Evelien. Heading South
When in 1949 Carl Gustav Jung wrote the “Preface” to the English edition of the I Ching. The book of Canges he was already over 80 years old and the “changing opinions of men” scarcely impressed him any more. As he saw it, the thoughts of the old masters were of greater value “than the philosophical prejudices of the Western mind” and the Chinese oracular text, the repository of age-old wisdom, actually appeared to illustrate the path to understanding. The I Ching insists on the importance of knowing oneself, one’s own character, one’s own behaviour and one’s own motivations.
Evelien La Sud told me that she began to study this book of divination in the fateful and symbolic year of the 1968. Born in 1950 in the Netherlands by Indonesian mother, and Dutch father, just a few kilometres away from the Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller and in the shadow of the great Hoge Veluwe park, she had already experienced in the winds of the post-war world that sense of waiting deriving from her Eastern roots and she had a different approach to the future. In her country, the fervour of renewal was kindled in 1965 with the anarchic youth movement Provo and their “White Bicycles”. In the same year the still very young Evelien left home to find her own path, with no preconceived imprinting.
She studied in England, enrolling in the Epsom and Ewell School of Art in Surrey. She had no family ties, no points of reference and no economic or affective security; she corresponded to the spirit of the time. There followed periods at the Kunst Academie St. Joos in Breda, Holland, and then at the Brera Academy of Fine Arts in Milan.
There were hitchhiking trips, concerts by the Rolling Stones and Joan Baez, sculpture with Francesco Messina and Marino Marini, the rejection of technology, her first marriage to an academy companion and her first two children. And in the meantime she continued with her pure research in the direction of new horizons and new idioms.
The I Ching spoke to and supported her and Evelien extended her reading. She showed me Dutch and Italian editions and then, in order to help me understand better, she took three identical coins and asked me to cast them six times. And there I was, like Carl Gustav Jung, calling upon the “method of chance”. Jung had interrogated the oracle regarding his project to write the abovementioned foreword and his own actions. I had no questions but, with an open mind, I awaited answers. Every time I cast the coins Evelien traced part of a hexagram, a complete or broken line, which in talking form mirrors the moment.
What emerged was combination of the trigrams Kên (stillness, mountain) and Li (adhering), flame) leading to hexagram number 22, Pi- “grace- adornment”. This is a wonderful sign because "good fortune follows”. Fire erupts from the depths of the earth and illuminates and adorns the celestial heights. “Tranquil beauty: inside clarity and outside peace…This is the world of art”. There followed the interpretation of individual lines because two changes emerged. Six in the fourth place means the arrival of confirmation in the form of a white winged horse, “faithful union with the friend who guarantees his affection”. Six in the fifth place represents the search for the true sentiment, “in the solitude of the heights she meets a man towards whom she raises her eyes”. These two mobile or weak (broken) lines are specifications of the oracle and, by virtue of the motion, give rise to two strong (unbroken) lines and to another hexagram, the combination of the trigrams Ch’ien (creative, heaven) and Li (adhering, flame); that is to say, number 13, “T’ung Jên - Fellowship with People”. It is in the nature of fire to spread upwards, towards the heavens. This gives the idea of fellowship. “There is clarity inside, strength outside”. It is the sign of cosmic participation, of that concord with which it is possible to “complete difficult and perilous tasks such as the crossing of the great water”.
I agreed with the oracle; the text corresponded with and faithfully reproduced my psychic state and laid bare my unconscious: the desires, tendencies and enthusiasms of my being hic et nunc. Here, in this beautiful house-cum-atelier created by Evelien in Tuscan hills; now, in the light of a fiery sunset in which heaven and earth truly appear to meet and unite. I could understand how, from afar, in the evening, this home may appear like a boat, floating between Siena and Florence. A great ark with a view of San Gimignano, constructed via successive sedimentations, the work of art of a lifetime. On the other hand, as Evelien confided to me, if we had to give a single title to her artistic oeuvre, it would be Change. And for her, the I Ching is belonging, literature, the thought within wich everything is born.
In 1980, she bought the house at Pastine as an isolated barn, a store for objects discarded by other, materials to be recomposed with taste, adapting them to rhythm of nature, to the succession of the seasons on the abandoned countryside. Evelien transformed, valorised and modified her project in a stratified vision: walls, floor, roof, rooms, vegetable patch, orchard, garden. The house continuously grew and mutated, more like a piece of sculpture than architecture, in its form, in the arrangement of spaces, along with the people who lived in it- two more children were born Jade and Tayu - and with those who were guests. Just like the individual works by Evelien: anybody may influence the work by touching it.
