A riot of multicoloured spots swim before my eyes, like a whirlwind of pixels, or an explosion of confetti. The codes of presentation tell me this is a painting – its frame, size and installation on a wall – and its references are certainly painterly – the palette of Monet reworked through the exploding dynamic of Pollock, perhaps – but the surface of the material tells another story. It is in fact a readymade, a sheet of recycled plastic, in which the melted fragments of many colours are fused together in one decorative surface.
The work is called A shift in focus (2012) and does indeed mark a shift in the ever-evolving practice of artist Peggy Franck (b. 1978, NL). Franck started working predominantly with photography and, during her residency at the Rijksakademie (2005-2006), moved into producing installations that she treated as sets to be photographed, sometimes keeping and reworking the same set for several different projects. Whilst theatrical in nature – in their combination of colours, materials and surfaces – these sets remained abstract environments, devoid of narrative. At times, Franck’s camera would zoom in on particular details, such as the juxtaposition of a smooth curl of paper with the crumpled surface of a silver survival blanket. At others, she would incorporate the entire constructed environment in the image. These photographs were printed on a large scale, almost replicating the original size of the set, playing with the trompe l’oeil possibilities this afforded. To heighten the confusion between the real and its representation, Franck also presented some of the photographed elements in front of the photographs. For example, in Twilight: the folded space and the wrapped up soul (2006), a white roll of paper stands like an architectural column in front of a large black and white photograph in which it also appears, surrounded by naïve but evocative shapes. A hoop adorned with silver triangles suggests a symbolic sun, or the abandoned prop of a lion tamer from the circus. However, the grayscale of the image makes for a sombre landscape and reminds me of the twilight photographs of Gerard Byrne (A country road. A tree. Evening., 2008), inspired by the setting for Beckett’s Waiting for Godot.
The themes of presence and absence that underpin Beckett’s play also run through Franck’s work. In many of her pieces, she creates the impression that we have just missed the action, that we are seeing the remains of a process, the traces of the artist’s presence. In some of her photographs from 2006-2008 (for example, Preaching nicknames, 2008), Franck incorporated images of herself inside her installations, always disguised in some way. She came to realize, however, that it introduced too obvious an element of narrative, broke the sense of scale of the composition, and thus interrupted the flatness of the image. She also moved away from placing objects that featured in her photographs directly in front of the image, as she felt that it was prompting viewers to read both elements too literally. Instead, she developed a more fluid interaction between photo and installation, allowing some materials or forms to migrate between different images and compositions. Materiality, however, remains a central concern, and all her photographs are analogue, allowing us to savour the grain of the printed images as much as the details they depict.
Franck’s titles often comment upon her thinking process, such as How an uncomfortable moment made things move in a pleasant direction (2007), or Disliking my own self-control (2007). Shortly after making these works, she began to develop installations that were freer, at times even riotous. Nights at the circus, or another book I didn't read (2008), for example, is an installation she created for Next Visit, Berlin. It features a backdrop of gold paper, like a detail of décor for an opera, in front of which several objects are staged: three draped cones of blue fabric; a suspended black ribbon, drawing a drunken, looping line through the air; a fragment of wall, made from white breezeblocks and sprayed with wing-like graffiti; and various upright rolls of white paper. On another plane, a number of mirrors are visible: one circular mirror placed directly on the floor, another laying flat on a stool, and a square one leaning nonchalantly against the wall. Amidst this visual cacophony, an amorphous shape made from melted, colourless Perspex sits atop a trestle, and on the wall is pinned a photograph of the opposite corner of the installation. The effect is sumptuous, seductive and highly sculptural.
Similarly baroque installations were created by Franck for her 2009 solo show at the Westfälischer Kunstverein in Munster, titled In Rocking Motion. The exhibition took place in a bourgeois villa, and Franck’s pieces riffed upon its ornate and colourful interior. The room-filling installation There's no ordinary world to wake up in (2009) was a predominantly horizontal work that superposed layers of different materials – paper painted with geometric patterns, photographs of this paper, crushed fabric, and sheets of reflective plastic – to kaleidoscopic effect. Rocking Motion (2008) appeared like an abandoned tableau vivant or mobile photographic portrait studio. In front of a abstract painted backdrop, an unrolled sheet of white paper created a stage on which there stood three characters: two ghost-like forms of suspended fabric, and a vertical column of paper, painted with broad black stripes and capped with a folded Perspex form, reminiscent of the wings of a nun’s starched wimple. Larger versions of such figures stood in the villa’s pink entrance hall: a vertical roll of paper with graffiti-like markings alongside columns of rolled inkjet prints (Waiting for the quiet moment to come, 2009), all crowned with Perspex shapes. They are almost a condensation of the ideas of Franck’s installations into individual forms, and over the subsequent two years, a simplification or paring-down of materials would become visible in her work, combined with a growing interest in painting.
