Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for the invitation!
Apparently the venue switch from Raumstation to St. Jodokus saw even the title of the exhibition change from “Advertisement for the Superstar” to “Hail Supermother” — Has anything else changed? Because the pictures are the same.
First, a word about the works on view.
These collages and aprons are part of a larger project that Marjolein Wortmann has been working on for years. The artist explores patterns, images, and symbols from the Mediterranean region and has titled the spatial installation — which consists of hundreds of pieces — “La Mamma.” The acrylic paintings in this project combine elements of these symbols into a mosaic, point to larger contexts and in doing so, constitute a space in their own right.
To quote the artist: “The mother is the central figure; she is a real institution and appears in the form of a ‘smock apron’ (in Christian countries), or a ‘djellaba’ (in Arab countries). Young mothers in both Sicily and in Tunisia are symbolized by pyjamas or a jogging suit. Both are very popular for domestic work.”
Wortmann has added smock aprons to Madonna imagery, and the result conjures two words above all others: kitschy and beautiful. Does the new apron detract from the Madonna image in any way? The garment fits like a glove – couldn’t it also be interpreted as part of the larger, more realistic picture?
The question as to whether the apron interferes with one’s ability to worship — or rather evokes the connection between everyday life and religion; whether it is a reference to the role of women in society and whether one is bothered by it — is one every viewer must answer for themselves.
The fact that this change draws from real life is readily visible in her photographs: images showing women wearing smock aprons as they go about their ordinary business. The artist captured these women on the streets of Spain while on an exchange and in their respective domestic environments in the Italian city of Palermo, where Wortmann is based. The pictures — later supplemented with texts about the exhibition — are on view in the small photo albums.
The posters, from which the collages were mainly made, are all from Palermo: Posters announcing processions appear alongside those promoting circus performances or political parties. The blend of politics, leisure, and faith forms a conglomerate that Wortmann works into a strident image — a collage that likewise courts attention.
This is not beauty as we typically imagine it. These images are torn, have ragged edges, expose billboard layers. A number of elements have been pasted on — either the original or in the form of a copy, repeated or as stand-alone parts. The snippets complement or contradict the content. Not one of these images speaks of beauty in and of itself: It remains torn. These shredded poster walls strike a counterpart to the beautiful surface promoting the star: the one in the ring, in the political field, or venerated in the procession: the image of Mary, surrounded by stars.
Born in Holland, raised in Brussels, educated at the Dutch fine arts academy in Groningen, after a life in Colombia building painting schools and working on art projects, Marjolein Wortmann now finds her subject matter in the foreign surroundings of Palermo, where ordinary things regularly catch her eye.
The images, with their particular mix of three different areas — circus, politics, and religion — conjure a wide range of associations. First, one has to orient oneself in this field: where does one actually believe oneself to be? What real connection does one have to which context?
The original posters are connected at the level of content. All refer to events in the future: the circus you should see, the upcoming election you should vote in, the procession you should join. And yet the posters also call for participation: in leisure, in decision-making, in demonstrations of faith. Pasted in public, the posters target the private: recreation, political opinion, religious belief. They encourage us to act — to be entertained and to laugh, to discuss and to participate, to pray and to worship.
One question was whether the overpainting of images of the Virgin Mary and collages might not have have been an intentional attempt to denigrate religion or otherwise violate religious feelings. I do not see it that way. On the contrary, just as devotional images bring religion into everyday life, the overpainting draws everyday life into the religious image. The collages are based on thematic analogy. I appreciate the way formal aesthetic does not obscure or cover up the content in any way. On the contrary: You find the content precisely because you are bothered by it. It disrupts.
Although exhibiting these works in a cloister as opposed to an exhibition space does nothing to change the artworks, it does affect the way we access them. In the Raumstation presentation it was the mother imagery that made the Virgin Mary imagery accessible; here it is the Mary imagery that holds the key to understanding.
The Virgin Mary in TheologyLars Hofnagel, student pastor
Theology describes four basic ways of understanding the Virgin Mary:
1. She is the Mother of God. The Bible portrays her as the mother of Jesus, who is both fully human and fully God.
2. She is both a mother and a perpetual virgin. Her virginity signals the new beginning of salvation history, and that this new beginning is not the work of man. Jesus is of God.
3. Mary was herself immaculately conceived. She was endowed from birth with the dignity of carrying in her womb the divine wisdom, the Logos made man — Jesus Christ.
4. Mary was assumed — body and soul — into Heaven upon her death. What happened to her is what is promised to all of us, namely eternal communion with the Triune God. His love for mankind is steadfast and unchanging.
The emphasis on Mary and the various forms of her veneration can be a source of misunderstanding. We must always make it clear that Mary is not a fourth Godhead, nor is she the feminine element in God. She is not an ideal of chastity that demands an attitude hostile to the body and sexuality in order to earn God’s approval, nor does she represent the ideal of a submissive woman as one who fulfils her duties as imposed by men and otherwise remains silent.
Instead, she represents a model for the dialogue between God and man — between God’s grace and the believer’s response to this grace. Mary exemplifies a strong woman who follows her own path in life and in her faith. As such, she embodies a liberated life for women and men alike. Her virginity signifies the free human being who can open themselves to God. Mary’s maternity is the picture of an attitude that both protects human life and makes development in life possible.
The veneration of Mary is to be strictly distinguished from the adoring veneration of God. A person praying to God immerses themselves in the Divine Mystery. All Marian devotion, by its very nature, culminates in the glorification of God, that is, in what Mary herself did: “My soul glorifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” (Luke 1:46–47)
About the artistMarjolein Wortmann
Marjolein Wortmann (NL 1958) marjoleinwortmann.com graduated from the Minerva Academy of Fine Arts in Groningen, NL. In 1985 she worked on a project about the relationship between the two cultures Holland and Colombia, partly funded by the De Groot-Brugmans foundation.
From 1986-1999 she lived and worked in Colombia, where she was also involved in book illustration and graphic and textile design. She worked for example for organizations of fishermen and indians and for government authorities and publishers. In the fishing village Tolú she founded, together with young fishermen, students and cleaning women, the Fundación Expresarte. There she was the director and gave daily art workshops. The project was supported by the Belgian NGO Broederlijk Delen.