TIME has always been Ina van den Heuvel’s theme. In the works she made directly after graduating from the Rijksacademie in Amsterdam, she approached the topic using diverse elements and media, which each in their own way symbolized the fluid character of time. Most works from that period are heliogravures of photos depicting people and stones interwoven in a symbiotic relationship.
Van den Heuvel: “As a result of the story ‘Wat gebeurde er met sergeant Masuro’, from Harry Mulisch’s book, De Versierde Mens, I became fascinated by the idea of a person changing during the course of time from a fluid substance into a hard material. He would gradually sink deep into the earth through his own weight and like a fossil, live on forever. According to the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, stones are connected with people because they harbor the souls of the dead. Stones are not only literally inflexible and impenetrably hard, they also represent psychological solidity, ossification and concentrated emotions.”

By photographing people and stones, van den Heuvel places both in a time perspective, a freeze frame that immortalizes what will inevitably change. Choosing to reproduce the photographs by means of monumental heliogravures, emphasizes this time aspect. Reproduction of a reproduction. The heliogravure was invented at the end of the nineteenth century and is regarded as the oldest intaglio technique for reproducing photographic images. By way of a complex photo-chemical process, an image is etched into a copper plate, after which a print is made on thick etching paper using special inks. This very laborious and time-consuming procedure is evident in the end result. The picture not only visualizes Time, the traces of its manufacture also bear witness to it.

The theme TIME and measured techniques also characterize the artist’s contemporary work. These new pictures are different. Instead of stones, they depict people with plants and flowers resulting in a more intense symbolization of time passing. Blossom, decline and finiteness – a primal theme crucial to human existence that stands apart from art movements and is not influenced by new trends in subject matter and techniques. People flourish and travel the inevitable road to decline and fossilization. A memory is all that remains.

Time also makes itself felt in her new work through a combination of elements and media. Van den Heuvel tries to visualize the fleeting character of time passing at different levels. Most works consist of drawings she makes of photographs depicting people and plants. At least a month’s work goes into each picture, a time investment that just like the heliogravures is evident in the ultimate result. From a distance the drawings are an abstract depiction of plants changing into people, people merging with plants, while closer inspection reveals a different reality: layer upon layer of rhythmic lines, sometimes ten layers deep, scratched in- and onto the paper. This literally gives the paper depth, while the drawing - the representation – acquires compound meanings that intersect each other. “I see strong similarities when I compare drawing with the photographic process: just as the images slowly rise to the surface in the photo-developing bath, the images of the drawings also reveal themselves in a similar, gradual way, like marks on the surface.”

In addition to drawings, van den Heuvel also makes spatial works, based on dried flowers that show the process of decay and decline in various phases. For several projects she covered parts of the human body with leaves. As they dry the leaves follow the contours of the body. What remains are hardened shells, a “second skin”, with which van den Heuvel constructs spatial installations. For a recent project she used a cast of her own face made twenty-seven years ago (when she was twenty-seven) and a newly fabricated cast of her head (spring 2010). The casts consist of layer upon layer of pressed, dried flowers and leaves. The muted, multi-layered, sculptures reveal something about the person then and now.

Looking at Ina van den Heuvel’s early and later works, one can hardly escape the impression that she is really creating fossils of herself. She agrees: “I usually photograph other people or envelop their bodies with leaves. Even so, the hybrid human-plant figures in the drawings and spatial installations are - just like recent works - mostly self-portraits in which I go in search of the memory I will one day become.

Text: Louise Schouwenberg, September 2010