‘The textile artist Ellie Vossen proved to be a revelation at the end of last season (...). (...) the rectangular, plaited works are made of number tapes that have a width of barely one centimetre and consist of pale cotton ripples into which the numbers have been woven in red. They could almost be concrete poems, were it not for the fact that the size and numbers are primarily treated from a sculptural viewpoint so that the relief acquires light and shadow. The work looks extraordinarily sensitive, mostly like pink-tinted miniatures where the numbers on the back of the tape suggest Arabic script (....). Ellie Vossen calls her work ‘number tape weaves’ and it is precisely the word ‘weave’ or ‘tie’ that refers to the reflective side of her intentions. These weaves/ties can be interpreted not simply on a formal level. Thinking about it, the small numbers in the geometric plaiting may refer to cells and community, to an idealistic gathering. Perhaps this is a bit far-fetched but in her monumental work 7 plus 1 (which is also at De Zwarte Panter), the artist has created a spatial tie - with a concrete basis, an abstract realisation and a somewhat surreal effect – that suggests countless associative possibilities. Each plastic container encloses the wild roots of the ‘monad’ that seeks contact with its surrounding monads. This is a channelled contact because the community must repulse individual anarchy. In this interpretation, the static, fixed monad can evoke the image of a leading spirit. But whatever it may be, an existentialist dialectic has been woven into the artwork and is a part of its unusual power. Ellie Vossen has no intention of passing herself off as a philosopher but her designing, which increasingly focuses on monumentality and abstraction, includes an inevitable level of reflection and contemplation.’
Paul de Vree, De Periscoop, September 1976, p. 7, on the exhibition at De Zwarte Panter, Antwerp
‘Ellie Vossen’s artistic activities are not based on textiles as a subject matter. Her concepts require supple and malleable materials and so she opts for textiles as a medium. This means that she has gained a special place amongst textile artists. For her, textiles involve an extremely broad concept that includes many synthetic materials such as plastic and even paper. Her working method consists of initially developing small-scale models that serve as a way of researching materials and as an exercise for intuiting the textiles she will use. Ellie Vossen experiences the creating of an artwork as being first and foremost a discipline. The realisation of a basic idea is subjected to a sensory assessment: you can see it and you can feel it. To achieve this with an optimal effect, the imposed norms must be strictly adhered to while realising a project. Only then will the result be satisfying. Her art is not based on singing colours or a sparkling imagination; it is the silent witness of her logical and constructive mind that is revealed in an austere aestheticism.’
Jan Walgrave, Contemporary Textile Art in Flanders (catalogue), Museum Maihangen, Lillehammer, Norway, August-September 1979
The poetic creations of Ellie Vossen
I can clearly remember my first conversation with Ellie Vossen. It took place at her home on the Mercatorstraat in Antwerp when we were preparing the Contemporary Ceramics and Textile Art from Antwerp exhibition that was held at the De Sterckshof Museum in Deurne-Antwerp in the summer of 1974. It was a winter’s day and the beautiful but vicious cat of Asian extraction was out of sorts. I wanted to stroke her but ended up with a claw stuck painfully into my hand.
Ellie was not only extremely obliging she even came up with a suggestion that scared the hell out of me. Her Variable Situation consisted of a pair of short but enormous cylinders, a number of long tubes including one that was three metres high, and a mountain of strings. Naturally all of this was made of textiles that predominantly consisted of jute. I had difficulties with this because I was still at the very beginning of my concern and familiarity with the evolution of what was then known as contemporary ‘arts and crafts’ that was becoming an expression of the fine arts. The council in the province where I lived had bounced me into being the representative of the Belgian National Commission for Arts and Crafts, which mainly consisted of rather conservative ladies and gentlemen who were still dreaming of a revival of traditional lace-making and the weaving of wall hangings. Later that year, I would be sent off to the conference of the World Crafts Council in Toronto. An excellent and revealing exhibition of the new material art had been organised for the occasion with work from the international stars of textile art such as Sheila Hicks, Anne Terdjan, Olga de Amaral, and Peter and Ritzi Jacobi. In 1975, I curated the Arts and Crafts of Benelux exhibition at the Sterckshof, which involved me visiting the studios of Dutch textile artists who had had a great deal of contact with the international movement of contemporary textile art. That same year I visited the Septième Biennale Internationale de la Tapisserie Contemporaine for the first time in Lausanne, where Ellie was showing her monumental 7 plus 1, a continuation of the Variable Situation of 1974. Gradually I began to understand what she was doing.
It was quite obvious in this context that Ellie had been intensely involved for some time now and that this involvement was based on her fine art background rather than on an interest in textiles. She had developed quite rapidly into one of the most fascinating artists to use textiles as her medium. What I mean here is that she first hatched a concept and developed a subject where textiles probably played a role in her subconscious, but that this process began each time with a naked idea that involved a quest for a suitable medium to imbue it with form. The fact that she almost always ended up choosing a form of textiles indicates a certain predestination but this should certainly not be considered as her only possibility. She had an exceptionally wide interpretation of the concept of textiles, and her materials could as easily include plastic or paper. Ellie frequently used existing products such as number tape or paper handkerchiefs, which were combined as a grid, as an interweaving that exuded simplicity and restraint. She talked about Stacks, a term which referred to the many thoughts that went through her head when she was working on her extremely disciplined art rather than to the materials that she had gathered together. For her, creating an artwork primarily involved adopting a discipline. The concept had to stand the test of being confronted with the senses so that its material realisation still had to reflect what she wanted to express – something that would be impossible without a strict working schedule. What initially involved cool structuring, then came to life as a sensitive artwork that rejected formal hyperbole and lyrical outpourings in favour of a modest order, beneath which you could feel the subdued sensitivity. In other words: the artwork expressed something other than textiles. Despite the use of a specific material, a language was deployed that distanced the viewer from that material and made him adopt a view inherent to the raw materials in the background. This in turn referred to another idea that had nothing to do with textiles: an abstract concept, a generality and a greater theme.
These principles and her oeuvre’s construction meant that Ellie Vossen was one of a kind in Flanders. The monumental works of other artists working with textiles, including those of Lieva Bostoen, Jacques de Groote, Liberta, Veerle Dupont and Hetty van Boekhout, essentially concern the textiles themselves. It was perhaps for this reason that Ellie Vossen did not participate in many exhibitions with other textile artists. She preferred to seek out a different context and showed both on her own and with other artists at Antwerp’s De Zwarte Panter gallery and the International Culture Centre.
Ellie Vossen was one of the few artists to use textiles in an extraordinary way and she was able to ‘spiritualise’ her materials by adding different dimensions. Her art relates to the work of the artists who participated in the Stofwisselingen exhibition that was held in Haarlem in 1979. Here, the Dutch title is a pun that can be read as meaning both ‘metabolisms’ and ‘textile variations’, and the various aspects of this concept were illustrated in experimental productions. Ellie Vossen also had her own ideas about what textiles could imply and this primarily involved the way in which their sublimated presence could imbue her view of life with form.
The heyday of contemporary textile art has come and gone. The navel of this ‘movement’, the International Biennale in Lausanne closed its doors for the last time in 1995. Although that’s a pity, it does mean that textile art is now no longer confined to a ghetto as it used to be. Nowadays when artists deploy textiles as their medium, their work no longer evokes associations with applied art. But that was always true of the modest, poetic creations of Ellie Vossen.
Jan Walgrave , 2004