Marion Verboom


View of “Marion Verboom,” 2017. Photo: Nicolas Brasseur.

Presented under the title “Temporaldaten” (Temporal Data)—a philosophical term coined by the father of phenomenology, Edmund Husserl—Marion Verboom’s recent exhibition explored the problem of how we experience and describe time. Eschewing chronology, Verboom juxtaposed references to artworks, artifacts, and architecture hailing from far-flung cultures, leaving the viewer to connect the dots—or daten, as Husserl might have said.

At the heart of the exhibition, an installation of five totem pole–like columns from the series “Achronies” (Anachronisms), 2017, evoked the Roman Forum. Although the columns are not classical in style, they are, like those of the famous ruins, temporally confusing: The Romans recycled parts of older structures to create new buildings and thereby upset the archeological stratigraphy of the site, whereas Verboom confuses things by interspersing citations from pre-Colombian artifacts, medieval Christian iconography, fifteenth-century Andalusian architectural details, and even Picasso. She rescales and strategically crops her diverse source imagery to create casts of roughly the same size and shape in colored resin, cement, and plaster. She then balances these modules one on top of another in stacks that mostly range in height from four to seven feet, but the tallest stack, or “elevation,” as the artist calls each of the sequentially numbered works in the series, was Achronie—Elévation I, which rises to almost nine feet. Combining figurative and abstract imagery, the whimsical piles suggest illogical strata guaranteed to make an amateur archaeologist’s head spin.

The fact that the casts are not fixed to each other implies mutability. Change and transience, in fact, have been key themes throughout Verboom’s oeuvre. By decreeing her modular sculptures permutable—meaning that not only the artist herself but also a curator or a collector might reorder them—Verboom refuses a single definitive narrative. She also places a limit on her own intentionality. But, as random and temporary as Verboom’s mash-ups may be, Jung’s law of synchronicity holds true: Put any combination of modules together and formal, conceptual, and personal connections will emerge. And in cases where figurative imagery is in the mix, narrative interpretation is all but inevitable.

For example, in Achronie—Elévation I, a bronze-tinted wreath of fangs sits atop the flowing hair of a blindfolded female head cast in blue-violet plaster. The original thirteenth-century stone sculpture from which the figure was taken is an allegorical representation of the synagogue from the exterior of France’s Strasbourg Cathedral. Her added “crown” is actually an enlargement of a twentieth-century Amazonian wedding bracelet with a band of human teeth. But the two modules find commonalities irrespective of these fascinating, but historically unrelated, contexts. Formally, they can be seen as a study in textural contrast—soft flowing hair and smooth fabric versus hard, sharp teeth. Conceptually, they are united by a powerful sense of loss, of being “sans eyes, sans teeth,” as Shakespeare’s Jacques would have it. Spiritually, they fuse together to suggest a mystical being.

While Verboom has based most of her modules on objects and structures she has encountered in museums or at historical sites, she also incorporates a few personal references. The top module of Achronie—Elévation III is a white cylinder with two hands sticking out, thumbs and pinkies stretched as far apart as possible. The hands are the artist’s, I was told. In exposing her own personal system of measurement, Verboom reminds the viewer that distance, whether spatial or temporal, is subjective.

Mara Hoberman