Catalogue Prix Jeune Peinture Belge

Annette Schemmel

Paul Hendrikse produces alternative sets of knowledge around historical ‘facts’. His projects are mostly centered on historic persons who have left a mark in the public realm. Leaving aside the master narratives of history and their polished protagonists, the artist turns towards the micro stories of individuals and towards the uncertainties, myths, speculations and distorting representations surrounding them. By showing the fragility of their mediated identities and the narrative potentials embedded in their legacies, he clearly denounces the possibility of interpreting history in a single, authoritative sense.

The ensemble of art works with the title Hauntology of Smoke and Ochre (2009/12) for instance, developed around the South African writer and poet Ingrid Jonker (1933-1965). She vehemently opposed the censorship laws of the Apartheid regime and published in clandestine ‘black’ magazines. Although in 1963 she won South Africa’s most prestigious literature prize for her poetry volume entitled Rook en Oker (Smoke and Ochre), she fell into oblivion after her suicide. After the end of Apartheid, Jonker became a public figure of mythical proportions that politicians as well as actresses, biographers and admirers keep piecing together. Thus they are producing a ghost or rather a multiplicity of ghosts (in the sense of Derrida’s reading of Marx’s spectre 1 that keep haunting the present – a process that inspired Hendrikse. He drew both on socially accepted sources (such as historic photographs or his own documentary material) as on the memories of contemporaries and on actors who embodied the historic figure, in order to visualise the collective processes at work. The video installation The Tape Recorded Surprise – Interview with I.J. juxtaposes two Jonker-impersonators that play each other imitating the poet, a subtle yet very effective intervention.

This deconstructive, anti-essentialist approach often materialises in art works that unveil their constructedness to the viewer, as suggested by Brecht with his epic theater. In the ensembles consistent of video, audio installations, photography, paper works, books or sculptures, each medium brings along its indispensable monitor, frame or socle. Also in A Vague Uneasiness – for which Cameroonian poet Louis-Marie Pouka-M’Bague (1910 – 1992) was deployed as a guide into history – the means of production and of display take centre stage. (S.M.A.K., Gent, Oct. 2010 – Jan. 2011)

The austere formal elegance of Hendrikses’ works unifies his manifold oeuvre, as well as his personal methodology: performances recur as a means of unfolding poetic narratives, interdisciplinary collaborations play an important part and substantial historic research precedes every project. And every new one is inspired by the desire to take a historic person’s hand in order to find “a tool of knowledge that illuminates the present”.



  1. Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning & the New International. Routledge 1994.