Hans Demeulenaere of de onmogelijke
schaal van de realiteit (N)


Stef Van Bellingen

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De ruimte anders ervaren (N)

Experiencing space differently (E)


Julie Rodeyns

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Friktions (N)


Lieze Eneman

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Werkperiode van Esther Venrooy en Hans Demeulenaere
in Lokaal 01 (N)


Indra Devriendt

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Stability is overrated (E)


Edith Doove

 

 

 

 

 

   
   
   
   

EXPERIENCING SPACE DIFFERENTLY:

THE WORLD OF HANS DEMEULENAERE

 

Julie Rodeyns

 

1
I’m sitting at the coffee table in a cosy terraced house in Bruges, the home of Hans Demeulenaere. On the table between us, there are blueprints and drawings of his work. The artist fetches a scale model of his most recent project. Demeulenaere is not a man of the “grand narrative” or of great ideas. He speaks about his project with a fresh directness and sturdy comprehensiveness that gives away a practical mind. The artist should actually have become an architect. It turned out differently. He has become a visual artist who has made threedimensionality the subject of his enquiries. A large part of his oeuvre consists of architectural installations, based on existing spaces: from an architect’s office (‘re-flex/flex/re-flection’, Sint-Niklaas, 2010) to an anonymous passage in an art centre (‘Who Framed this House?’, Leuven, 2010) or the Broel Tower (‘Shifting Grounds’, Kortrijk, 2010). The artist invariably first analyses and surveys these spaces to study their potential. He then creates a changed, shifted or converted reproduction. Plasterboard and lathes, beams and boards are the main materials.

2
As a constructor, Demeulenaere pursues his artistic quest step by step, one project at the time, with a certain obstinacy. Gradually a logical and consequent evolution becomes noticeable in his oeuvre. For the early work ‘Grundriss’ (Waregem, 2006) the artist departed from the most basic transposition possible, namely a reduction in scale. First the artist created a model with a scale of 1:50 of the building of Be-Part, the platform for contemporary art in the province of West Flanders. A typical feature of the building is that is comprises two villa’s that are linked with an intricate architectural structure. In the studio of the art centre Demeulenaere then enlarged the model to a scale of 1:5; in it he put the smaller model, which thus becomes the smallest of three models that are nested like a set of Russian dolls.
In a later stage the transpositions become increasingly complex. For ‘Not Here... You Can Look Any Place…’ (Antwerpen, 2010, with Esther Venrooy) the artist uses the small spaces of the contemporary art centre Lokaal 01, which are situated next to the exhibition room. He has folded out all the walls of the spaces, which results in a horizontal installation with the folded out walls sometimes overlapping. At various levels, they are delimitated by piles of wooden frames. The installation and the space has become almost completely unrecognizable. Here and there the artist has added a grey board—an echo of the flat walls. It is no coincidence that Demeulenaere and Venrooy have chosen the adjacent exhibition hall to build their work—and not the spaces next to the exhibition hall, though the work is based on them. The choice bears witness to the fact that Demeulenaere is constantly searching how his installations can stand alone, only supported by a strong poetical energy. As such, the direct relationship with the original space becomes ever less important.

3
Yet on-site constructions in which the work and the space to which it refers cannot be understood separately still constitute the main part of Demeulenaere’s oeuvre. The space is the direct source of inspiration with regard to the work and conversely, the work guides the public’s eye back to the space, which is now perceived and experienced differently. No matter how rigorously Demeulenaere surveys the space before he embarks on his reproduction, precision is not his goal. Like Plato, who in his famous allegory of the cave asserts that the world we perceive is merely a vague shadow of an “ideal world” , Demeulenaere realizes that each reproduction—and consequently each attempt to translate a threedimensional reality into a blueprint or a model—in first instance involves a distortion, a deviation or some inadequacy. The systematic logic Demeulenaere strictly follows in the process of developing his work and the slight shifts and variations that nevertheless appear in the installation, spell out in a crystal-clear manner the intangibility of each and every three-dimensional reality. Corners, walls and doors suddenly claim other dimensions and proportions when shifted or viewed from a different perspective; spaces that were considered “stable”, turn out to be particularly complex and unstable. Other qualities cannot be subjected to reconstruction. As such, Demeulenaere’s installations make it possible to reveal the three-dimensional reality in its complexity and to reaffirm it in its instability.

