A.B. Meadows

'Drifting / Dérive': The "Speelhoven 03" exhibition

Drifting / Dérive, Leen Lybeer and Vincent Halflants called the exhibition at Speelhoven in 2003. The artists who participated were Karel Breugelmanns, Johann Creten, Joris Ghekiere, Allart Lakke, Michael Sailstorfer, Johan Slabbynck, Christoph Terlinden, Herman van Ingelgem, Pieter Vermeersch and Jenny Watson.

Speelhoven at the time was described as a "protected place of the arts" - a "kunst-matig en beschermed domein". It was a place of, above all, the Belgian avant-garde, of artists that were in some way or other, close to minimalist and concept art.

Modern artists, from Picasso to Joseph Beuys, had already introduced a rupture with every conventional understanding of beauty in their approach to aesthetic production. This rupture was, in specific ways, present as well, in the works that were selected for the Speelhoven exhibition in 2003. As Luk Lambrecht wrote, in the catalogue produced on this occasion, "Het is niet denkbeeldig te verzanden in een ongelijke strijd om de schoonheid." He added, "Om die reden is de kunstenaar verplicht heel sterk na te denken over de positie van de kunst als toevoegende waarde. De aanwezigheid van de kunst moet zich als het ware beschermen tegen de overweldigende kracht die uitgaat van de cyclus van leven en dood in de natuur." 

It is of course open to debate in what sense art can be understood as an "added" or "adding value", and whether the "presence" of art works, in other words, their visual (aesthetic, emotional, and intellectual) impact, can be defined in other than ideological terms as "het ware" (das Wahre rather than die Ware; the true rather than the commodity). 

But it makes sense to speak of the moving force, the impact that art can have - a counter-force, we might say, that in Luk Lambrecht's view might protect against the "overwhelming force that is emitted by the cyclus of life and death in nature" ("de ... kracht die uitgaat...").

Nature, in other words, was not seen in a romanticizing way as harmless. Apparently it is something raw. Our part in it seems to be most terribly obvious in our own mortality. Is art therefore stylized as a civilizing antidote, as an embodiment of culture, the 'cooked', the made, the produced, the constructed? The conceptualized - as against the 'raw'? Is the artist tempted to seek permanence, some sort of survival, in the concept, the invention, the idea of a work of art, juxtaposed or placed against the awareness of his frail body? 

But then, aren't the works of the artists shown here, whether conceptual or not, often in themselves tender, frail, revealing no more than a fleeting presence, exposed to the onslaught of time and natural forces? Fleeting, drifting material, shapes, forms, colors? All but permanent objects and installations?

Lambrecht was right in claiming that a need continues to exist for artists to break with conventionalities and this was clear for long in much of the 20th and in this young 21st century, regardless of any fashionable reference to "these modern and highly informational and formatted times".

"In deze moderne en hoog geinformatiseerde en geformatteerde tijden is het ondenkbaar dat een kunstenaar zich nog beroept op 19e eeuwse recepten [...]", we read, and looking at the works of the artists he introduced to us, it seems inevitable that I ask myself:  was he having in mind artists who, in obvious opposition to dated concepts of art, longed for everything that was, perhaps playfully, anarchic?

Daniel Spoerri's oeuvre had projected such a tendency, and the oeuvre of Robert Filliou. It is enough to think of his tongue-in-cheek, faintly Surrealist Parisian cityscapes. The Arc de Triomphe, for instance, with a large bowler hat placed on top of this 'heroic' monument of bureaucratic imperialism. An intervention, conceptual in a way, by which this phallic symbol is veiled, softened, disempowered and ironically 'displaced'. One of Filliou's artist friends, in their Dusseldorf apartment, once pointed to the sky outside the window, looked at me smilingly and quipped, "There goes that cloud again!!" It was true conceptual poetry integrating nature (the sky, clouds) into a performance directed by the human mind. It was poetic anarchism. 

The title chosen for the Speelhoven 03 exhibition was more serious than such playfully absurd use of words. It was imbued with the awareness of a learned discourse embraced in Paris by Lacan, Derrida and others, and pre-dated by the situationists, who were anarchically if not fashionably "updating" surrealism. It was indicative of the conceptualist way in which the works of the artists selected were relating to nature. 

As Lambrecht put it, "Speelhoven '03 met curatoren Bert de Leenheer en Dirk Vanhecke circelt rond een term van Guy Debord die als 'lijsttrekker' van de Internationale Situationisten er een anarchistische en grootstedelijke kijk op kunst op na hield. 'Dérive - drifting' is in het concept van Speelhoven een zijdelings thema om de nadruk te leggen duidelijkheid, op de 'bijna' onmacht van de kunstenaar (en curator) om de natuur te lijf te gaan met kunstinterventies."

The precarious or 'nearly' powerless way, then, of artists involved in their attempt to 'tackle' nature by way of artistic interventions, seems to be what produces a 'drift': A double drift or displacement, in fact, that affects both the work of art (unsettled by its placement in nature) and nature (unsettled by becoming 'part of a work of art').

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vzw Speelhoven asbl
Vincent Halflants / Leen Lybeer / Luc Coeckelberghs / Baudouin Oosterlynck / Jan Uytterhoeven / Isabelle Lemaitre

Organisatie / Organisation
Bert de Leenheer
Dirk Vanhecke