A.B. Meadows

The "Speelhoven 01" exhibition

Speelhoven is a place of the arts that has become well-known among art lovers and artists in Belgium, especially those with a penchant for minimal and / or concept art. Speelhoven is also the domicile of Leen Lybeer and Vincent Halflants as well as the location of their studio. It is practically a farm with typical farm buildings, a barn, for instance, and outdoor areas that can be used as exhibition sites.

Among the artists taking part in the exhibition at Speelhoven in 2001, I've singled out two, Delphine Coindet and Alain Géronnez. Not because the others are less interesting but because I could relate especially to their installations, for whatever perhaps accidental, perhaps personal and subjective reason.

Both installations are sited in, and relate strongly and significantly to NATURE, incorporating it in fact in the work of art created, just as the work of art is "embedded" in NATURE.

Therefore, to my mind, there is a good reason to speak of reciprocal interaction (Wechselwirkung), or a dialectical relationship that affects both the pole of ART (or CULTURE) and the pole of NATURE. 

A nature of which we know of course that, as such, per se, in itself, it exists almost nowhere (or truly nowhere?) nowadays, being exposed, wherever we may look for it, to instrumentalization, use, social effects, forces created by human social activities. 

But even this implicitly or explicitly used NATURE, subjected to distant and indirect effects of society or to direct and often rapacious use, can still be seen as an antipode, a counterpoint, an antithesis to art, as the 'raw' instead of the 'cooked'. And in so far, being the more or less unharnessed, the growing (and sometimes wildly growing) part of (socially affected) reality, it seems to encounter in art a form of existence that is significantly different. For this very reason it poses a challenge to artists who refer to it by their works, and even integrate it in their works.  How this challenge is faced can be traced very pertinently in the works of art singled out.

As a curator of the SPEELHOVEN 01 exhibition, Isabelle Lemaître (Paris) has seen the pertinence of the relation between the works exhibited and NATURE very clearly. And in fact, she was aware that the art works selected DID SOMETHING TO NATURE. If I understand her point of departure correctly, this seemed to be the case because she thought of the art works themselves as discoursive, as a concretization of a visually based semiotics. Art, however, constitutes a specific discourse, different from that of science.

As Isabelle Lemaître suggests, "nature in our era is complety caught in the web of scientific discourse, a system that speaks in terms of cause and effect." In her view, science (striving to be objective) eliminates the presence of the interfering subject - a claim that can of course be disputed, insofar as it is a well-known fact that in several disciplines, there exist scientists and scientific positions which demand that the existence of the observer as well as his intervention
must be taken into account. Regardless of such an objection, is is noteworthy to see that artists and works of art attempt and in fact establish interventions with regard to nature that are different from those of the natural sciences.

Isabelle Lemaître seemed to regret that "nature, subjected to counting (mathematics) reveals itself as more and more mastered and therefore less unforeseeable." But, she said, "nature is precisely that [reality] of which something that is unforeseeable remains" [le nature c'est précisement ce qui resterait d'imprévisible!]. She added, "It is that which places the subject in a relationship with the real" [C'est ce qui mettrait le sujet dans un rapport au réel"]. Is this a romantic position? A naively realistic one? A beautifully materialistic but still subjective and non-scientific one? Whatever it may be - I cannot but recognize the poetry that is alive in her enchanting reference to "a nature, not too far from its epicenter and its unknown force" [cette nature-là, pas trop proche de son épicentre, et de sa puissance inconnue]. This nature, seemingly unattainable to science, a nature that harbors (she claims) an "unknown force" and that holds in store something "unforeseeable", is attainable only & thus can be reached or touched only "by way of a detour", for instance that one "which the work of art proposes"  [par le détour, don't celui que propose l'oeuvre d'art].

Having singled out the privileged position which in her view the work of art can claim, as a route of access or way of relating to 'living' (rather than dissected and 'counted') nature, Isabelle Lemaître goes on to say that in establishing a way of accessing, of touching, in other words, a rapport to nature, art "proceeds by distancing, and at the same time calling up a thought, through the intermediary of an object which animates and drives the subjective dynamics, and gives it a concrete existence [form or body]".

