Jochem Hendricks

Hendricks and Veronica, 2001
Eva Linhart

Text for the catalogue “Legal Crimes”, Kunstverein Freiburg, 2002 / Eva Linhart is curator at Museum für Angewandte Kunst, Frankfurt

Jochem Hendricks Eye Drawings lead us without much ado to what we assume is the physical starting point of the fine arts: the eyes, and their activity, seeing. And yet these sensory organs do not appear as an object represented. Instead, they effectively provide the actual momentum for the drawings – in both senses of the word. First, the eyes are employed as an instrument of perceptual vision. The object the artist sees appears in the drawing as something that is more or less clearly recognizable, whether it be a hand, a face or the structural layout of a daily paper. And, second, it is the movement of the eyes, and thus the activity of seeing that defines the lines composing the drawings. Wearing a visor-like head-set, the artist is hooked up to an IR-based video and computer system that faithfully records the movements of his eyes and then translates them into lines of identical thickness.

Veronica is not a figure whose existence can be historically proven. Instead, the story of this saint is the product of a medieval legend. She is said to be the woman whom Christ healed of a haemorrhage, and whom Christ showed his true face at her bidding.

Truth and Method

In other words, Jochem Hendricks draws using his eyes. He draws what can be seen and which, in keeping with the intrinsic logic of the approach, he has decided to depict. By making seeing and drawing synonyms, Hendricks effectively challenges us to ask whether he is attempting to revive that old chestnut, namely whether a representation contains truth. Forgoing the hand as an intermediary medium has always been the strongest argument of those who many centuries ago began to explain the objectivity of the picture as a representation.

Around 1400 the legend of Veronica becomes associated with the Passion of Christ. She is said to have been amongst those women who accompanied Christ on the stations of the Cross, and talks to him (Luke 23, 27 – 31). She hands him her kerchief so he can wipe the bloody sweat from his brow. When he hands her back the cloth it bears the imprint of his facial features. ”The sweat cloth of Veronica” has since gone down in art history. Incidentally, the name Veronica stems from the Latin vera icon, meaning true image.

Plotted Calculation vs. Coincidence

The subjects of drawing activity provoked by eye movements are certain items or topics selected in advance by the artist such as a desk, an invoice, the dark, or blinking. In order to draw with the eye along the outlines of the objects, Hendricks focuses solely on the observed object which is reproduced without any reference to the surrounding context. Accordingly, the drawing is preceded by a notion of what is observed; in other words, these reproductions of eye movements highlight vision in terms of the recognition of vision. However, to the extent that the these drawings focus not on what is observed but on the act of observation, the act of seeing itself is foregrounded. And this is where the project becomes so exciting for at this point the journey into the unknown begins, and this is what constitutes the true fascination of the eye drawings. For although the artist may be clear as to what it is he is seeing, he has no idea in advance of how he will see or draw them. Nor does he have any influence over this process, and this is also his intention.

One noteworthy aspect of the legend of Veronica is that if one relates the motive that led to the imprint to the significance of the result, namely that the cloth bear a true image. After all, Veronica was not motivated – so the argument goes – by the desire to acquire an image of Christ. She did not approach the matter as an artist. Her motivation is quite a different one and stems from her empathy with the unpleasant situation that this divine fellow human, namely Christ, was in. She hands him the kerchief out of the simple desire to help him. The fact that the cloth absorbs his blood and thus providing an imprint of his face was evidently purely coincidental from her point of view.

Control vs. Surprise

Although Jochem Hendricks’ eyes draw, they do not actually see how or what they have drawn. This discrepancy is heightened by the fact that time elapses between the eye drawings and the first observation of the result. In the early days, two weeks elapsed until the drawing had been plotted, today the process is quicker. Yet it still takes a certain time for the data to be computed, stored to memory and then made available to the artist. Why does Jochem Hendricks tolerate such detours and limitations? Why these delays? And how do these distancing steps fit in with the directness that is after all inherent in the act of vision?

A description of how the true image of Christ evolved cannot be graphic enough in detail. As a white, rectangular piece of malleable material the kerchief would have clung to the contours of Christ’s face. It would have temporarily donned the quality of a mask. Then returning to a slack state it would reveal the features of the suffering Christ. The lines of his facial imprint consist of blood that has assumed the role of paint as the substance of the image. As such, the cloth is transformed into a canvas. No doubt, Veronica was very surprised by the result and consequence of her action.

Since Jochem Hendricks systematically rules out his own means of artistic control, he evidently wishes to offer us the unadulterated reproduction of seeing. In the process, the attendant claim to truth, the authenticity of the act of vision as an objective fact, becomes a product of technology and its promise of precise recording. Put differently, the utilization of computerized know-how and systematic science is assumed to guarantee the accuracy of the results.
That said, all of this would only be half as spectacular, if the technical effort were not related to the result, i.e., the final image, or to the fact that the intention is to create images which cannot be predicted in advance. The observed object is transformed into something new by virtue of the eye drawing, observation as image-creation, and recognition qua vision is ousted by seeing vision. Or expressed differently: thanks to the mesh of lines, the reference to the object is overshadowed by a manner of seeing that entertains an abstracting form of vision that takes up the drawing’s manifold play of forms.

Creator vs. Creation

Seeing does not play a direct role in the miraculous creation of the image. The image was created independently of Veronica’s own free will. And although hands are involved in the process they are not implements of a will to create an image, nor are they connected to the will motivated by the desire to create: Veronica hands him the cloth, Christ places it on his face. What then happens is beyond all influence. The cloth is soaked in blood, the blood flows down the face. And only once the kerchief has loosened itself from the facial contours does vision come into play again: as the optical realization that quite coincidentally a legitimate visual document has been created. Is Veronica then the tool of divine providence, destined to provide us with convincing evidence despite the biblical admonition that we should not make a likeness in God’s image? Who is the true creator, and who is the creation?

It is Jochem Hendricks’ intention to surprise himself by the unpredictability of the eye drawings. To this end, he uses his eyes in the sense of carefully computed chance. The constantly changing phenomenon of lines that thus arises attests to his creative dynamism. Consequently, seeing in the framework of the eye drawings attains the importance of a skill the artist possesses but which to date remained hidden. As a result, Jochem Hendricks catapults himself into a position that allows him to discover himself. The artist and vision become an object to him. Like virgin territory, he can surprise himself again and again by virtue of his own inherent potential. By experiencing his own immensity, he exceeds himself or rather goes beyond what he was before. He repeatedly re-creates himself as a creative person, and the systematic exclusion of his own intervention ensures the authenticity and originality of what has not yet been seen. And blood must no longer flow to this end.