veil over reality, not because they necessarily correspond with it, but these are the ranking systems with which we make sense of the world. It’s like projecting the known onto the unknown, onto the ‘wild’.

The title of this series of works/exhibitions is "the legs of the ladder". It is a reference to a series of compositions applied directly to the wall. They consist of lines, words, and painted photos, in various formats, framed and unframed. The lines refer to didactic models, from theories of evolution to schematic representations of plants. The words relate to the laborious handling of complex systems. The painting of existing photos forms part of the same practice. It is the scanning of/ searching for the floating, unspoken stories that are to be found amongst people/worlds.

Marilou van Lierop

Over de tentoonstelling Mountain of Happiness in Courtesy Galerie Kussneers, Antwerpen (tot 12 maart

Haar een echte mensenvriend noemen is niet meteen vanzelfsprekend, zeker als je naar het nieuwe werk kijkt van Marilou Van Lierop (°1957), deze dagen te zien in de Antwerpse Kusseneers Gallery. Van Lierop heeft al een lange staat van dienst en is vooral bekend om haar vervreemdende landschappen, waarbij ze bewust afstand neemt van de idyllische landschapjes van zoveel genreschilders. Bij Kusseneers zijn die onherbergzame, beschadigde en donkere landschappen er ook, maar ook de mens maakt zijn opwachting, vaak in dichte drommen. In 'Mountain of Happiness / Strand' zien we bijvoorbeeld een mierenhoop van mensen aan een strand: het doet denken aan 'Les Bains a Ostende' van James Ensor, maar hier geen ironie, spot of wat dan ook, wel de dreiging van de massa, het naast elkaar staan, zitten of lopen, totaal geen aandacht hebbend voor elkaar. In 'Slaughterhouse' gaat ze nog verder: in de stallen voor het slachthuis, waar de dieren op hun executie wachten, schuilen nu de menselijke afwijkingen en gebreken, zoals 'psychopat', 'revenge killing spree', 'video games' (de teksten gaan over het bloedbad in Columbine High School) enzovoorts. Het slachthuis van de menselijke psyche. Van Lierop gebruikt foto's uit bladen en magazines die ze bewerkt, manipuleert en beschildert, zodat het oorspronkelijke beeld soms niet meer te herkennen is. Ook hier is de mens geen vriendelijk wezen, zoals op het blad Anti-Mantsjoe Nationalisten', waar de hoofden van de verslagenen op tafel liggen, terwijl de overwinnaars toekijken. Soms gaat het er minder onvriendelijk aan toe, zoals in 'Garage Sale', waarin je twee mannen via de spiegel van een te koop aangeboden dressoirkast ziet wegloepen, of zoals in 'Zeeuwsch Meisje draagt het water', waarin het personage, tot aan haar middel in een zee of meer, het water aan haar oksels lijkt op te trekken. Marilou Van Lierop schildert in witten, grijzen en zwarten, eigent zich de beelden toe. Maar ze tekent ook precieus, zeker als het op de kleine mensenfiguurtjes aankomt. Haar wereld is tegelijk herkenbaar en surrealistisch, lichtjes misogyn, maar toch niet afstotend. Integendeel, ze slaagt er in om een wereld op te bouwen die vraagt om bekeken en geïnterpreteerd te worden. In de galerie is ook nog werk te zien van de Amerikaanse Jo Hormuth, dat in een post-pop art sfeertje zit: een groot ‘schilderij’, samengesteld uit bubblegum-vormen in polyester, en een reeks lijsten, gevormd door met in klei geknede vingerafdrukken, alsof de kunst ‘gemasseerd’ moet worden. Maar de lijsten zijn wel leeg…

uit art #78 van 3.03.2011

Marc Ruyters

Marilou van Lierop (NL)

