The dynamics of Ellen Rodenberg
In her artwork Ellen Rodenberg gives both a differential as well as an apt dynamic picture of her progress.
Initially the artist was self-taught and subsequently she continued at the Koninklijke Academie in Den Haag to obtain her Degree in Fine Art over a two-year period.
Besides paintings she also makes three-dimensional installations and videos; which have been frequently used in music performances in the The Hague underground scene where her videos have been shown as a part of the overall programme.
This broad range of activities appears to have consistently contributed to a painterly development, which has lead to an interesting new body of work. In the paintings the previous formal characteristics continue to prevail; they have been divided in four squares. In the four forms a different approach is used, but throughout this approach in all four the same subject or motif flows.
This subject is recognizable at times, at times only partially and in a few works it disappears from sight altogether enabling the painting to become a complete abstract geometric canvas although through the transparent layers of paint it is still possible to detect a suggestion of the original subject matter. In some instances the subject matter deals with landscapes in which the spatial referential remains. For instance: in a recent canvas the landscape is divided in four sections unto which a circular design is painted, which in itself has again been divided in four different sections and through this defracted process the displayed figure acts as a repository. If one wonders what exactly is going on here the fist thing that becomes apparent that the internally divided and at times faded landscapes are an important and informative element in her work; as memories partially faded and tinted.
On the other hand these elements have been sufficiently incorporated that the painting can be seen as an autonomous abstract work. The cross, which divides the canvas, forms an important part in the whole picture; the four approaches, separations appear as an integral part of the canvas and structure and thereby further support each other’s context. The more flat painted canvasses strongly suggest the flag motif and its suggestive countenance makes it an important theme in the artists work.
Ellen Rodenberg has also discovered a third dimension to her work; the need to investigate her concerns with other means at her disposal such as making installations out of Styrofoam and in which she employs toys, photo’s and small dolls to make these spaces dynamic. Photographs made of these installations can act again as a source of inspiration for new paintings.
In 2004 the artist began a web log ‘MULTI-MPRESSIELOG’ where she noted personal observations and experiences and in doing so positioned herself in a different manner in the art world.
In the new studio in de DCR a number of things took place in the development and progress of her work. In the paintings a concentration unto two subject matters takes place. Firstly a number of used motifs in the work are erased and in doing so these abstract elements used in the process strengthen themselves The abstract elements flowing out of the motifs are used in rhythmic patterns and again in these paintings the aforementioned characteristics emerge: the canvasses are colourful, contain depth are dynamic and contain a confrontation of different picturorial elements. Conflicting ideas move and collide in the pictorial space.
Following a residency in her Cemeti Art Centre in Djokyakarta in Indonesia organised by HEDEN in 2008 Ellen Rodenberg began to use a new discipline: besides photography and making studies she began to make videos to record her observations and noticed how important national identity is in Indonesia. This identity is confirmed in public spaces through symbols as well as the public’s behaviour. This gave Rodenberg the idea to return to her theme of flags. She began to make fictitious flags containing four equal colour fields. In the first instance the flags were sown together using textiles and displayed in various public venues. She further decided to use them as projection screens and was surprised by the result as the projected video’s appeared in a filtered coloured light. They resembled fragments of memory as they surface in our minds. Back in The Netherlands she further experimented with this subject matter and edits found synchronised sound. This leads to numerous collaborations and public performances with sound artists.
Photographs taken from the video projections emerge subsequently as a source of inspiration for work to follow. Paintings with text and in a flag pattern suggest memory; filtered, coloured and fragmented. Simultaneously the paintings are completely abstract and the flag motif adds to its autonomous identity. The way in which they are worked out refers to Modernism and even further to formalistic work. This explorative way of working is extended in the current series: the separating cross moves across the surface and in doing so it causes the divided surfaces to become asymmetrical.
