Imagining a Child Imagining
Robert G. Edelman | offoffoff.com, 31 March 2005
Part carnival — part mausoleum — "In Their Minds..." creates a vacuum that tugs at your inner child.
Hans Op de Beeck
How do memories of childhood manifest themselves to an artist like Hans Op de Beeck? Judging by this show, Op de Beeck's image of youth combines a magical aura, a twist of the ineffable and a sense of the uniqueness of a child's imagination. He makes every attempt to connect with this ever increasingly remote experience for adults, as it disappears into the past, with varied explorations of the intimate world of childhood fantasy.
This reviewer had to walk through the exhibition several times before getting a sense of what was the focus of the drawings, sculpture, illuminated photographs and videos that are on display at Klagsbrun. Having encountered the artist's work only at his Basel Art Unlimited installation in 2004 (he had a show at Team Gallery in 2000 and in 2003, he was Belgium's artist in residence at the MoMA/P.S.1 Studio Program), the range of media made this exhibition appear, at first, to be a survey show. The second time around however, made it clear that this was a conceptual installation that established a mood and an environment, built around the highly original inventiveness of children, both pleasant and forbidding.
The show opens with a set of drawings, seemingly studies for either an installation or a wayfarer's visual journal, with ambiguous notations. The words are perhaps the musings of children, free to project their own images on the landscape. These drawings entitled Determination function for the artist as a break from his media works, with text. He might use them later as a source for one of his miniature installations, which Op de Beeck has created with disorienting results in the past.
Upon entering the large space at Klagsbrun, a row of large, illuminated photographs of six children, each with their eyes closed, are installed along one wall. All are smiling mischievously; the artist had instructed them to imagine themselves someplace else, or to be someone else. In the intentionally darkened room, the children's faces glow with an unfettered glee, an internal radiance hard to imagine on the face of any relatively functional adult. Part of the pleasure of viewing these photos (as the show title suggests) is trying to imagine what the children might be thinking, where in their minds they've gone or who they have become.
In the same room, there are three sculptures, if you can call them that, that represent adult devices invented to entertain children; a shrouded carousel, and two shopping mall rocking machines, a car and a helicopter, painted mostly a dull black. Meant to entertain kids while their parents are otherwise engaged or resting from shopping, Op de Beeck has transformed these pacifiers into a form of black comedy — the machines more a threat now than an entertainment.
The shrouded carousel is out of a surrealist dream, a macabre and timeless mausoleum for childhood. Does Op de Beeck want the viewer to tie in this image with the children's imaginings, or rather expect the viewer to connect directly with this iconic conundrum? This vagueness of intention is emblematic of Op de Beeck's work, especially in his meticulously fabricated dioramas. Large and small, they recreate a place without human habitation, leaving it to the viewer to project their own narrative to fill the void, not unlike being behind a movie camera without a script. In the last room is a video projected on an entire wall of another carousel, this one the more traditional version, which very slowly begins to turn.
In Blender, the motion of the horses (riderless, of course) begins to blur, and the ambient sounds become slightly louder and harder to discriminate. Slowly the motion ceases, and we are returned to a kind of visual silence. Then the process begins again and we're taken for another ride, a chance to ponder the concepts of time, motion and memory. Op de Beeck is a maker of a spare visual poetry, rooted in childhood hopes and dreams, yet veiled with the darker implications of the world of adults. In the middle is the creative impulse, accessible to all.