Carlijn Mens

Faith Fear Face

22 Dec 2012 t/m 24 Feb 2013

There’s something odd about shadows. There and yet not there. In her drawings, Carlijn Mens (b. 1972) captures shadows and depicts light. The results are sometimes joyful: shadows of branches on a summer day or her daughter dancing with her own shadow. But in her current project for the GEM, Faith Fear Face, light serves as a metaphor for the struggle to survive and the battle for a better life. The installation is about the deprivation of liberty and is based on the inquiry that Mens has conducted over the past year into the international tragedy of people smuggling. But it goes further than that: the work also refers to mankind’s never-ending quest to better its condition. The result is both impressive and disturbing.

The deprivation of liberty is a perennial phenomenon. The notorious case in which 58 Chinese people were found dead in a shipping container at Dover in 2000 is the key motif in Faith Fear Face. A vast drawing – around 15 metres wide and 2.4 metres high – shows a container being scanned to detect stowaways. To create the effect of X-ray photography (now used to scan containers), Mens uses body prints to represent human figures. She lends this invisible, anonymous world a human face and adheres as closely as possible to reality. Mens (whose name actually means human being in Dutch) renders the inhuman human.

Belief, anxiety and shame

In her work, Mens looks for contrasts: dark and light, reality and illusion, good and evil, justice and injustice, life and death. Light stands for hope and/or the illusion of a better life, whereas shadows reveal what is really happening. The title Faith Fear Face is an allusion to terms that Mens encountered repeatedly during her inquiry. Faith stands for belief and confidence in the future, Fear for anxiety and dread of the authorities, and Face for degradation and shame. Mens uses the results of her research (conducted with the cooperation of the police, Public Prosecution Service, Netherlands Forensic Institute and Dutch Council for Refugees) in support of the images in her drawings. By doing so, she reveals the extent of this harrowing hidden world.

Playing with shadows

Earlier projects also revolved around shadow and light. In her ‘Preserved Places’ project, for example, Mens rolled out lengths of paper in woodland areas to record places she wants to preserve and protect. In the ‘Preserving the Artist’ project, she creates shadow portraits of a generation of artists who have influenced her, artists who have had a decisive impact on the history of art. For her, this is a personal necessity. While recording these shadows, Mens has discovered the bizarre identification of the person and his shadow: like DNA, X-ray photos and fingerprints, shadows are unique to the individual. The present project for the GEM was born of that realization.

Carlijn Mens studied at the AKV / St. Joost in ’s Hertogenbosch and graduated from the Dutch Art Institute (DAI) in Enschede. She currently lives and works in Schoorl and Den Helder.