Unauthored | Elle Dekor, 1 June 2010
Elle Dekor: What generally inspires you the most and why?
Hans Op de Beeck: Things that inspire me the most are everyday life environments and situations. From these broad and complex situations I try to isolate and interpret meaningful, interesting visual parts for which I like to ask attention because of their sociological, poetic and reflective layers and implications.
ED: Who or what is (historically) your greatest influence?
HOdB: Oddly enough, as a visual artist, I think I am more influenced by the spirit of writers and film directors than by visual artists. My work in general is a broad, pictorial reflection on the human condition in contemporary settings. Writers such as Raymond Carver and Milan Kundera have had an influence on my way of conceiving an image in which the essential things are discretely written in-between the lines of daily life's banalities. Cinema giants such as Hitchcock, Lynch, the Coen brothers or Lars von Trier are good examples of great visual evokers of moods and atmospheres. Aside of these, of course, there are several old masters such as the painter Vermeer; people I deeply respect for the way they allow us to enter the silence of a parallel world. This is one of the things I like to achieve: staging a silence -be it a painting, a sculpture, an installation or a film- where the spectator feels invited to lose himself in a moment of timeless silence.
ED: Which modern technology is most beneficial to your work and how do you use it?
HOdB: Right now I am finishing a film production, in which I mix green key studio recordings of actors that I combine with digitally drawn surroundings; photo-realistic architectural surroundings I entirely create on computer. The end result is visually cinematic imagery, which takes the spectator in a fictive, but entirely credible or acceptable definition of realism. The technique allows one as a maker to create and control everything oneself; the indoor and outdoor surroundings, the use of light, the details, the colour grading... as a painter, you could say.
ED: What is the story behind your latest work (presented at the Belgrade symposium)?
HOdB: At the symposium I'll concentrate on my Location -series, a series of large scale installations (some of which measure more than 300 square metres), in which I construct entirely sculpted environments that invite the spectator to sit down, walk through and experience a staged mood - a reflective, introspective moment. Location (5) (2004) is a life-sized installation in monochrome paint which is entered by the spectator through a stairwell leading to a restaurant that spans a motorway. Walking past the counter and the kitchen the spectator takes 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 huge 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.
Location (6) (2008) is a monumental sculptural installation based on the historic panoramas created, particularly in Europe since the 1800s, to suggest an endless landscape that completely surrounds the viewer. Traditional panoramas combine a three-dimensional foreground with a painted background. Location (6), however, is made up entirely of a sculpted landscape with artificial fog and light. The basic architecture of the work consists of a large cylindrical construction that contains a trompe-l'oeil landscape with an exaggerated perspective that heightens the perception of depth. The viewer sees the landscape from a central observatory that is reached via a long, narrow corridor. The spectator's seated position allows for views through the panoramic window of the scene, a vast snowy expanse with bare trees. The landscape, the observatory and its interior are all painted white.
The Location -works are not my most recent works, but they are representative for my approach through all the other media I use, including my installations, sculptures, paintings, photography and text works. I not only use a wide variety of media, but also deliberately employ a diversity of aesthetic forms, ranging from an economical, minimalist visual language to overloaded, exaggerated designs, always with the aim of articulating the content of the work as precisely as possible.
ED: What is the main message you want people to receive through your work?
HOdB: Thematically, the work concentrates on our laborious and problematic relationship with time, space and each other. I show the viewer non-existent, but identifiable places, moments and characters that appear to have been taken from contemporary everyday life, aiming thereby to capture in these images the tragicomic absurdity of our postmodern existence. Key themes are the disappearance of distance, the disembodiment of the individual and the abstraction of time that have resulted from globalisation and the changes to our living environment that developments in media, automation and technology have brought about.
I tend to call my works 'proposals'; they are irrefutably fictional, constructed and staged, leaving it up to the viewer whether to take the work seriously, as a sort of parallel reality, or immediately to put it into perspective, as no more than a visual construct. My work is nourished by a keen interest in social and cultural reflection. I also question the difficult relationship between reality and representation, between what we see and what we want to believe, between what is and what we create for ourselves in order to make it easier to deal with our own insignificance and lack of identity. The visual output of that investigation often produces slumbering, insidious, melancholy and astonishing images.
ED: What is the favourite theatre project you worked on?
HOdB: So far my main road as an artist has been autonomous works, presented in contemporary art museums, biennials, art galleries. Only three times I did a commissioned stage design, a collaboration with musical theatre makers. The three collaborations were great experiences, though it is not my ambition to do too many in the future; I guess I am too much a 'fine art' artist, that prefers to work on his own. The most challenging of these three collaborations was the touring contemporary opera production Void, an opera with a bunch of great vocalists and musicians, an opera by the contemporary composer Wim Henderickx, who conducted every performance live on stage himself. The scenery was a massive job, combining a large sculptural construction and two large-scale vertical video animations.
ED: Do you prefer theatrical expression or 'playing with reality'?
HOdB: Both are fine, I guess? I think for my own work I'd say 'evocative expression'.
ED: Can you propose a fascinating and practical decor or display we could use in our homes?
HOdB: That would be a fun thing to conceive. But as a matter of fact, I think a good 'fascinating and practical decor' could be a good and strongly evocative figurative painting, nothing more, nothing less.