This thought is so indicative of the reasoning at work in many concept-art-like installations that it is worth to repeat it once more in the French original which says,
"Cette nature-là, pas trop proche de son épicentre, et de sa puissance inconnue, ne s'atteint que par le détour, dont celui que propose l'oeuvre d'art. Celui-ci, en effet, procède par un mise à distance, tout en actionnant une pensée par l'intermédiaire d'un objet qui anime et relance la dynamique subjective, et lui donne corps."

Isn't this revealing the aesthetic and perceptual "logic" (or should I say, anti-mechanistic because intuitive and subjective 'mechanics') of many 'installations' relating to and/or placed in (or against) nature? Isn't it often if not always a question of a "mise à distance", the creation of a (mental) distance that is central to such installations?  Sometimes in the form of an oppposition or contradiction, sometimes as a 'Verfremdung' or process of making the seemingly well-known appear strange? At any rate an object or objects (the object or objects introduced by the intervention of the artist) are offered as a stumbling block, the way they are inserted into nature. The effect is meant to be puzzling. Nature, involved in the game, seems to change its quality; it suddenly seems to be seen (to be perceived) differently, because of the interaction between the 'art object' introduced into it. And/or the 'art object' is perceived differently, because of the way it is inserted in 'nature'. At any rate, not only thoughts are provoked but 'normal' perception is changed; it is de-automatized. The "subjective dynamics", that is to say, the intellect and the emotions, the associative potentials of the mind, etc., are in full play. 

The "detour" Isabelle Lemaître writes about is, as we know, the artistic intervention, through the insertion of an irritating or provoking object, or of several such objects, into the ambience of nature. 
It is, in other words,  the artist's way of approaching 'the enigma' or the 'unknown force' or the 'real' [in and of nature!] which is not accessible to dissection and counting. 
According to Isabelle Lemaître, it is exactly this "detour" - that is to say, the provocatice insertion -  which as a result "gives life to that which one calls here a-nature" [l'anature] - in other words, to the antipode of nature  (and the catalyst of a new, fresh perception of nature) as which the installation reveals itself.

If we may believe Isabelle Lemaître, the aesthetic process in question (referred to as a "detour" by her) brings about or "wakes up" this a-nature, giving "life" to it, by way of a  'refuge' ("par voie du refuge" / "door middel van schuilplaatsen", the Dutch translation says) and through "the shaping of remote and unusual places" ["mise en form de lieux retirés et insolités"/"het vormgeving van terugetrokken en vreemde plaatsen"]. Remote and unusual places, she adds,  which "le regard" / "de blik" (the look of the viewer) "appropriates" or of which it "makes itself the master", "permitting the subject [i.e. the viewer]  to enter into his [or her] deepest dreams and to place, furtively, the thumb on the unconscious which animates desire."

Here we end up again with a notion of the surrealists - the connection they made between strange (found) objects and the unconscious, thus, by implication, their invisible 'threads' linking our chance-governed, dreamlike discoveries to the Freudian 'wish'.  The strange, accidental, often inconspicuous places where an objet trouvé might by discovered and the equally accidental and often inconspicuous object or objects picked up by a surrealist painter or poet have been replaced, in the second half of the 20th and the early 21st century, by the intuitively and almost accidentally chosen locations of the installations produced and the objects selected for them (like bizarre stage props, almost, we might wonder). If a concept or a moment of reflection enters in the process, as most often it probably does, this is in many instances intuitive enough to produce unforeseen effects of strangeness, irritation, and even startling beauty.

[The quotations are from Isabelle Lemaître, "La nature n'existe pas." (1ere partie; Paris, juin 2001), in: SPEELHOVEN 01, catalogue, s.l. 2001] 

Tentoonstelling / exposition
(starting Sept. 1, 2001)

[Participating artists:]
Michel Blazy / Delphine Coindet / Cel Crabeels / Alec de Busschère / Alain Géronnez / Mara Goldberg / Hans op de Beeck / Hugues Reip

De Organisatoren Isabelle Lemaître en Baudouin Oosterlynck
 samen met
Luc Coeckelberghs, Vincent Halflants, Odo Halflants, Leen Lybeer en Jos Uytterhoeven
heten u welcom.
v.z.v. Speelhoven. Haferbeekstraat 90
B-3200 Aarschot, Tel.-Fax 016 / 56 80 03