In response to the invitation to create a site-specific installation in the exhibition The shape we’re in at the Zabludowicz Collection in London, Franck produced Reading and being read to (2011), a sequence of paintings on sheets of Perspex that she leant against a rough wall bearing the traces of previous exhibitions (and to which she also added various bursts of colour). Perhaps as a reaction to her own earlier pieces, with their carnivalesque combination of colours, forms, materials and media, Franck began to make very minimal paintings, using monochrome marks of acrylic paint, gouache and ink on clear sheets of Perspex (works such as Her unoccupied state, 2011). In her 2012 show at Galerie Marion Scharmann in Cologne – titled A cat had got up and left the room – she presented a modest collection of Perspex strips leaning against the wall, whose only colour came from the paint she had applied to their edges. And this exploration of light, transparency, surface and colour was condensed even further in her series of works titled Unusual Patient (2012): oversized light bulbs suspended from the ceiling on long electric cables, where the curved glass of the bulbs was daubed with acrylic spray- and house-paint.
Following this reduction down to the bare essentials of painting – light, surface, paint – objects disappeared almost entirely from Franck’s work for a short period. Her 2012 exhibition at Galerie Fons Welters in Amsterdam defied expectations of her work by presenting visitors with a stripped down, spartan installation. Titled Sudden parallels between the sky and the concrete, it was a conceptual recreation of her Berlin studio. In the centre of the gallery floor, wooden parquet replicated the shape and surface of her studio, onto which she placed a roll of turquoise acrylic film, weighed down by two stones. Curled like a snake in another corner of the parquet was a black electric cable and an oversized light bulb, which was half-mirrored (rather than painted by the artist). On the four surrounding walls, Franck pinned forty sheets, each measuring 50 x 70cm, at evenly spaced intervals. At first, these all appeared to be mirrored paper, painted with a mixture of acrylic, spray-paint, gouache and ink, in thin washes of colour. However, interspersed between such paintings – whose reflective surface revealed also the colour and forms of the gallery space and the floor piece – were identically-sized photographs of such sheets of painted and mirrored paper, which Franck had taken while they were installed in her studio. In these, the blurred reflections of her studio were visible behind the painted shapes, with its worktable, toolboxes, or stepladder. Described thus, the piece risks sounding like a self-referential prism, turning in on itself and its place of creation, but the effect was surprisingly open and generous, a spatial exploration of the intersection between painting, installation and photography. As Rosa Juno Streekstra wrote of the work: “Instead of extending two-dimensional pictures into space like she has done before, [Franck] now subtly absorbs space into flatness.”
And so we arrive back where we began, to the painterly (perhaps even Greenbergian) flatness of A shift in focus. The history of modern painting has been shaped by successive shifts in focus, which enabled us to look at the world in new ways, whether formally, optically or socially. Over a much longer period, the notion of the shape-shifter has played a central role in human imagination, as traced through art, mythology and folklore. Whether intentionally assuming the guise of some other being for mischievous purposes, being transformed against their will as a form of punishment, or adopting a new shape as a means of escape, shape-shifting allows characters to act in ways that were previously impossible. For an artist, shape-shifting is inherent to the creative process, as ideas and materials are transformed by the intervention of the artist, in whatever form that intervention may take, be it physical, contextual, or purely conceptual. Having sketched the outlines of her practice over the past six years, I am curious to see what shape Peggy Franck will adopt next in the protean development of her practice, and what will it enable her to do.
Zoë Gray is an independent curator based in Brussels. Current exhibitions include Wilfrid Almendra at Fondation d’Entreprise Ricard (Paris) and the group show Six Possibilities for a Sculpture at La Loge (Brussels). Gray also works as coordination manager for the LUMA Foundation in Arles; is on the acquisition committee of the FRAC Basse Normandie; and is vice president of IKT, the international association of curators of contemporary art.
