Joëlle Tuerlinckx works with materials that have the status of archival objects. She combines drawings, found objects, pieces of paper, newspaper clippings, photographs, and films into collage-like, sculptural arrangements. Tuerlinckx’s works are variable and fixed only for the moment. They are subject to an ongoing process of references, re-appropriations, and re-adaptations. That the situation in an artist’s studio is fundamentally different from – even antagonistic to – the situation in a gallery or museum, where materials are exhibited, plays a decisive role for Tuerlinckx. In order to do this justice, Tuerlinckx transfers architectural references to her studio into the exhibition setting in the form of brick walls or color samples on studio walls.
According to Tuerlinckx, the best part of a room is the edge, “never the center.” Because she regards a room as a three-dimensional shape visible from the outside, she works to make it as empty as possible as a way of avoiding its representational character. The resulting branching out of facts and thoughts has a hypothetically infinite potential, and the artwork presents itself as a situation, not as an object, image, or expression. This makes the scale of rooms and measuring of time relative.
The starting point for her exhibition Les Salons Paléolithiques is the negative print of a hand from a cave painting in Pech Merle in the southwest of France, of which there is a copy in Tuerlinckx’s personal archive. On the one hand, this “Paleolithic hand,” which was created roughly 15,000 years BCE, establishes Tuerlinckx’s mental timeline and resonates with archaic elements and the importance of the hand and handiwork. Within this timeline, the archive materials – which are updated in the exhibition context – gain the status of something prehistoric, and sculptures are transformed into pre-sculptures.
On the other hand, the “Paleolithic hand” is a negative image that refers to an absent object. When Tuerlinckx imagines the prehistoric period as “objectless” or as an age of absent objects – “an object is not only what we have, but what we lose” – she is also referring to the psychoanalytical understanding of objects of desire, the essence of which is their unobtainability. Hence, several materials are conspicuous in their absence from the exhibition, like the walking stick that is shown only as a negative on a kind of plinth, while other materials are simply hinted at as “possibilities” through shapes drawn with dotted lines, and yet others exist only as contours.
Tuerlinckx uses the motif of the branch, which refers to the idea of a family tree or an evolutionary diagram, to point at a possible system of order for her archival materials. But in place of the model of a tree with humans as the highest beings in creation at the top, we rather have the coral model developed by Charles Darwin to describe his theory of evolution. According to this theory, evolution progresses in a rampant, non-hierarchical manner, forming connections and leaving loose ends open. This system also encompasses historically extinct species. Tuerlinckx’s system is similar to this coral model. She is an archivist with an astonishing poetic power of association that reactivates – as is often the case in dreams – forgotten and discarded objects and in this way restores the equilibrium of the value of things.