Desiree Palmen, 1992

In autumn 1992 I invited Dutch artist Desiree Palmen to exhibit at Parbleu. She had studied at the Jan Van Eyck academy in Maastricht with Guillaume Bijl and Henk Visch and had had a first solo exhibition at Kabinett – Aachener Kunstverein in 1989.

Palmen showed a combination of sculptures and large scale drawings on blackboard. The exhibition ran from 17 September until 10 October 1992.

The image on the invite referred to an educational situation in which the plates with the animals have a didactic function. Through her work Palmen wanted to question this form of scientific representation.


Photos Stefan Dewickere

At the time I wrote a text about her work that was published in the Parbleu newsletter of which you can find the translation below:

The work of Desiree Palmen is usually based on a pure association of form. Instinctively a certain similarity and meaning are sensed which, by multiplication, acquire an educational right to exist. Initially, this suffices. The actual importance only becomes clear over time.

Women’s breasts bulge out of mushrooms., butterflies fit perfectly into chest sockets, the Rhine flows through the human body, a seat wears its smaller version. Wherein lies the similarity?

Isn’t it always the vulnerability being brought out? And above all, the contradiction that lies in this vulnerability?

The fragile butterfly takes the place of the lungs — the shape matches wonderfully — but also has its morbid trait and can be found in anything but poetic places such as manure and compost heaps. The Rhine finds its natural path on an anatomical plate but is also a carrier of thin personal memories.

The seat and its little one are robust and funny, but ultimately also refer to the shaky balance of motherhood: without pardon, the small chair can be snatched out of the safe womb.

An unmistakably romantic, melancholic feeling no stranger to the work of Desiree Palmen. In this sense, it’s very connected to this current time in which ideologies are irrevocably lost. There seems to be a retreat into one’s own personality from the awareness that this is the only reliable point of reference. One’s own anatomical reality forms a world in itself that is confronted with the surrounding one. By bringing this inner world to the outside, Desiree Palmen makes the necessary presence of the morbid manageable.

There’s an interesting parallel to be made with the work of her British peer Damien Hirst, although he opts for a more rigid approach. If he is concerned with a shocking confrontation with the morbid, Palmen attains the same goal in a more indirect way. Showing a certain zeitgeist, both artists wish to make the spectator think about his or her place in life.

Edith Doove September 1992


Featured image invitation card for the exhibition, Robert Owen’s School for Children, view
%d bloggers like this: