Drifting

8 October 2020 - 15 November 2020

Gallery Pilevneli, Istanbul, TR

For the artist, the title 'drifting' refers to the feeling of floating, both mentally as well as physically. It also refers to the surrender to something greater, to fate, to the elements, to what cannot be controlled. Furthermore, someone or someone's attention can also drift off aimlessly, involuntarily to other places, sometimes described as daydreaming.

Op de Beeck associates ‘drifting’ with sleep and the world of the dream and letting go of the real world. Ultimately, drifting also refers to transition and death.

The life-sized sculpture ‘My bed a raft, the room the sea, and then I laughed some gloom in me’ (2019) depicts a young female figure asleep in her bed that hovers above a raft, which, in turn, is afloat on a lily-pond. The floating sensation is commonly associated with the onset of sleep. As the raft has no sail or tiller it is controlled by chance and the natural elements, becoming a fitting metaphor for surrender. By the side of the bed are books, candy, a glass of water and sleeping pills. Butterflies flutter about, emblems of mortality and transience. In ancient Greece they were considered representations of souls. Classic animated cartoons employed them frequently as playful interludes.

Each object or element placed by the sleeper forms part of an array of theatrical devices used by the artist to create an ambience or atmosphere. They serve to invoke a hyper-fictional state – guiding the viewer to the story, or perhaps into the girl’s reverie.

Sleeping and dreaming are conditions that frequently recur in the artist’s work, but rather than supporting their presence with psychoanalytic readings, they encourage the audience to submit to their own dreams through the imagination.

In ‘The Conversation’ (2019), we see two neat, older gentlemen with long beards having a seemingly rather serious conversation with each other. For some absurd reason they are both standing on a small, fragile folding ladder. Yet, they seem to be totally comfortable doing so. Their briefcases are placed on the floor, which suggests that they are both either coming from work, or on their way to it. Are they colleagues, friends, family?
We can only guess as to what they are talking about.

The life-sized sculpture ‘Dancer’ (2019) presents a Brazilian dancer during an 'off' moment. Resigned, and with her eyes closed, she is smoking a cigarette in an old Chesterfield chair. Her exuberant clothing, with an impressive crown of plumes, contrasts sharply with the performer who is not performing and taking a quiet moment for herself. The sculpture expresses a frozen, silenced cheerfulness.

In the sculpture ‘Blackberries’ (2019) Op de Beeck plays with the relationship between time, space and personal memory. The blackberry brings us back to the artist’s childhood. Op de Beeck has a vivid memory of the stone-walled garden of his parental home, overgrown with wild blackberry bushes. The taste of the blackberry, pure, fair and summery fresh, symbolises the innocence of childhood and the long days of the future that still lay open. Just as the Madeleine in the work of Proust symbolises ‘le mémoire involontaire’, so does the sensation of the blackberry bring Op de Beeck back to his youth.

Here, the blackberry, in real a tiny gem, is depicted as oversized, highlighting the significance of the personal memory. Both the trio of enormous blackberries and the pedestal have the same grey colour, as if a layer of dust had literally been blown over the memory.

‘Happy Birthday’ (2020) is another oversized sculpture, depicting a piece of a birthday cake on a plate. To the artist, the birthday cake is the ultimate memento mori. He states: ‘We human beings seem to have the strange habit to yearly celebrate our own mortality.’ This monochromic grey, disproportionally large sculpture appears as a petrified object.

Since 2018 Hans Op de Beeck has been working steadily on an ongoing series of ‘Wunderkammer’ sculptural display cases, crafted at his studio. Within these works, the most diverse sculptural interpretations of keepsake objects are brought together by a fictitious collector. The ash-grey artefacts look like fossilised archaeological finds, allowing the viewer to create their own understanding of how or why they came to be there.

In the tradition of the ‘Wunderkammer’ of the European Renaissance (cabinet of curiosities), the collections of curiosities in each cabinet seem anachronistic and of the most diverse origin. The display cases bridge the thin line between valuable and worthless, between specialness and banality and the importance of stories to bring a still object to life. They are display cases that seem to have been stripped of all their lustre and left behind as silent units.

The centrepiece of ‘Wunderkammer (11)’ (2020) is a sculpture of a boy playing with marbles, and in ‘Wunderkammer (12)’ (2020) it is a blossoming tree on scale, a recurring theme in Op de Beeck’s work.

‘Vanitas (variation) 30’ (2020) and ‘Still Life (wall piece) 6’ (2019) are two sculptural wall pieces. In these series, the artist alludes to previous, more classical vanitas variations, while adding more playful and festive elements to the compositions. For example, the combination of a number of different scales; some of the objects are life-sized, while others have been reduced in size. The monochrome still life features commonplace objects, both classic and very contemporary. Sculptural versions of the taxidermist’s art, plants, bottles, vases, fruit, drink cans, candlesticks and so on, form uniquely assembled compositions that represent our present environment, certainly, but also remind us of the transitory nature of human existence.

Finally, this exhibition also includes a film the artist created some years ago.

Its title, ‘The Thread’ (15 minutes, Full HD, 2015), refers to a Chinese proverb says that an invisible thread connects those destined to meet, despite time, place and circumstances. The thread can be tightened or tangled but will never be broken. Taking this clear and simple metaphor as a starting point, Op de Beeck created a video as a visual love poem about a punk girl and boy who grow old together and who keep each other alive with needle and thread. Love and death here go hand in hand.

The film refers both formally and thematically to the traditional Japanese Bunraku theatre, where black-clad puppet masters operating large puppets perform a tragic (love) story.

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