Ordening aanbrengen in de chaos is kenmerkend voor het werk van Marilou van Lierop. Echter, in plaats van te filteren uit een bestaande chaos laat Van Lierop die eerst ontstaan. Dat doet zij in de vorm van bijvoorbeeld collages, waarbij lagen en daarmee verhalen over elkaar heen komen te liggen. Ook het schilderen over foto’s leidt tot verscheidene betekenislagen. Uit de massa worden vervolgens nieuwe elementen gelicht die als het ware symbool staan voor een sociale gelaagdheid. De complexiteit van het leven en het verlangen naar orde doen ons klaarblijkelijk zoeken naar structuren om die te beheersen. Het is “de illusie van orde”, in de woorden van Van Lierop, “zoals onze identiteit een illusie is”. We zien kleine en grote groepen mensen in haar werk, waarbij niet het individu maar de groep centraal staat. Haar personages blijven onherkenbaar. Het werk bestaat uit olieverf op papier en op doek.

Op haar achttiende vertrok zij naar Antwerpen om te studeren aan de kunstacademie. De tegenstelling tussen de Hollandse drang naar orde en de zuiderse chaos is, zoals zij zelf zegt, stilletjes in haar werk geslopen. Marilou van Lierop woont en werkt in Antwerpen. Haar werk wordt vertegenwoordigd door Galerie Frank Taal in Rotterdam.

Hans Van Der Ham & Marilou

Mass and Impotence

"In her recent work, the painter does something similar: she never starts with a white sheet or panel, but instead uses existing, albeit manipulated, photographs. These are mostly old photos from books and magazines. "With today's photographs I can accomplish little. There are too many close-ups. I need space and depth”, says Marilou van Lierop. She paints over the photos, usually in part. In this way, the past always remains tangible: it vibrates underneath the layer of paint, it filters through into a face. At the same time, the artist appropriates the images. She tilts the photos, blows them up until you see the grids, and re-scans them, copying the same scene two or three times, demolishing one context and constructing another, or she creates collages before starting to paint. She applies her own stories onto an existing original. "We are full of stories”, she says. "And I just create opportunities."

Since 2004 the desolate primeval landscapes have given way to crowds of people – mostly. Man does therefore enter into her work, after he was expelled from the primeval paradise. But man is not often painted alone. He is usually part of a large, threatening, disagreeably inclined mass. Threatening, for the individual who does not belong to the crowd. In a deliberately limited palette of greys, Marilou van Lierop paints amorphous, swirling and aimless masses: an overpopulated upper-deck of a ship or terraces full of people. In that pure chaos, the people are shadowy and all the same. Their heads are pinheads. If even it concerns a smaller group,there are no individuals distinguishable, and it is unclear what they are doing: in the painting *Marcheren* (Marching) (2006), ten men seem to be carrying a giant surfboard, in anundefined landscape. What drives them and where they go remains shrouded in mystery.

Marilou van Lierop’s fascination for the masses inadvertently recalls the majestic, remarkable study by the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, Elias Canetti, called *Mass and Power* (1960). According to Canetti, the mass is created when one of the most fundamental human qualities, namely, the fear of coming into contact with something unknown, turns into its opposite. In a dense crowd, in which body is pressed against body, he can let go of that fear and aversion. Insuch a mass, fear switches to relief. "Once having submitted to the mass, man does not fear its touch”, writes Canetti. "Ideally, all are equal.” There is not a single difference, even between the sexes." The mass is one body.

