- 3.1 Phillip Lim, Fall 2014 - Alexander Wang, Fall 2014 - Kees Goudzwaard, Marking, 2009, 100 x 80 cm, oil on canvas - Raoul De Keyser, Hide, 2007, 36.0 x 43.0 cm, oil on canvas - Raoul De Keyser, Untitled, 2011, 28 x 21 cm, oil and gesso on canvas mounted on wooden panel
Zeno X Gallery has the pleasure to announce a new solo exhibition by the Belgian artist Dirk Braeckman (°1958, Eeklo). Twentyseven.one.seven brings a new ensemble of works in which his quest for abstraction, tactility and uniqueness is expressed in an even more pronounced manner than before. This is manifested not only in the finished work, but forms part of the creation process itself, for which his dark room is transformed into a field of experimentation in which the artist manipulates the paper, working with the materiality of the picture, revealing influences of chance and time. The artist avoids images that are over-reasoned and opts for the unpredictable.
Freedom and spontaneity therefore become essential notions in his creative process. He always carries a camera with him, not only during his travels but also when he wanders around in Ghent, where he lives and works. Braeckman is never searching for images, he simply notices things and finds images in what surrounds him. Even if, sometimes, there are long periods of time – months, sometimes years – before he prints the images, his state of mind remains the same as in the moment when he first took the picture. Both these stages in the creation of his work are equally important to the artist. Although he has made a number of digital images for this exhibition, his focus nevertheless remains on the analogue image. For twentyseven.one.seven, he manipulates the print and modifies it to the extent where there can be only one final image: no other prints can be made from the same negative to resemble it. The artist questions one of the main characteristics of the medium, its reproducibility, by creating a unique image. It is no secret that Braeckman also painted during his studies. He is not a photographer in the full sense of the word; instead he seeks out the boundaries of other disciplines. Photography, for him, is a tool rather than a goal in itself.
“In his most recent works, Braeckman bridges the gap to his artistic beginnings on various levels: In the middle of the 1980s he started with the creation of unique photographic images. He definitely had the intention to undermine the medium’s conventions, such as, for example, its reproducibility. But the connection to rather expressive painterly techniques from that time is not so obvious anymore. Nowadays, Dirk Braeckman expands the photographic medium to the point where it becomes rather akin to the practice of a sculptor. In an often physically demanding way he works in the dark room with the chemicals and other items found in his studio, such as dust and other rather unexpected materials. What is particularly remarkable is his use of one of the most basic elements in the photographic process, the light: it can certainly be said that Dirk Braeckman is manipulating and essentially sculpting the light. He transcends this technical framework by creating unique images: to do so he even appropriates parts of his own oeuvre, for example by repeatedly using the same negative. The result is a series of ‘original versions’ with which he expands his visual universe toward the inside.
By establishing work of such paradoxical characteristics, Braeckman takes a further and highly contemporary step in his practice, which is unceasingly devoted to a highly personal deconstruction of the photographic medium.” (Martin Germann) Braeckman’s work is highly subjective and evades the conventions of documentary photography, yet remains highly autobiographical. Even though his images are often deprived of human figures, his own personality and thoughts are very present. In his work we can distinguish several themes: female nudes, curtains, empty corners in rooms, walls, abandoned hotel rooms, etc. His images are intriguing and suggestive. They raise more questions than they answer.
Currently his installation Anonymous / Dirk Braeckman / / Schwarzschild is on view at S.M.A.K., Ghent. Jan Hoet invited Braeckman a few months ago to create the campaign image of a new large-scale urban exhibition entitled ‘The Sea’ in Ostend, in collaboration with Philippe Van Den Bossche. Works of the artist will also be on view in this exhibition. Braeckman has also been commissioned to make works for A.F. Vandevorst, Louis Vuitton and Queen Paola. Braeckman has had solo exhibitions at Museum M in Leuven (BE), De Appel in Amsterdam (NL), Kunsthalle Erfurt (DE) and Fotohof Salzburg (AT). His work was part of several group exhibitions such as Upside Down at the Cultural Centre in Strombeek (BE), BAZAAR Belgium in the Central for Contemporary Art in Brussels (BE), De Pont in Tilburg (NL), Antoine Watteau BOZAR Brussels (BE), Sint-Jan in Ghent (BE) and Robbrecht & Daem: Pacing through Architecture at the Whitechapel Gallery in London (GB). Works of Braeckman are permanently on view at the Concertgebouw in Bruges and the Ghent courthouse. Work of the artist can be found in the following public collections: Artothèque in Annecy (FR), Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris (FR), Centro Fotografia de la Universidad Salamanca (ES), De Pont in Tilburg (NL), Fondation national d’art contemporain in Paris (FR), Fotomuseum in Antwerp (BE), FRAC Nord-Pas de Calais in Dunkirk (FR), FRAC Rhône -Alpes in Villerbanne (FR), Haags Gemeentemuseum (NL), MACs Hornu (BE), Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris (FR), Musée d’Art Contemporain et Moderne in Strasbourg (FR), Musée de la Photographie in Charleroi (BE), Musée de l’ Elysée in Lausanne (FR), Musee Niepce in Chalon-sur-Saône (FR), MUHKA in Antwerp (BE), Mu.ZEE in Ostend (BE), Royal Palace in Brussels (BE), Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Brussels (BE), and SMAK in Ghent (BE).
