To Berkhemer, sensuality and eroticism were basic components of life. For her research into the power of the (female) body, and its ability to evoke both lust and discomfort, she used a variety of different artforms and techniques. Berkhemer worked across many artistic genres: she made drawings, collages, (wall) sculptures, installations, and performances for which she often used her own body, aided by a generous helping of courage.
Garden of Delight
Berkhemer started her career at the fashion department of the Willem de Kooning Academy where she graduated with a collection that reduced clothing to a simple elastic band that was meant to be worn around the diaphragm. After working as an assistant to Martin Margiela for a number of years, and collaborating with Christian Louboutin, she finally decided to follow the path of autonomous art. The physical and glamorous elements of fashion always remained part of her work. Her elastic bands made a comeback in the photographs and personal ads for fetish magazines she appeared in. She also created large sculptures made from panty hose material, like the room-filling installation Garden of Delight shown at the Kunsthal, referencing Jeroen Bosch’s work of the same name. In Berkhemer’s sizable, layered, and provocative version, the panty hose material stretches out across the length and width of the HALL, with Perspex spheres – reminiscent of fruit, testicles, and buttocks – suspended in the red, see-through material.
Milly – Molly – Mandy
Milly – Molly – Mandy (the nickname of a little girl from an English children’s book from the first half of the twentieth century) are Berkhemer’s alter egos. These characters allowed her to incorporate different aspects of herself in her work. In her performances, as well as in the collages, photography, drawings and installations shown at the Kunsthal, Berkhemer enhanced, used and reused these roles. The three characters are exceedingly seductive and provocative. By photographing herself as Milly, Molly, and Mandy and engaging in a kind of roleplay, she addressed the impact of the female body – not only as a result of looking at it, but also of being looked at.