For visual artist Mandy den Elzen (1981), the material itself is the main subject. In her work, she distills the essence of the material-specific characteristics and displays the objects in their own right. She seeks out materials with qualities that appeal to her – a certain texture, tactility, colour or translucency – and after preservation, she presents them to her viewers in display cases.
With an almost scientific approach and meticulousness, den Elzen is directly involved in the process of transforming her material from its raw form to a finished work which can be displayed. She works with organic matter, plant and animal material, and it is essential to her to have full control of the process from the beginning, including selection and handling of the raw materials. As a consequence of this determination, she also goes to the slaughterhouse and selects her materials, when she – as she does in a current series of works – uses cow organs. In this series, den Elzen uses the four stomach compartments of a cow; the rumen, reticulum, omasum and the abomasum. Each of the stomach compartments has a specific function in the digestive process and therefore they have different shapes and textures. The reticulum is, for example, lined with ridges that form a honeycomb-like structure, which can capture and retain dense particles of feed or indigestible objects. And the omasum is characterized by the large number of leaf-like folds, which provide a bigger surface for fluid absorption. In nature, the form is always determined by its function, and this honesty of form, these structures determined by biological processes and necessities, is an inexhaustible source of inspiration to her.
When the preservation process begins, the works immediately shift from being about the specific animals to being a display of her fascination with the diverse and profound qualities in material found in nature. Through her treatment of the materials, den Elzen brings out the characteristics and properties which intrigue her, and by doing so she shows both her fascination with and respect for nature and its inherent structures.
In her search for materials, den Elzen finds beauty and inspiration in unexpected places, because she is unbiased towards their origin. She sees through the layers which obscure the object; both the actual layers of blood and grime when it hangs in the slaughterhouse, and any layers of cultural or social notion that say that a cow stomach cannot be an object of beauty. She looks at the material itself and sees structures, patterns, textures and possibilities.
Collection Verbeke Foundation
Text: Lise Sinbeck