Review by Douglas Stockdale •
An apt way to describe Ewa Monika Zebrowski’s artist book, van gogh’s bed, is that it has punctum, a work of art that is imbued with emotional impact. Which also serves as a subtle clue, for those who are familiar with Roland Barthes, the late French philosopher, as to the indirect subject of this body of work.
Zebrowski has twice visited the asylum where Vincent Van Gogh (1853 – 1890), the Dutch painter, resided from May 1889 to May 1890, located in Saint-Paul-de-Mausole in Saint-Remy-de-Provence, France. Van Gogh had very limited outside access while at the asylum, which is a time and place that he may have been his more artistically prolific producing 142 paintings.
Zebrowski was intrigued and needed to investigate Van Gogh’s environment to better understand the external context in which his artistic talent appeared in full bloom. She appears to be asking the question; what are the traces of memory that may still be present in this place from a distant time?
She states “I first saw Van Gogh’s room at the asylum in Saint-Remy-de-Provence in 2010. A room small enough to contain a restless spirit. A bed, a window, a mirror. I photographed the bed. A small iron bed in a corner. The memory lived within me.
In May 2018, 8 years later, I had the chance to revisit this refuge in Provence with my husband and youngest son. The experience took my breath away. Again. I was struck by the scale of the room. A tiny room. And the view from the window. The garden, the blue irises, the gnarled apple trees bent by the wind. The world outside, the world inside. Emotion contained.”
One of Anne Michaels wonderful poems complements Zebrowski’s body of work; “we don’t know what a soul is, it could be light”. She could be writing of Van Gogh or as well as about Zebrowski.
Zebrowski incorporates many elements of Van Gogh’s latent memory, such as the use of his sunflower yellow theme in her slipcover for the six loose leporello segments and the outer yellow string to tie up all of the ‘loose ends’. That Van Gogh was having multiple mental health issues at this time is reflected in the disjointed and loose parts of her artist book; how the six loose segments, each composed of an eight-page leporello, have a tendency not to lay flat. A subtle attribute of his artistic non-conformance as well as his chaotic life within the asylum.
As hinted in the introduction above, similar to Barthes treatise about the photograph of his mother, who goes unseen, Van Gogh’s actual bed is hinted at while not fully seen, but emotionally felt in Zebrowski’s poignant artist book.
Douglas Stockdale is a visual artist and Senior Editor & founder PhotoBook Journal
Van Gogh’s Bed, Ewa Monika Zebrowski
Photographer/Artist; Ewa Zebrowski, born London, England and resides in Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Self-published: Montreal, Quebec, Canada, copyright 2020.
Poem: Anne Michaels
Quote: Vincent Van Gogh
Stiff covers, slip cover, wrapped with string tie, six leporello segments, un-bound, four-color on Munken Print Cream (150 g), edition of 20, printed by Datz Books, South Korea
Concept Design: Ewa Monika Zebrowski & Francine Savard
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