The energy of this construction is powerful while the silence of setting is deep. Maria Callas, Jan Garbarek and Meredith Monk are allowed. Musical instruments are important. Also important us acting on what life itself suggests; seeing and grasping signs; following a path based on attractions. Water, the flow of water, crystal, the sign of crystal: 64 sheets, 64 impressed phrases summarizing the 64 signs of the book of Changes; modular luminous columns, composed of vase-shaped objects; lotus flowers in perfect hemispheres. Without water there is no life, has succeeded in overcoming unforeseen obstacles while continuously generating new ideas to realize. “Something that actually a drag”, she admits, “because being an artist is a way of seeing that is never easy”.
In effect, according to Evelien she does not know what it means “to be an artist”, even tough she would like to respond with this definition: “discovering something about your self trough a work.” For her , the artists Piero della Francesca, Simone Martini and Vincent Van Gogh are great points of reference. Piero’s Madonna del Parto was her motivation for living in Tuscany, Mantegna’s Cristo morto for living in Milan. There is no why and wherefore to these determinant visions -life and death, the life that art perpetuates beyond death- and Evelien is far from understanding the ultimate meaning of things. She prefers to stay “in the nucleus”, as she says, “close to the pioneers such as Guido da Siena”, bur she is also fascinated by contact with non-terrestrial energies.
Her research in the direction of an alternative space is symbolically represented by the theme of “Shoes”. She loves to reference the painting by Van Gogh conserved in the Kröller-Müller Museum, his Old Shoes that already led to the fields and kitchen gardens, to the dimension of the world of agriculture and nature. Evelien’s “little shoes” derive from the first two canvases titled A Thousand and No More Than a Thousand reproducing the numbers from 1 to 1,000 and back. The canvases have been photographed and copied using the heliographic technique and then photocopied, transparent materials with which she has composed light shoes, initially set on a wine glass and then on crystal glass bricks. Fluid objects that indicate movement, on solid supports, signifying the determinant action that follows thought. The same was suggested by Evelien’s four large canvases from the Eighties with the number of a moment in the time that had to be shifted to move to the other side of the room.
The expression of lines from Shakespeare’s Richard II, “I wasted time, and now doth time waste me; /For now hath time made me his numbering clock” (Act V, Scene 5). Either one determines time or one becomes part of the mechanism. The Change recurs and has to become ineluctable if you discover that you “know a literary character such as Hamlet better than you baker”.
In those years, Evelien also experimented with biodynamic and aesthetic equilibrium. Flowers in the midst of vegetables, odours, herbs, self-sufficiency with regard to essential foods, the complementariness of cultivated plants: a true polyphony. The task of nature is in any case completed, in spite of hail, damage and bruised fruit. Once again, the kitchen garden is a source of inspiration. The most commonly found shape of vase goes by name of “orticello” in Italian, “kitchen garden”. Evelien construed columns of these vases in blown crystal glass and juxtaposed, two by two, luminous pillars – as we were talking she got up and switched them on – composed of eight modules of eight vases, as she explained , “in reference to the infinite”, nine, like the number of the Muses, and ten, to signify the beginning of a module in expansion, against dogmatism. The garden of the Simple Ones also references Brancusi and his Endless Column.
It is fascinating to walk amidst these compositions in a dark space-as that of the atelier had become as I interviewed (and chatted with) Evelien late into the evening. I took a great liking to her, as if I had known her forever. For a moment I laid down my pen and looked around. Silence. On the table were four stunning lotus flowers, stunning! Different, inscribed in the hemispheres of crystal glass: the work is entitled, Enclosed Like Water. The duality of these flowers, ready to make one forget or emerge from oblivion, as she said “they are born out of the murky water that purifies”. Behind me were two walls of bookshelves, loaded with art catalogues; on the glass were Chinese banknotes, postcards showing the Terracotta Army and a pagoda, reproductions of works by Vermeer, from the Italian Renaissance and Middle Age. Beyond the column with a black and photo of the family and a calendar depicting Callas was another table.
On two shelves was the work Crystal River, long tubes to transfer wine from one container to another. Evelien has inserted copied parts of books or transcriptions form the dictionary, some done with her left hand – such as the life of Rembrand – or passages from the history of art, photocopied and rolled up. Three ceramic shells of Magical Turtles , in reference to the first oracle of the I Ching, which involved cracks in the shells of turtles and inscription of a Y-shaped mark.
Another flow of time engulfed me: I began to grow hungry. I glanced at Evelien. We stood up together and walked through the great space of the atelier. Before going up, we paused in front of the 18 sheets of glass with the Wind Scale, the one invented by Boufort. Transcribed with the climatic effects on land and sea, Evelien said “a possible parallel with history of the ’68 for example”. Evelien looked at me and we laughed: if it is true that I am destined to “cross the great water”, not just that crystallised in her works of art but also the liquid form of the ocean, as announced by the oracle, this was another “sign” for me. The direction? The same direction of good fortune, I hope, that Evelien, now Italian, has symbolically chosen as her nom d’art: La Sud.
Genoa, 17th October 2005
from text published in "Evelien La Sud, Il giardino dei semplici", Edizioni Masnata, Genoa 2005