The seed of these works was planted during a trip to her father’s hometown Genoelselderen in Belgium. Studying the immaculate sets of gardens in the village, all manicured and smooth and symmetrical, Janssen finally realised that these chocolate box hedges and fence lines were plastic. The works in Silence achieve the effect of a double-take, too: in Unit’s basement, the paintings reflect the overhead lights with a sheen like the egg tempera of Renaissance paintings. Actually, Janssen paints on strips of artificial leather, then collages them together.
Uncanny Edens | On Esther Janssen's Silence
Is there anything less welcoming than a WELCOME mat? One-size-fits-all copy-paste pleasantries can be anything but pleasant. Esther Janssen is an artist who delights in such paradoxes, and her first solo exhibition at Unit Gallery is full of eerily silent environs, of too-manicured, too-still and too, too unsullied hedgerows that seem nonetheless about to burst into terrifying Busby-Berkeley-esque Silly Symphony.
"The seed of these works was planted during a trip to her father’s hometown Genoelselderen in Belgium."
Black as tar, dull and still and reflective as a smart phone, Janssen’s ponds look like portals to another world. Striving for perfection, these suburban gardens have become pristine, anodyne, unsettling. Could it be that Janssen’s ponds are a mirror onto our own world, one in which comfort, tranquillity, and cleanliness are seemingly the only goals, as the climate crisis intensifies and the world goes up in flames – grotesque and global palliative care? Of course, as ever, not everyone can afford that veneer.
"Could it be that Janssen’s ponds are a mirror onto our own world, one in which comfort, tranquillity, and cleanliness are seemingly the only goals, as the climate crisis intensifies and the world goes up in flames – grotesque and global palliative care?"
Two of the biggest TV shows of the year have been about this: Nine Perfect Strangers and The White Lotus see the rich seeking the restorative silence of quasi spiritual retreats, gong baths, spa treatments, you name it – it doesn’t really matter what the treatment is so long as it is bespoke, highly tailored to their needs. Connie Britton’s Nicole is gifted surely the best line of the year, when she complains that her suite at the White Lotus doesn’t provide “nice feng-shui” for her “Zoom with China”. Last year, writing for the New Yorker, Jill Lepore, asked, “Is it too late to avoid a world where only the poor go outdoors while the rich live in zones of personalized indoor health, each with its own temperature and moisture controls, earbuds and light visors and HEPA filters, its own customized light-diffusing curtains and dust-catching doormat?”
For me, Esther Janssen’s canvases, with titles like Silence and Disaster, ask the same question. Why strive for perfection if this is how creepy it ends up looking? What’s behind the curtain?
By Sammi Gale