I’ve been trying to work out what it is I love about Antwerp. On one level, it’s like a fantasy, with its dark Medieval spires, cobbled streets and Netherlandish gargoyles crouching in the doorways of patrician stone buildings. There is something about scale as well; I know I’ve written here before of the charm of smaller cities, ones where the centre fits onto a single map and you feel you might be able to get the measure of the place in a few days.
It’s also very beautiful. We first meet the eponymous hero of Sebald’s Austerlitz as he is sketching the waiting room in the grand Centraal Station, and what follows is an amazing history of its construction:
when Belgium, a little patch of yellowish grey barely visible on the map of the world, spread its sphere of influence to the African continent with its colonial enterprises, when deals of huge proportions were done on the capital markets and raw-materials exchanges of Brussels, and the citizens of Belgium, full of boundless optimism, believed that their country, which had been subject so long to foreign rule and was divided and disunited in itself, was about to become a great new economic power.
It’s where the novel begins, in that incredible vast bourgeois station, which lends drama and opulence to arrival. Something of that sense of spreading across continents remains too as you exit the station: the citizens of the dissolved empire are all around. The station is next door to the zoo – I can’t think of another major city where you would find such a juxtaposition, which strikes me somehow as very Belgian, or at least Flemish – the more I travel around Flanders, the more I get the Belgian sense of humour, which is a bit rude, a little surreal. I love the sound of Flemish, its guttural drama. So much less refined than French; a dirty joke would certainly sound better in Flemish (maybe that accounts for their bawdiness). Part of the beauty of Flemish for me is not understanding a word of it, allowing the sound to float over me like some discordant piece of music.
And so to Zeno X, and the new Mark Manders show. I discovered Manders’ work when he was representing the Netherlands at the 2013 Venice Biennale (he is Dutch, but has been based in Ghent for many years) and posted my impressions here at the time. Going to his show first, almost straight off the train, grounded me for the rest of the weekend. Manders’ project is about how we define ourselves in relation to our surroundings, so that many of the works are variations on the theme of self-portrait (the next day, I found myself thinking of Manders while staring at Van Eyke’s depictions of the great and the good of his day).
It’s an important consideration in a place like Belgium, where people move in and out of different languages – the most obvious shift being from Flemish to French. His work always seems to be in the process of being made, so nothing is ever quite finished, even once it appears within the pristine walls of the gallery. His piece, Landscape with Fake Dictionary, suggests this dilemma of navigating a city where many different languages are being spoken, but you can’t understand any of them. It put me in mind of the ‘fake newspapers’ he created for his Biennale show – all real (English) words, but thrown together to create nonsense.
Fakes kept appearing after that, from Manders’ fellow Zeno X artist Kees Goudzwaard, and his trompe-l'œil paintings that appear to be held together by strips of tape – he constructs a model with tape and then meticulously paints strips that give the illusion of tape.
And then the many extraordinary still lives from the collection of the Royal Academy, which at the moment have found a temporary space in the seventeenth-century mansion of the former mayor, Nicholas Rockox. How exciting to find these paintings in the sort of setting they were made for – domestic and intimate. The curators have constructed cabinets of curiosities around the building, matching the painted still lives with assemblages of rocks and stones and glass.
A kind of fake – at the very least, highly theatrical but at home in a place that suits theatre, the evening light gilding the spire of Our Lady.