1978 born in Zevenaar, Netherlands
Lives and works in Amsterdam And Berlin, Netherlands
Akademie voor Kunst en Vormgeving, Den Bosch, NL, 1996-2001
Rijksakademie van beeldende kunsten/Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, 2005-2006
2010-2011 Artist in Residence at Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin
2006, Stichting Ritsema van Eck Fonds
2006, 'Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds - "Chagall Fonds"'
2005, Stichting Ritsema van Eck Fonds
2013, OUTPOST, Norwich, UK, 'A household without responsibilities'
2012, Fons Welters, Amsterdam, NL, 'Sudden parallels between the sky and the concrete'
2012, Marion Scharmann, Cologne, DE, ' A cat had got up and left the room'
2011, Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin, DE, 'Drawing from a store of thought'
2009, Marion Scharmann, Cologne, DE, 'At home a stranger'
2009, Westfälischer Kunstverein, Münster, DE, 'In Rocking Motion'
2008, Klerkx, Milano, IT, ‘The conversation you and I never had’
2008, Liste 08, Basel, Laurin, CH
2008, Raum für zeitgenössische Fotografie, Coalmine, Winterthur, CH
‘All the secret deaths I died’
2007, Kunstraum Marion Scharmann, Cologne, DE, 'Luxury is in the sky’
2006, ACF Amsterdams Centrum voor Fotografie, Amsterdam, NL
2002, Extrapool, Nijmegen, NL, 'Slave to the rhythm'
2013, Perm State Art Gallery, Perm, RU, 'Still/Life: Contemporary Dutch Photography'
2013, Stigter van Doesburg, Amsterdam, NL, 'It might as well rain until September'
2013, Multimedia Art Museum Moscow, RU 'Still/Life: Contemporary Dutch Photography'
2013, Autocenter, Berlin DE, 'Stand alone, by my side - Conference 1'
2013, Crawford Art Gallery, Cork, IE, 'False Optimism'
2013, Photographers Gallery, London, UK 'Perspectives on Collage'
2013, Nieuwe Vide, Haarlem, NL, Maarten Overdijk - Peggy Franck - Charl van Ark
2012, Koninklijke Prijs voor Vrije Schilderkunst 2012, Amsterdam, NL
2012, Point de vue, 's-Hertogenbosch, NL
2012, Wolvecampprijs, Hengelo, NL, 'Peggy Franck, Aukje Koks, Arjan van Helmond'
2012, Rokeby, London, UK, 'Bettina Buck invites Peggy Franck'
2012 (SIC), Brussels, BE, 'Secouer le cocotier' by Freek Wambacq with Peggy Franck, Nicolas Matrangas and Gert Verhoeven
2012, Dorothea Schlüter, Hamburg, DE, 'Zippy Zippy', duoshow with Maria Zahle
2012, Autocenter, Berlin, DE, 'Objects of dismissal'
2011, Bugada & Cargnel, Paris, FR, 'Were all the stars to dissapear or die...'
2011, FOAM, Amsterdam, NL, 'Still/Life'
2011, Museum de Pont, Tilburg, NL, 'Brabant Now 2011'
2011, Zabludowicz Collection, London, UK, 'The shape we're in'
2011, Lokaal 01, Breda, NL, 'Hard Shoulders Preview'
2009, Museum voor Moderne Kunst Arnhem, 'Made in Arnhem invites' with Suzy May Sho 'Probe'
2009, Arti et Amicitiae, Amsterdam, NL, ‘A days darkness in a lightbulb’
2009, X-initiative, with Next Visit Berlin, New York, USA, 'No soul for sale'
2009, Galerie Anne Barrault, Paris, FR, 'We would like to thank (again) the curators who wish to stay anonymous'
2008, Auto-italia south east, London, UK, ‘About’
2008, Biagiotti progetto arte, Florence, IT, ‘Mondriaan Download’, curated by Andrea Bruciati, (cat.)
2008, Askeaton, IE, ‘Welcome to the neighbourhood’
2008, Next Visit, Berlin, DE
2008, Klemm’s, Berlin, DE, Endless lowlands breaking up, part 2
2008, Binz 39, Zürich, CH, Endless lowlands breaking up, part 1
2007, Billytown, Rijswijk, NL
2007, Lambretto Art Project, Milan, IT, 'What remains… Quello che rimane’
2007, Villa Lautengarten, Basel, CH, 'Launch of port-de-suisse’
2006, Rijksakademie van beeldende kunsten, Amsterdam, NL, 'Open Ateliers' (cat.)
2006, Parts, Xiamen City, CN, 'Rijksakademie at Parts'
2005, Loods 6, Amsterdam, NL, 'Art-for-Sail'
2005, Rijksakademie van beeldende kunsten, Amsterdam, NL, 'Open Ateliers' (cat.)
2003, Rotterdam, NL, 'Kunstxpress'
2002, Artis, Den Bosch, NL, 'Prefab 4', presentation of book 'Strike a pose'
2013, Code Magazine #6, FR, Zoë Gray, 'Shape-shifter'
2013, Tubelight #84, NL 'Werk' Interview by Noor Mertens
2012, (H)Art, BE, Lilian Bense, 'Peggy Franck'
2012, Parool, NL, Kees Keijer, 'Tijd en ruimte worden even stilgezet'
2009, Kunstbeeld, NL, #6, Sandra Spijkerman, 'Signalement: Peggy Franck'
2009, Art Review, UK, Issue 29, Andrew Smaldone, ‘Peggy Franck. The Conversation You and I never Had’
2008, Süddeutsche Zeitung, DE, Catrin Lorch, ‘Eingestampfte Science-Fiction’
2008, Tagesanzeiger, CH, Feli Schindler, ‘Schneewitten im plexiglass’
2008, Landbote, CH, Iris Wolfensberger, ‘Orte der Kunst und Wirklichkeit’
2007, Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger, ‘Die wäscher von Mumbai’
2007, Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger, ‘Verhinderte Romantik’