art & meaning […] again […]

Yesterday, when thinking about art as a social and political affaire, I used Julie Mehretu’s art as offset & inspiration. Today I’m looking at Ana Torfs. (This all (obviously) have to do with art & meaning being central in my own literary project at the moment. For some time I have been playing around with science in my text, mocking it, cherishing it, trying to understand …). 

I guess this is partly why I find the work of Ana Torfs so attractive. And then there is the pure visual beauty of her enchanting installations:

Commissioned for Manifesta 9, the installation […] STAIN […] by Ana Torfs consists of 20 framed inkjet prints with feathers and coloured acrylic glass, 4 display tables, and two loudspeakers. The 20 vitrines display synthetic colours derivative from coal tar, the colours represent a vast industry built up from the manufacturing of synthetic dyes, which was only made possible through the commercial use of the waste products of coke manufacturing.

Ana Torfs could also be said to be a literary visual artist. The relation or tension between text/language and image plays a central role in her art, and with it all the related processes of visualization, interpretation and translation. Her work is often formed of scattered remains from our cultural and political history. Existing texts and/or images are used as a starting point for her works, which condense into precisely composed collages or montages, suffused with elliptical allusions.

A marvelous example is the project Family Plot

 Ana Torfs: Family Plot # 1 (2009) © Ana Torfs

Almost 300 years ago the Swedish botanist, physcian, and zoologist Carl von Linné/Carl Linnaeus laid the foundations for the modern biological naming scheme of binomial nomenclature.

One could consider the naming politics of the Linnean systematics as a form of “linguistic imperialism”: it accompanied and promoted European global expansion and colonization (ignoring existing indigenous names, for example). Above all, it allowed Carl Linnaeus to name, and by naming, to take possession of what he had laid eyes on.

Ana Torfs: Family Plot © Ana Torfs

Family Plot # 1 & # 2 shows, in a very playful and graphical way — mimicking a genogram, a pictorial display of a person’s family relationships — how Linnaeus and his many followers retold the story of the elite of the Western World through their well-managed naming system. 

Ana Torfs: Family Plot © Ana Torfs

During the Enlightenment plant textbooks were considered pornographic. Looking at Ana Torfs’ silkscreened prints of mostly hermaphroditic plants, it’s easy to see why. In her photographic series we see close-ups of voluptuous pistils and suggestive stamens – the sex organs of plants on which Carl Linneaus based his naming system.

Ana Torfs: Family Plot © Ana Torfs

Art as sensual science, just wonderful, isn’t it?!


Ana Torfs (1963) studied communication science at the University of Leuven (1981-1986) and film & video at the Sint-Lukas University College of Art and Design in Brussels (1986-1990). She lives and works in Brussels.

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Harold Rhenisch says:

    Thank you! This Linnaeus material is just what I needed for a manuscript I’m working on.

  2. Science is science, but it cannot escape socio-cultural influences. I find the naming of things (like Linneaus, like Aristotle) useful. It offers expansion of knowledge but is, paradoxically, also limiting, as Torfs suggests, running roughshod over previously-established knowledge or culture.

    I love the possibilities of the title “Family Plot,” too.

    1. Sigrun says:

      “family plot” – very encompassing.

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