‘Truth hurts’ and ‘you can’t handle the truth’ come to mind when attempting to respond to Jump, Cléa van der Grijn’s latest work. When viewed from our typical perspective of being within and perceiving the world according to linear time, the period of a jump, between the precipitation of the action and the landing, the splash, happens in an instant; and from this habitual perspective, not much can ‘happen’ in an instant. This is the effect of forgetting that linear time is a projection, a construct that the mind creates to make it possible to self-identify and exist in the world. It flattens out and dimensionalises the totality of experience in such a way as to make it possible to feel ‘safe’, to avoid the inevitable and natural sense of ontological anxiety. After all, how would it be possible to go about day-to-day life with an ever-present knowledge of the illusory nature of linear time, the cardboard cut-outedness of all that we take to be solid, foundational, material; all that we take to be ‘true’?

What we take to be true is nevertheless not the whole truth, and the question arises as to whether we can handle the whole truth. For the most part we can’t. It is about as much as we can take to have glimpses of it in those eternal moments, when time stands still, when words fail, when we are suspended speechless at the precipice of life; and paradoxically, it is in those moments that life steps forward as life. Life lifes in its totality in those moments when we are frozen in time, and those moments in terms of linear time are mere instants in which not much can happen, but by their essential quality are eternal. This is one of the paradoxes at the foundation of the experience of being in the world: the need to deny ontological reality to self-identify and to exist, juxtaposed with the deep yearning to know the truth of this ontological reality so as to know the whole truth, the truth of our essential being.

Jump, an immersive exhibition, holds the viewer in the space in-between these conflicting needs, desires, yearnings. This experience is described by Walter Benjamin in terms of origin, which he describes as “a whirlpool in the stream of becoming…that draws into its rhythm the material that is to be formed”. 1 The rhythm is there; the material is there; but van der Grijn does not allow formation to occur. Akin to the ball in a pinball machine, the viewer is ricocheted away from any attempt to touch ground, the ground of any preconceived notions of time and space and perception. It is not about death; it is not about life; it is not about anything other than life lifeing in a moment, what can be experienced in the whirlpool of becoming, before the having become. In this way, van der Grijn’s work deconstructs linear time. It takes a moment in which, typically understood, not much could happen, or have the ‘time’ to happen, and freezes it; and we see it fragment into shards, shattering off in different directions towards what we are unable to define in terms of thought alone. We are momentarily suspended there, obliged to experience what is more to existence than we can typically and habitually conceive of. Being part of this existence, we are also obliged to experience what is more to ourselves.

Ways of Seeing JUMP, oil on linen, 152 x 152cm
Ways of Seeing JUMP, oil on linen, 152 x 152cm

Benjamin talks about ‘nowtimes’ (Jetzeiten), and he believes works of art to represent alternative models of experience endowed with the capacity to break through the eternal occurrence of the always the same, that illusory ground we live according to and by, in what Jacques Derrida refers to as our “dream…of full presence, the reassuring foundation, the origin and the end of play” 2 . Derrida reveals the pointlessness of this dream in describing reality as a bottomless chessboard, just as Jump, in deconstructing linear time, fragments, everything. This fragmentation is mirrored in the paintings, depicting separate parts of the body which can typically be seen through the eyes, as well as parts of the body that can’t, including the eyes themselves. In these paintings, we remain ‘up in the air’, unable to form a complete picture of any(thing) in particular. This creates an even stronger sense of the move from known to unknown and unknowable; of going inside, away from materiality, away from what we can know in an overlying sense and into that pool of what is more, both to reality and to ourselves, including what is unconscious.

There is also more to Jump than the preconceived notions we might already have about what it might mean. To jump, the wilful act of jumping; the reason for the jump, motivations; the consequences of the jump; the process of the jump, in-between the willing and the splash, and then what occurs underneath, as the overlying and underlying clash, in the splash; the clear distinction between above and below. In van der Grijn’s film, the physical jump is expected; the splash is expected; the silence that follows is mesmerising. There remains no trace of the event that has just occurred. Life as we know it goes on, as ever, beautifully disinterested in any(thing) that ‘happens’. Out of this trance-like state, Jump takes the breath away, taking by surprise and making the viewer physically jump; and it is only then that the realisation begins to dawn of yet another meaning to Jump, that of jumping between perspectives, dimensions, realms even. What follows for the viewer is the experience of attempt after attempt to ground oneself in a sense of safety, security; while any ontological certainty about what is in terms of typical overlying reality is systematically yet randomly pulled away.

The senses are confused, directly in terms of sound and perspective, and by extension, imagined senses of touch. Shooting from different angles, from behind the protagonist and seeing what they see, then quickly shifting to look directly at them while simultaneously silencing the sound, for example, brings about a constant questioning of reality, perspective. Whose eyes are they anyway? Are we seeing through her eyes? Are we looking at her through our own eyes? Is she showing us things, or are we voyeuristically observing a scene? And then there are the actual eyes. As van der Grijn has pointed out, “they are the first part of the body to go on death”. This is clearly an important theme in the film. The use of van der Grijn’s own eyes as props can seem at first glance to be a bit loud, obvious even; but if we suspend our unquestioned assumptions, it works. It serves on many levels, ultimately to bring about a shift in perspective. Like moving into a darkened room, it takes a while for vision to adjust. The protagonist in the film reaches out for the new eyes, but, and this is the importance of the eye props, they are not just new eyes for the dying/dead to see through, intuitive eyes, eyes of and to the soul; they are also the artist’s own eyes, literally, and by extension they are ours. Van der Grijn invites us to come and look at what she sees, but this takes a step beyond deflecting our gaze by pointing, she invites us right in and allows us to look through her very eyes.

And this is deeply personal. The artist’s work has previously been concerned with, among other things, this question of in-betweeness: Liminal Spaces, Origen, Chance, Reconstructing Memory, Moment(ous). What these all have in common is the leaving of empty spaces between ‘things’, for the viewer to interpret as they will, or to step forward for the viewer as whatever they may be for the individual viewer. Here, with her film, van der Grijn recreates this space in between once again, between two essentially different spheres: life and death, perhaps. Stepping, ‘jumping’, from the known to the unknown and unknowable, she creates a moment when the unknown is momentarily glimpsable from the perspective of the known. The space is not left empty, but nor is it filled with things. Instead, playing with questions of perspective and time (momentary yet eternal), as well as with the senses, what it is to sense, van der Grijn creates an experience for the viewer, an experience that suspends what the viewer takes for granted in terms of their senses and beliefs about time and space, so causing them to be immediately present, in a moment yet eternally, to life in a way that is perhaps only possible through the lens of death.