My Brother’s Gardens
Martin Herbert | Time Out – London, 26 March 2003
A great recycler, Hans Op de Beeck has based his video projection My Brother's Gardens on a previously published novella. It employs an animated sequence of drawings that have been exhibited separately and, in passing, includes a model of a house shortly to be shown as a sculpture. My brief summary misses one thing, though - the emotional heft of this stately, half-hour film. Mostly shot in washed-out colours, it features self-conscious actors who explore the tangled relationship between three damaged brothers - one autistic, one without legs, the third an emotional cripple. The wheel-chair-user constantly makes drawings which convert the wasteland outside his house into miraculous gardens, a project continued after his death by the emotionally stunted brother. The autistic brother meanwhile, has to content himself with being ‘the best-looking of us all’.
This fable of blighted lives and partial redemption is saved from mawkishness by Op de Beeck's tendency to draw attention to filmic artifice. American actors recite the Belgian artist’s script into microphones and descriptions of the characters generally bear little relation to their onscreen appearance: ‘Freckle Face’ has no freckles and a ‘large girl’ is played by a thin actress. Emerging moved, one ponders the power of art (whether a filmic narrative or a wistful drawing of a garden) to smooth the wrinkles in our lives. Self-reflexive sentimentality at its best.M