You could surmise and say that Ellen Rodenberg would like to be called a painter whose idea’s are formulated and executed in multiple and dynamic ways. She develops her ideas and themes in a constant state of flux and motion and through experimenting with all sorts of different media and techniques. The confrontation of her work with work done by others and her own by form a continuous challenge in her work practise. The paintings which emerge out of this process balance on the edge of figuration and abstraction which equally occurred at the time of the transitional stage of Modernism: the tension found in the opposites and the energetic research by the artist are visible in the strength of the paintings by Ellen Rodenberg.
Adaptation Ineke Van der Wal
Taken from the original text by Kees Koomen of October 2010.
werk van Ellen Rodenberg is gebaseerd op de herinnering. Speelde deze
aanvankelijk een hoofdrol bij de tot standkoming van
het schilderij, later verschuift het accent meer naar de vraagstelling, het hoe
en waarom van het schilderen zelf.
Uit talrijke tekeningen en gouaches komen vanaf het jaar 2001 min of meer terloops diverse motieven bovendrijven. Rodenberg rubriceert deze van de herinnering afgeleide beelden onder de nummers 0 tot en met 13. Zij hanteert nu een lijst van 14 motieven. Elk motief heeft zijn eigen icoon. Deze tekens worden niet op zichzelf staand weergegeven, maar door elkaar heen. Het ene motief kan het andere beïnvloeden en transformeren tot nieuwe vormen en kleuren. Tesamen zijn het op elkaar reagerende vormmodellen die toegepast kunnen worden in nieuwe schilderijen of zelfs letterlijk tastbaar worden in een driedimensionale opstelling als een onderzoek naar nieuwe elementen die weer in de schilderijen gebruikt kunnen worden.
Tekst: Will Lutz,
Landing Soon#7 2008
Artist in residence in Yogyakarta, Indonesia 2008 http://www.cemetiarthouse.com/index.php?page=residensi&cat=1&id=9&lang=en
Ellen Rodenberg, born in Amsterdam in 1955, studied at Koninklijke Academie van Beeldende Kunsten in
Ellen Rodenberg is a painter who focuses her attention on concepts of construction and deconstruction of symbols and meanings. Toys are one source of inspiration and icons that are used to paint ideas about human culture. Throughout this residency, this artist, with an interest in history, religiosity and education, has wrestled with ‘kitschy’ plastic toys while pondering questions about the culture of imitating that she often encountered in Yogya. Imitating, at a certain level is actually one of the oldest human traits and part of creativity it self. However, how far this can be carried into the creative processes of an individual is a question that must eventually be asked. Ellen Rodenberg’s installation is a search for an answer at the same time as it is an collection of impressions of human behavior in Yogyakarta, her home country, the Netherlands, and in every part of the world.
Text in catalogue: Landing Soon #7
Following a Trail, Creating Texture
I don’t think Ellen Rodenberg is just
playing with the dozens of objects she
collected during her residency in Jogja,
after I observed the way how she arranges
the various plastic toys, such as toy soldiers,
tanks, cars, motorcycles, trees, flags, etc.,
on her worktable. Her methods recall the
joys of a child in selecting whatever she
likes and placing them into positions. This,
collecting various objects that caught her
fancy, was the first thing Ellen did upon
arriving in Jogja.
