NA is a jack-of-all-trades. By resolutely embracing the pseudonym, Nel Aerts becomes NA. She makes her debut with performance, then turns to painting, immediately taking on monumental textile works, bizarre objects and colourful seating.
A hectic trail of large international solo exhibitions follows from 2019–2020, after which she retreats to the studio, her playground for tracking reality and delusion. She watches herself in the mirror, looking for a place in a locked-up world. What’s happening here? In her video invitation, Nel thunders through her studio, boisterously headbanging, knee- and head-butting, banging Mohammed Ali onto the canvas without mercy. Her actions demonstrate the no-nonsense attitude from which this new family of figures grows.
With her collection of cloths and rags of every colour, pattern, quality and size, NA creates collages. SWALLOW MAELSTROM HUT HEADS (hotheads wallowing in slush and sludge) forms a new chapter in her oeuvre through its focus on one theme and one technique. The collages translate topical skin hunger into the tactile, haptic form of textiles. The focus is on one-eyed figures in strict profile, with changing identities. Puppet-like and self-conscious, they expose the wounds of the self. Framed as objects, they look to the right. “Heads together and all noses pointing in the same direction” sounds like a party-political drill or management diktat. The eye, which is the sensory organ of distance par excellence, refers to the giant eye of Homer’s man-eating cyclops painted by Goya and Redon, the hungry eyes of Little Red Riding Hood’s wolf, the shocking opening scene in Un Chien Andalou, and so much more.