One of the many mass symbols Canetti discusses is the sea. And it so happens that sea and water sometimes appear in Marilou van Lierop’s oeuvre. Canetti makes the comparison between droplets and “hopelessly isolated people": "The drops are only there 'in number' if they cannot be counted, if they have moved into the vast whole." The largest work in the exhibition is *Mountain of Happiness. Zee* (Sea). As far as the eye can reach, there are people in the sea. A mass of people who apparently seek one another’s proximity, but want nothing else to do with each other beyond that. In the world of Marilou van Lierop, a deafening silence prevails. The sea seems solidified. Here and there, the painter allows a bit of colour – pastel shades of yellow and pink. Here and there, she creates small vertical clusters in the painting by capturing groups of people within an outline. She calls them ‘totems’, which, along with a handful of ominous black holes, structure the painting. "In Canada a totem pole appears to describe the hierarchy among families of a tribe”, says Marilou van Lierop. *Mountain of Happiness. Strand* (Beach) is an equally large painting. Like Ensor’s *Les Bains à Ostende* (1890), it refers to an overcrowded beach, but there the similarities end. This human landscape also seems endless. People can be seen as far as the eye can reach. There are individuals who sometimes appear here and there: actors in the spotlight, or saints / every society needs heroes. There are also groups of people – families? – who have buried themselves in a pit or crater, for protection. Here and there are groups dressed in membranes. There is a strained sense of calm. Is man digging himself in for an imminent war? In this work, the crowd has dispersed and it’s every man for himself. Canetti calls this phenomenon the fundamental delusion of the masses, "the people who suddenly feel themselves equal are not real, and forever become equal. They head back to their individual homes, they lay themselves down in their own beds to sleep.” In the remarkable painting *Swimmers*, Marilou van Lierop further examines this phenomenon. Some twenty men have been separated in a strange sort of place halfway between a raft and a primitive-looking paddling pool, which consists of planks and plastic sheeting. Are they seeking protection against the turbulent sea? Are they screening themselves off from 'the masses'? At the same time, a power struggle is taking place within the group. A man doles out a punch with his fist, two other men push a third, black man underwater -- or is it a ritual baptism? Nothing is what it seems. Is religion power? Or 'the opium of the people’, as one painting is called? Marilou van Lierop paints an elusive, alienating, slightly surreal world. Recognisable and at once unfathomable. While painting, she explores social and existential phenomena. She paints the chaos and the helpless ways of man to come to grips it. Our eye moves back and forth over the crowd scenes and finds no rest. Van Lierop does not lead our gaze. She does not coerce. There is no centre, no focus, only quiet chaos. In some works she applies white lines as hyphens between people or between an isolated individual and a crowd. In so doing she brings order. "But that is man’s projection”, she says. "We want order. And then we think that that order is reality. We create things that transcend us -- mass, science, religion -- and are then fearful of them.” The funfair, too, is a phenomenon like this. Man builds a world of fun, which is also terrifying. The exhibition is called *The Mountain of Happiness*. One of those ‘mountains of happiness’ is a giant fairground windmill. It is situated behind walls that are temporarily drawn open. Marilou van Lierop has projected five rides and attractions onto one another, such that a rampant, deformed, monstrous carnival windmill has been created. At its foot, three footballers are playing. They are intertwined with each other and resemble a modern variant of the ancient Greek statue, the Laocoön Group. It’s not the only time the painterworks into a painting, almost casually, references to myths or religion. "When I’m painting, an archetypal image sometimes suddenly comes to mind. We are all full of those images.” And so she paints images on images on images. Particularly bleak is the strong painting *Slaughterhouse* [or is it called Towers?]. Marilou van Lierop has a painted a slaughterhouse that extends to the horizon. Everywhere there are animals in cages. Above are two soaring towers with viewing platforms on which people stand to look out. It is reminiscent of a concentration camp. In the cages, she has applied words from the texts that were published after the massacre at Columbine High School. On 20 April 1999, two boys shot dead twelve fellow students on the campus of their school in the U.S. state of Colorado, and then committed suicide. It involves words like ‘video games', 'outcasts', 'revenge' and 'self-hatred’. Just as, in the painting, cowboys try to catch cattle with their lassos, the media tries with words to grasp the elusive Columbine incident and, by extension, violence and evil. Whether it is soldiers coming to look at severed heads, or whether it's a man with a white pointed hat on his head and thus the black sheep of a group, the work of Van Lierop is about the arbitrariness with which people behave and confront one another – as a mass and as a group – and about our inability to bring order out of chaos. There’s underlying threat and overt horror. But sometimes, exceptionally, a starry sky appears in a colourful landscape, as in *Left Bank*, one of the most recent works. As the basis for this, the artist photographed a landscape in which she had scattered hundreds of white plastic bags – afterwards tidying them up again. Nothing is what it seems. Welcome to the bizarre world of Marilou van Lierop”.

Part of "Mass and impotence"

Eric Rickhout