It was interesting when Ellen, an artist
born in Amsterdam in 1955, shared her
worktable with her children. It is probable
that we, adults, would be annoyed with
sharing the space, because the objects
Ellen collected were similar to her children’s
toys. However, Ellen partitioned the table,
drawing a clear boundary between her
children’s playing area and her own art
space. This proves she was not just playing,
as she was busy arranging and rearranging,
repositioning the various objects, while
trying to identify them and understand
their symbols and meanings. Ellen is
currently conducting historical research on
these objects that she will present as
There is a deep conviction to follow the
history of these objects. For instance,
the swastika is a Nazi symbol associated
with the terrifying and oppressive Hitler
regime. However, this is not the symbol’s
meaning for which Ellen is searching;
rather, she is focusing on the other meanings
and relevancies that developed and are
used in other contexts. The swastika is also
a devotional symbol for the Hindus. These
contrasting and contradictory meanings
Following a Trail, Creating Texture
become the base for Ellen’s research. She
focuses her attention on the diverse
perspectives of a symbol. In essence, she
wants to prove that any one symbol does
not belong to any specific group, language,
or discourse, but rather a symbol can have
different meanings, uses and rites in
Ellen’s background in painting explains
how she views these objects in two and
three dimensions. At this point, I see
Ellen’s unique artistic language. I think her
experience in conducting this unusual
exploration provides a valuable opportunity
to witness the process behind a final
product. The stability of painting
conventions that represent two dimensions
on a canvas seem to be shattered by Ellen’s
exploration process. For her, process
represents the basic foundation of the
final product. She demonstrates how a
miniature landscape of flags must be seen
from two visual aspects, i.e., flat and
Ellen’s artworks are explorations of
thought and intuition, a balance
between mind and soul. Sometimes, she
intuitively seizes objects she finds
without needing any previous intense
contemplation. The final result of this
process is an installation in the Cemeti Art
House exhibition space. This is Ellen’s
painting. Not a two-dimensional painting,
but one with volume that fills the space.
Various compositions of objects are spread
out; some in miniature form, others that
have been magnified. Dragon Ball, as a
hero from a Japanese comic series, is
present in life-size form, in the four corners
of the simulation arena. The Dragon Ball
character and a number of other objects
were chosen because they are cartoon
figures and are associated with strength
or can be perceived as metaphors of
This Landing Soon #7 project has
enticed Ellen to become familiar with,
understand, or, to be more specific, play,
with the similarities and differences of
cultural symbols. Three months is too short
to understand the cultural milieu of
Yogyakarta, as the heart of the Mataram
kingdom, which has a long history in the
crossroads of Javanese traditions, diverse
religions and the formation of a modern
society. Of course, one of the unique
features is how the colonial Dutch presence
in the past remains in buildings, language
and various cultural practices. Ellen is
aware of this past from the Netherlands, a
European country that has complex
history. Differences, similarities and
various relationships in the past form a
kind of collective memory that can be
recalled, forgotten, or become a symbol
ready to be deconstructed. These symbols
may at one time have been sacred signs of
reverence and nobility, but now have
assumed totally opposite meanings.
Symbols are the most articulate signs of
a perspective or ideology. The use of
symbols in society represents a kind of
undivided bond. The presence of these
symbols is a way of identifying and marking
an existence. The need for the presence of
these symbols is as old as humanity, homo
symbolicum. During the period of her
residency in Jogja, Ellen became aware
that following the trails of symbols was
one way to get to know a new place, space
and culture – both universal symbols, such
as the popular Dragon Ball, who everyone
knows, regardless of territorial boundaries
and national ideologies, as well as symbols
used actively in local contexts in Yogyakarta.
This can be seen in the documentary
photos and videos Ellen recorded of various
monuments, landscapes, plants, animals,
and people that she felt were potentially
both similar and different. This recording
process took place not only in Yogyakarta,
but also when she visited and made
presentations in Solo and Semarang.
Symbols, in the context of Ellen’s search,
are like a spider’s web. The symbols
exist in a structure and are experienced
culturally. One symbol is like a footnote
for a supra-structure. I think Ellen stops
here. She guides us to the face of this
symbolic structure. Perhaps “symbolic
texture” is more accurate. As texture, it
becomes a composition. We can see this in
a number of two-dimensional painting
fields, where colors and lines form specific
What is Ellen searching for through
this long process that involves
interpretation and duplication of various
signs? I think Ellen is one who ponders.
Beneath her methods in learning about a
new place and culture, there is another
underlying process, as if she wants to
redefine herself as a “new symbol” in
various forms of language play that are
constantly in the process of evolving.
Tekst from the catalogue: Landing Soon #7 Ellen Rodenberg
Tekst, A.Sudjud Dartanto, Yogyakarta 2008
Uitgave, Cemeti Art House, Yogyakarta