Eleen Deprez — A fish, whale or dolphin

Eleen Deprez — My visit to the estate

Eleen Deprez — On collaboration, the studio and visual material



Eleen Deprez — Een vis, walvis of dolfijn

Eleen Deprez — Mijn bezoek aan het landgoed

Eleen Deprez — Huisbezoek

Eleen Deprez — Over samenwerken, het atelier en beeldmateriaal


A fish, whale or dolphin

When I close my eyes and ponder on Petje, my grandfather, I see the vague outline of a bathtub in the cellar. Of the house where I always spent a few weeks’ holiday in the summer, all that is left in my memory is that brown bathtub. A yellow-green screen separates the whitewashed space from a wood workshop with a bench beyond. Petje is planing or hammering. But much clearer than his face or hands, or the bath toys floating about, much more detailed than my clothes draped over the back of a chair, is the memory of a navy blue thermometer: a fish, whale or dolphin. It was fixed to the tiles above the bath with two suction cups. When it was time for a bath, it was briefly dipped in the water to prevent burns on my smooth baby bottom. The mercury was read between the tail fin and the friendly smile of the snout before Bebonne would stick the instrument back in its place. I don’t remember whether she would first lick the suckers; whether she needed glasses; or whether she kneeled next to the bath tub; whether it was morning, evening or afternoon; whether I was dirty; whether we often went to the beach, or to the fun-fair. I do remember that the thermometer was there. Sitting up in the tub, my hands tightly squeezing a rubber duck or a toy boat, I would reach higher and higher in fascination. The mercury ran between blue and red numbers. Dust and water had gathered in the tile joints below the suction cups and in the eyes of the animal.
That memory is nothing more than that, just as other memories are no more than vague outlines with, in the centre, a finely detailed something: a blue thermometer, a crepe paper bow tied around the first bicycle, the bent ring finger of an aunt, tiny hands clutching the bars of a cot, a small toy car, three seconds of film, whispering lips, a little bench...
And that is also what the works from L’encyclopédie des Autres are like – lost memories, found by Reniere&Depla. The individual, however, is lost. This cluster of images does not carry any personality, any individuality. Centrally, there is a fictitious character. This Encyclopédie bears the memory of someone else, their life, their soul and stuff. But that someone else is unknown to me. Yet, unintentionally and suddenly, a story bubbles up, an indication of atmosphere, of event.
An okapi is passively and fixedly staring ahead in a living room, refusing to leave auntie’s parlour. The children have lured the circus animal into the house with two carrots and some fresh lettuce. Earlier in the day, the animal had escaped from its cage. The police, zookeepers and the RSPCA are called in; but they do not seem to be able to tempt the animal – which occasionally nibbles the poinsettias – out of the house. Eventually they give the animal a small dose of sedative and carry it out on a stretcher.
This interpretation or reading is involuntary and maybe even unwanted, but inescapable. Just like memories that are in stand-by and suddenly appear out of nowhere, uninvitedly, inexplicably, clouding our thoughts with melancholy, nostalgia or wistfulness. Memory and recollection have many descriptions, but incontestably they are called fickle or plainly unreliable by many. We, scientists, can find neither measure, nor order or consistency in the chaos of our memories – a colourful, varied, motley collection of all that has ever happened. The workings of the memory – even though science has devoted much research to this – seem to me still to bear most resemblance to a bingo night. It has precious little to do with storage capacity, RAM, giga or byte; nothing with ginseng, hippocampus, the limbic system or trauma. But it has everything to do with a big lottery, a raffle. Maybe this face, this day, this moment has the winning ticket.
I am looking at the painting of the girl with the lazy eye. I shall call her Charlotte, because she reminds me of someone who used to be in my class. It is not really a lazy eye, but rather a haughty stare. She is slumped in her chair.
In the living room of our being, our essence, our brain, I imagine that the memory sits behind a screen. Six thin spindles of dark brown wood with what was once a delicate white fabric stretched in between in neat pleats. Robust yet fragile, it divides the space into two parts: what is and what was.
Behind the screen, I store what happened; the way something sounded, the way something smelled, what I saw. There is no order, no neatness or standard. When the cupboards of Knowledge and Experience spill over, the excess is thrown behind the screen. Whatever cannot be categorised does not get its own department, but gathers dust behind, beneath, in between.
In L’encyclopédie des Autres, more is happening than the retrieval of a few nostalgic moments. Whereas memories catch us unawares, suddenly, dormant, Reniere&Depla catch them, mount them, exhibit them and as such, albeit briefly, conserve them. Looking at the work I am overwhelmed by a sudden feeling of recognition. I could talk about a sublime experience, an awareness of the workings of my memory. There is something inexplicably familiar about these images. These are not my own memories, and yet they seem to be exactly that.
Who is this other, whose life has been catalogued in a seemingly organised way? This is not an encyclopaedia, but rather an anthology of possible recollections. And yet these paintings carry with them an atmosphere of recognition. Reniere&Depla do not offer any personal memories, but an almost shocking insight into the workings of memory, into the fickleness of its system. In fact it is not about the other, about the beauty of the recollection, and yet it looks like that.
I watch, sighing my longing for words. Memory leaves us behind in a place where words, or at least my words, refuse to come. That place, that feeling is what Reniere&Depla paint.

— Eleen Deprez in Reniere&Depla 2005-2009