Hans Op de Beeck: Extensions

2 September 2007 - 4 November 2007

Centraal Museum, Utrecht, NL

From 2 September through 4 November 2007, the Central Museum in Utrecht will be showing a cohesive ensemble of recent works by the multidisciplinary artist Hans Op de Beeck (b. Turnhout, Belgium, 1969). In addition to the two new and sizeable installations Extension (1) and Extension (2), this solo exhibition also includes the new digital animated film The Building, a large series of drawings, and the monumental installation T-Mart (2004 – 2005). The exhibition will also be accompanied by a publication with pictures of the new works and a short story by the artist.

Artificial devices

We live in highly automated surroundings: what seems at first glance to be a smooth-running system where everything fits together perfectly. Computers and other contrivances serve as extensions of our body. They connect us with a virtual world, one in which our own physicality no longer seems relevant. But if we surrender to this abstract world, do we then retain any grip on these technological devices? Or do they gain a grip on us? Do these devices, in fact, compensate for our own imperfections?
Hans Op de Beeck's work often deals with hybrids, with the fusion of man and machine, body and surroundings, body and architecture. When a disease manifests itself in our body, we are transferred to the peripheries, between city and countryside, where the huge hospitals are laid out. In the rational architecture of the hospital we surrender control over our own fate, and then our bodies are festooned with technological devices. At the same time we undergo fundamental human emotions such as fear and pain, arising from the tragic realization of physical decline.

New work

In his newest work, Hans Op de Beeck confronts us with these interactions between body and spirit. With the sculptural installations Extension (1) and Extension (2), he investigates the complex relationship between man and machine, and the interaction between rationality and emotion. Extension (1) is a monochrome white, sculptural interpretation of a hospital intensive care ward – an empty bed surrounded by high-tech objects. Extension (2) is a monochrome, matte-black rendering of a life-sized desk covered in technological equipment: computers, monitors, hard disks, scanners, modems, cameras, sound equipment, digital keyboards, etc. This is the material world of the computer addict. The computer addict surrenders to a virtual life in the mind, but neglects his own body: the installation is littered with cigarette butts, empty coffee cups and fast-food packages.

Surreal experiences

The works shown here suggest a gap between technology and emotion. The digital animated video The Building depicts a nocturnal wandering through a fictitious, megalomaniacal hospital complex, seen at one moment from a neutral, objective point of view, at the next from the subjective perspective of the patient. The ultimate effect is a surrealistic look at reality. The monumental installation T-Mart (2004 - 2005) shows an enormous, imaginary supermarket at the edge of a big city. There is not a person in sight, and all of the shelves are empty. A shifting video animation, projected on the supermarket interior, at times evokes a micro-world, like an integrated-circuit card inside a computer; at others it evokes a macro-world, like a high-rise apartment building at the edge of town. A subtle landscape of sounds taken from our automated existence provides audio support for the entire installation.

Hans Op de Beeck

With his work, the artist Hans Op de Beeck is not out to pass critical judgment on the modern "condition humaine", life as a hybrid. He does, however, stop and ask questions about that situation. His installations, films, stories and drawings are characterized by the strongly sensual and aesthetic attraction they exert. In this fashion, the artist gives expression to the way in which he is moved by the absurdity and tragedy of human existence.

The one-man show Extensions was shown earlier at Galleria Continua (San Gimignano, Italy); after Utrecht it will travel on to the M (Leuven, Belgium). Several of these works are a part of the Cadic Collectie (Rotterdam, The Netherlands).