Through the memory of her grandfather, Sarah Joy Zwarts (NL, 1987) takes us into the underground world of the coalmine, a world he was professionally connected with. At one time, he completed his military service in the Dutch East Indies - an experience that remains a constant in his life and whose memory is kept in a few souvenirs. His dream to study tropical botany, however, remains unfortunately unfulfilled. Is there a surrogate for it? Is coal not the residue of primeval forests that collapsed during the Carboniferous more than 300 million years ago? Zwarts describes the mine as 'jardins coulés' or sunken gardens and turns her grandfather's existence into a point of connection between the Indonesian rainforest and the formation of coal. In this way, her works become a dialog that spans millions of years and connects distant topographies. This challenging narrative perspective is based on chasms on an ancestral and paleontological level, which provide an interesting speculative space with respect to its visualization.
(quote from Het Verzonkene by Stef Van Bellingen)
In her project, Zwarts links – in a contentious manner – the history of her grandfather to the Carboniferous period. By including her own insights, she adds a third time period, namely the present. Her grandfather died when Zwarts was young and through this artistic project she aims to connect with that part of the family history that remains unknown to her. There are objects from his time in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) and more recent letters that function as linking factors. The short time spent in the then Dutch colony was a very determining period in the life of her grandfather.
Setting out from this limited information, Zwarts creates an artistic space from which to explore, connect, and place. Series of watercolors unfold, often with very few differences among the various works. The production of series helps Zwarts in her search for the link between different elements. The medium gives her the possibility of coming and going, appearing and disappearing and the blending of foreground and background. These elements are not only typical for this particular medium, but also for time and memory, in which layers and time periods change, blend together, and form a new whole.
The power of her work lies in the simple-looking images that evince an archetypal clarity. Often they are monochrome and consist of a single plant, nut, bark, seed cone, or exotic object. They seem quickly executed, and often only one work is shown from a particular series of watercolors on the same subject, namely the one with the most optimal brushwork, composition, line, and color. This creates an openness between all the works, and a sense of mutual connection. Times and geographic locations are connected and slowly the story of her grandfather is uncovered, reconstructed by means of objects, letters and fossils. It is, rather than the exact rendition of a life, an essence of his life and dreams, evoked by his granddaughter.
The publication Jardins coulés, in which the entire text by Stef Van Bellingen is included, is appeared this year.