pieter van bogaert
White is always beautiful
on ‘entre – deux’, an exhibition by Lieven De Boeck & Paul Casaer
For Netwerk annual 03-04 (2004)
(lees verder in het Nederlands)
Let’s start with the place. An empty factory in a provincial Flemish city with a glorious industrial past. Within walking distance of the city centre but remote enough to give an impression of desolation. Behind the station, across the bridge, and turn to the right. Easily accessible for cars, pedestrians, cyclists. A place where you can get lost in or discover. An area with character. A twilight zone. Sufficiently accessible for the tourist, and sufficiently concealed for the wanderer.
Inside, everything is white. It makes the place familiar, like so many other spaces for contemporary art. It creates a feeling of neutrality. It shows respect for the artist. Impersonal and innocent. A spacious, light and clean feeling. Lived in, and yet contemporary. Closed yet open. Mysterious yet banal.
There are photographs on the wall, big colourful ones. On the floor are trestle tables with black and white texts on them. The mutual ambiguity and the contrast between both fits the space. Mystery and tedium. Open light and closed logic. Tension and the open book. Confusion and recognition.
It is quiet in this space. The hollow silence of a museum. The depth of history. The immobility of architecture. The moment of the image. The infinity of the monument.
Here you are safe. Here happiness reigns. Here idyll grows.
Now is always.
It depends on where you stand. To the left, to the right, somewhere in the middle … a minute move means a world of difference. It makes what is public become private. What is hidden comes to the surface. Commonplace becomes sin, sin becomes commonplace. It is something to do with the place? With the time? With the gaze? With the surroundings?
It is about the identity we carry with us everywhere – like a cocoon, like a house. About the mask we carry and pass on. About what we are supposed to be. About desires we project.
Let us turn to the work. Profound reflections on living are placed in front of frivolous photographs of young girls in a sun-drenched field. Pure desire and impure thoughts. Disapprovingly banal and innocently exotic. A Sunday picnic and calculated ordinariness. Chilly theories on a pleasantly warm day.
We see pretty eggs in too small hands and magnified contemplations under glass. A fresh navel beneath a shrinking blouse. A red stamp on white paper – a hallmark that never looks the same. A wriggling tattoo under too short a sleeve like a scratch on a tightly stretched skin. A card rewriting itself. A frivolous suspender under a fresh skirt. Dated clichés with an unexpected turning. It is summer and nature is bursting at the seams. It is tidy and it soothes the head.
People travel to the other end of the world for these. To the comfort of warmth, tranquillity and anonymity. To the shrivelled purity, the monumental openness, the natural light. You can also find them behind walls alongside Flemish roads nowadays. They belong to the anonymous cosiness behind all too clean facades.
This is where the world disappears. Where buildings become architecture. Boxes. Mirrors throwing glances back at passers-by. Where one doesn’t look anymore, but is only looked at. Where there is nothing to see anymore. Unimaginative frills rule here. The safe shelter of the uniform. The invisible, the unspeakable, the unimaginable, the unorganisable, the uncontrollable.
But we are straying. Let us go back to the exhibition. To the white gallery in that old industrial building. To what the photographer directed. What the architect registered. To the world like it is. To the environment as it should be. To what is. What shall be. What may be. What has to be.
The photographs of Paul Casaer show with perverse pleasure girls in a context. He creates more than once. Once to try, once to correct, once to retouch, once to display … not only the girls are the object of his work, but also the spectators. He uses their memory, their expectations – as if the action still has to come. Their clichés become his prints.
Lieven De Boeck impertinently joins a certain tradition in architecture and formalises almost until absurdity. He turns certain key words (the ‘seven sins’) from modern architecture upside down. He puts functionalism on the table only to instantly sweep it off again, just as with context, harmony and the distinction between public and private. His alternatives come as certificates each with a different hallmark.
In ‘Monument’ two projections next to each other show the same image from a slightly different angle. On the forefront there is each time a different flag blowing. A small move creates a completely different meaning. The same with different words. Like in the ‘Seven Sins’, where in one dazzling circular movement the reversal of challenged ideas leads to a new concept with a drawn-out content. Like in ‘Picnic’, where details make and fill holes in a non-existing story.
Now it is our turn.
Our turn to throw back the gaze and categorise these artists as new-fashioned nomads. Our turn to reclaim the world which they claim as their terrain – our house as their house. Our turn to put those rascals who shamelessly make use of your and my identity, back in their own landscape. Our turn to observe. Like parading voyeurs, like vagabonds, cunning with remarks, forever in between.
Let us expose those provocateurs here and now. Let us be too quick for them and reconcile ourselves with sin. Let us make their work into nothing and take nature as it is – culture as it wants to be. In colour or black and white. Let us look with clear eyes behind the walls, through the windows, under the skirts, through the pleats, in the blouses. Let us particularly not be scared away by the uniform that protects and laugh with the façade that hides. With what obliges and organises. With what camouflages and gives names. Watches and controls.
Let us exchange this building for the world. With the eyes wide open looking directly into the sun. And shout in unison: ‘White is always beautiful’.