Hans Op de Beeck: Silence on Show
I. Mariotti | ARTE E CRITICA 57, 1 December 2008
Ilaria Mariotti: For your third exhibition at Galleria Continua you show the new video Celebration: a tableau vivant of an opulent celebration which stands out against the vast setting of the Arizona desert. A recurrence of the theme of the banquet and celebration was also fiercely performed in All together now... and The Stewarts have a party. What role does this theme play in your research?
Han Op de Beeck: It plays a role, certainly, but not a major one, because both the eclectic use of diverse media and aesthetics in my works, and the range of subjects I work on is very, very broad. In past years I have had about 30 exhibitions each year, and content-wise the subjects treated were quite different. In the projects you mention I try to tell something about the way we live today, the paths we follow and how we attempt - with great ineptitude - to deal with time, space and each other. With these works I try to show our poor daily-life arrangements and constructions, the clumsiness and absurdity of how we stage our own life’s decorum, and, broader, how we stage our lives as a sequence of social habits and domestic rituals. From a reflective distance there’s something tragic to man’s efforts to entertain himself.
In order to involve the spectator both intellectually and physically I build and stage contemporary, fictive urban and household locations, situations and characters that can appear familiar to the viewer. These include lonely spots for reflection, like the large, desolate and silent sculptural installations Location (5) and Location (6), but sometimes I also do the opposite, by staging, for example, crowded film scenes, populated at times by recognisable, drivelling, tragicomic characters, as is the case in, for example, the video piece All together now... which is about western family rituals.
IM:The themes of the window and of watching recur in many of your works. We find them in your installations, sculptures and videos. They imply the presence of an observer who is called to use the works. How many possibilities of interaction with the work would you give him and which displays do you use for carrying him away?
HOdB: The window refers to the traditional idea of the painting being a window to the world, offering a view on a condensed parallel world that reflects aspects of the real world but which remains fictive. For sure the views I create aren’t necessarily pleasing, as is the case in life as well. As a matter of fact, I try to ‘stage silence’ in order to evoke reflection on our problematic human condition. The scenes and views created can be very baroque and detailed and at times almost hilarious, but quite often they turn out to be very minimal, low key, serene and introspective as well.
I never try to hide the fact that you’re looking at a construction. By fooling around with the viewer’s perception of scale, which I use in a reduced, life sized or oversized way, I hope my ‘windows’ offer experiences that are both potentially dead serious and ridiculous. It is quite comparable with a conventional painting: one always realizes that one’s looking at nothing more than a thin layer of paint on a canvas, but at the same time there’s the invitation to the viewer to go along with the illusion created and take it seriously as an appearance.
My works are not so much about literal interaction. Location (5), for example, is a 200 square meter construction, a three-dimensional painting, let’s say. The life-sized installation in monochrome black paint is entered through a stairwell leading to an abstracted evocation of a dark motorway restaurant after-hours that spans a motorway. Walking past the counter and the kitchen the spectator can take a seat at one of the tables. A night- time scene of a motorway stretching into the distance, lit by orange road lighting, can be seen through the windows. The construction of the illusion is achieved by raising the road surface by a 9-degree angle and by distorting the perspective as it moves towards the horizon; the lighting masts decrease from four metres to only forty centimetres, thereby creating an illusion of a view that goes on forever. The viewer is invited to sit down in the first ‘plan’ of this installation, invited to take a place inside the foreground of the ‘painting’. But I would never ask the viewer to do more than enter a construction, inviting him to sit down in it. There’s never more interactivity than that; I do not like to force people. Installations such as Location (5) are open invitations to a parallel world. One decides for oneself if and how much time one spends inside.
IM: In your works both the descriptive and the narrative aspect co-habit. Simultaneously we see characteristics of immobility, suspension, attention to detail (descriptive forms) and the use of the ellipsis (in the narrative sequence). In my opinion Location (1)-(6) point out this double aspect of your investigation but we can analyse it in many other works too…
HODB: My main focus when developing an art piece is to create a fictive image (and not a reconstruction nor an imitation) that conveys a vague or more specific recognisable overall mood or experience. Such a surrounding is somehow comparable to an empty film set or a deserted neighbourhood, where stories are possible and where one can have the feeling that something just happened or is about to happen, or, in some cases, is happening at that very moment. Seemingly simple surroundings deriving from daily life allow the spectator to, at a first glance, identify himself immediately with what’s offered. Departing from that first direct reflex of acceptance of the viewer, he can feel invited to discover what’s been written between the lines of the image, what proportions and specific details can then be further unveiled to him. Those extra layers and fine-tuning, both on the level of content and the level formal artistic execution in materials and the use or treatment of time, actually create and define the work as a means of communication, or - why not?- as a piece of art.
My video works, sculptures, installations, photos and drawings all have in common that they are explicitly figurative or that they have figurative roots, and therefore they all potentially contain descriptive and narrative elements. And, of course, they do refer to the heritage of the old masters of the history of painting. But I always work hard to avoid the narrowly anecdotal, or the hollow wideness of the symbolic. An image should not pretend to be more than an image; an image is already and necessarily implicitly complex by itself. A major part of my practice as an artist is the aim to abstract from (meaning: to isolate from a broader whole) or to thoroughly interpret the complexity of what we consider or understand to be reality. Concepts such as the experience of time or timelessness are, both for the spectator and for the artist, important tools to conceiving and receiving an artwork. Finding the ideal balance between content and form, proportion and aesthetics, physical and immaterial appearance remains the main occupation of the artist’s research.