Erika Hock, The Phantom Table

20.01.2017–18.02.2017, Groen Kwartier

“So now she always saw, when she thought of Mr Ramsay’s work, a scrubbed kitchen table. And with a painful effort of concentration, she focused her mind, not upon the silver-bossed bark of the tree, or upon its fish- shaped leaves, but upon a phantom kitchen table, one of those scrubbed board tables, grained and knotted, whose virtue seems to have been laid bare by years of muscular integrity, which stuck there, its four legs in air.”
Virginia Woolf , “To The Lighthouse”, 1927

That gross furniture, that arrogant design had unsettled her as though they had foreseen her future bruises, and in the meantime had been transformed into empathetic-robotic creatures, which raged more dangerously than sundry supersonic weapons in the wilderness. So he stumbled just as much, and more than once, with his gaze on his coffee table books, which she had placed on the phantom kitchen table. Unabashedly amused he added to this: “I collect books as actual objects, precisely because I wouldn’t have to read them: this would save me some time”. That his hobby was relatively endless didn’t bother him. She had simply gone on with her favourite hobby. This was body-building combined with yoga, as though it were a matter of horse riding, but something had supervened which could be called confusing. She had loved a child, one of his books, and subsequently she lay down on a rug which looked like a comforting hand. “I am a woman who might have best interest at heart with you. I might be even willing to take you our for a drink. Pass me my coat.” she then said. She had sat on the comforting hand, which allowed the lighting to be seen from a more intimate side. The table in the drawing room did not seem to be only made in a stoically elegant and acrobatic fashion, as though it stood there waiting for Olympic gold. How long would it last before this couple are reduced to their gross raging furniture, if she can’t have a drink, and could in that case peace be enforced with such a simple object as a coffee table book that could be thrown on the wall. Or had the furniture adapted to the couple, and was their aggressive drive somehow translated thereby, as happened with the analogue world turning into the digital one?

A table can indeed make you stumble, given that the abstract is here thought in terms of ‘nature’ to which it couples a realism in the naturalistic sense, instead of dealing with a (sub)reality. When philosophy is forced to keep silent, which supposedly happened with Virginia Woolf through a far-reaching aestheticization it could be stated that when you leave your house, the phantom kitchen table ( To the Lighthouse, 1927) sings with feeling and resistance the love for a compassionate, robotless human being, a love which ushers in art, philosophy, instead of latching on to it as an animism (the object with a soul). Lily Briscoe, the character in Virginia Woolf’s novel that is confronted with the phantom table, is made, through an elegant gesture by the writer, into the lover of female philosophy, bidding farewell to the power, made invisible, of the still powerful patriarchy, also in female form. She puts herself outside this, because ‘everyone’ should supposedly find themselves inside before they can, or even must, change something outside, exposing people, things, objects to this. In Woolf’s quotation to which Erika Hock refers, Lily Briscoe is confronted with the philosophy of a.o. Wittgenstein, Bertrand Russell and G.E. Moore, which she tries to understand, and from which she distances herself in the course of the narrative in order to go her own way. The oft quoted sentence, spoken by a friend of Lily’s father’s, reads as follows: “Think of the kitchen table when you’re not there”. Could it be that Lily’s mother’s lady friend had also uttered such a sentence? The most striking of this sentence is its perversion, which is transferred on to the shoulders of the unsuspecting Lily, who is supposed to put up with the perversion projected on her, which she throws away like a yoke at a moment chosen by herself.

In spite of the political and aesthetic power of art and philosophy, the only political power she seems to have is that of a proposal for a vague concept such as ‘artistic quality’. Erika Hock borrows from the literature of Virginia Woolf a motif which in the strictest sense doesn’t belong there, as the phantom table is not represented, and cannot be thought. Indeed, the phantom table finds itself in the thoughts of Lily Briscoe as she thinks of the friend of her father Mr Ramsay. The kitchen table and the man in question are fused in her thoughts and reduced to an object, as though the memory of the kitchen table mentioned by him could be the portrait of that man. Erika Hock disentangles post-literary Lily Briscoe from her father’s friend by conceiving a representation for the kitchen table, which had become relatively notorious in the meantime. In other words, the artist checks the influence that Mr Ramsay seems to have on her. The table can be called a difficult case for the public. Hence an inattentive viewer or passer-by may stumble and may just as well be torn away from his or her train of thought, should that be the case. Being on your guard to avoid stumbling seems to be the message. In this way the phantom table is severed from the book To the Lighthouse. It has become a self-contained object which can be represented as such. In this sense it may provide some purchase for the wild gaze which doesn’t get manipulated here to become deflated, to surrender passionately, or to control itself in a constrained manner, but simply reminds a human being that he or she is surrounded by such things as object-like companions with subjective characteristics. Mr Ramsay (or even Mrs Ramsay) doesn’t have a chance to hold Lily’s gaze without being reminded of ‘the stumbler’. The sharp thinking has acquired a form, sculptural and textile- like, and is presented in this way as if the object were able to make you stumble, or to have mild-mannered characteristics, which in principle it doesn’t, like a human being. Seen from above Hock’s Carpet looks like a hand that is not held above people’s heads in a gesture of blessing but as an open hand. With her work Chair Erika Hock shows, deliberately or otherwise, a consequence of a bureau- cracy out of control. It comes as no surprise that should the haggard bureaucrat, keeping himself under control in public, misbehave, the Table will display a tendency to make him stumble. The visitor is exposed to a transparent Kafkaesque scene, in which the roles seem to be inverted, without this being a gratuitous inversion. So in the first space of the exhibition the visitor could imagine that he or she has been led to take pity on a robot-like bureaucratic oil baron thrashing about wildly, and can even derive from the objects, what could be called the long-term consequences of this: iconoclasm. The objects clearly find themselves in the mode of being sent packing with characteristics which appear to be hints at the speculative-realistic, which can be called gross. When something is trampled underfoot, an object can ‘appear’ to rage. Can sadism and masochism in human beings be transferred to objects without thereby turning into a religious object, or being bound to expect that it will one day jump back on to people. Or are these furniture-like and bodily-like objects precisely examples of what a mythical object could look like, when the unrepresentability of the specific (ghost) object is established, or precisely called into question? Hock’s wall lights also do this in a manner or style which makes one think of art nouveau, albeit in a form between minimalism and surrealism. However this is not a case of animism of the object, but rather of the being/becoming animate of human beings and their metaphorical characteristics for objects. - Sofie Van Loo