4
It is interesting to note that Demeulenaere increasingly focuses on the more ephemeral qualities of a space. In 2010 for example, he starts to work with the light incidence , in each work in a different manner. The fact that the light incidence may particularly strongly define the space, is obvious from the architect’s office that inspired ‘re-flex/flex/re-flection’ (Sint-Niklaas, 2010). With cupolas and sidewindows the owner/architect has turned a long, dark passage into a pleasant, light space. Demeulenaere then decided to reproduce this light incidence with the aid of mirrors and slides projections in a scale model that is placed within the original space. His source of inspiration was Alfred Hitchcock’s film ‘Rope’ (1948). The film plays in an apartment in Manhattan, New York, and to make it credible, Hitchcock had to integrate the fall of the night in the studio set. As the narrative time coincides with the narrated time (i.e. the length of the narrative coincides with the length of the film), the time perception the film
maker evokes with artificial means, concurs with the perception of real time. Demeulenaere took this idea as his point of departure and in the architect’s office he reconstructed the light incidence as it is at a certain moment of the day—it is as if he briefly brings time to a halt. This snapshot in time he then confronts with the real light, which still from outside enters the space in which the installation is placed, thus also playing a part. The result of this confrontation is a subtle tension. Depending on the time of the day and the weather conditions, the “real” light is either more or less present than the artificial light. The installation therefore either becomes a more moderate or a stronger presence.

5
This subtlety actually constitutes the poetry of Demeulenaere’s oeuvre, but it also implies an active appeal to the visitor. As the perception of space is particularly individual and depends on personal sensitivities and a subjective physical and mental experience, a work by Demeulenaere cannot be interpreted by the visitor without neither entering personally the three-dimensional installation, nor without situating oneself with regard to the work. As is obvious from installations such as ‘re-flex/flex/re-flection’, ‘Not Here... You Can Look Any Place...’ and ‘Grundriss’, Demeulenaere’s installations never impose themselves upon the visitor, despite their size—the reverse is actually true: their austerity and purity lends them a particular modesty. The artist strips the spaces of their functionality and avoids all anecdotage that could impose an external meaning on the space. His work thus functions as a sort of shuttle that guides our eye towards the formal elements of the space, which we can then explore freely and in all openness. The slight shifts between work and space hint to the many, never entirely consistent possibilities the work comprises, which opens up a wide range of experiential and interpretative frameworks.
In this case the point is also beautifully illustrated by ‘Who Framed this House?’ (Leuven, 2010), another work in which the light incidence plays an important part. Demeulenaere created four sculptural modules, inspired by an anonymous passage in the art centre STUK in Leuven. It was typical of the artist that in his photographs of the space we could see slight variations with regard to the spatial dimensions, proportions and light incidence, depending on the camera angle. Demeulenaere thematizes this principle in closely juxtaposed modules that each reproduce a part of the passageway. Each time the light incidence is reconstructed with the aid of a single spotlight. Through overlaps the modules each refer to each other and play along with an element of recognition. But through their apparently arbitrary configuration and slight differences and shifts, they also create a fascinating instability that only opens itself to the visitor when he or she is inside the installation and seeks to reconcile the absurdity.

6
The degree of freedom Demeulenaere leaves the public, bears witness to an enormous generosity, which is also evident in the artistic exchanges and collaborations the artist often seeks quite consciously. For Demeulenaere, working together with another artist does not mean: arrive at a shared story through dialogue and compromise—what it does mean: enquire into various aspects and qualities of space departing from a shared fascination for the concept of “space”, each starting from his or her own background. The artists with which Demeulenaere works, disclose the blind spots that are inherent to his own discipline and work method, and complement them; through their interventions, Demeulenaere’s intervention acquires depth. At the same time, through these interventions Demeulenaere once more fathoms the never coherent interpretation or the intelligibility of a spatial reality. The most memorable joint projects with other artists are perhaps those with soundartist Esther Venrooy, who enquires into the sound qualities of space. To date, both artists have worked together on four projects, including ‘Shifting Grounds’ (Kortrijk, 2010), an installation the two created in the Broel Tower in Kortrijk on the occasion of the Happy New Flanders Festival. The open roof construction on the top floor of the building inspired Demeulenaere to create a similar scale model on all three floors, each time with shifted elements, for example with regard to height. Venrooy fixed transducers to the wood walls, a technology that turns the walls into speakers to spread the sound. The sound’s sharpness increases as one climbs the stairs of the tower.

7
For Demeulenaere, working together with other artists not only involves complementing his own artistic practice, but also enquiring into the status of (his) artistic calling. How does one create one’s own voice in the dense art world and how does one relate to fellow artists?
Demeulenaere ponders these questions in works in which his keenness on working with other artists and his interest in spatiality almost coincide organically with an enquiry into the (mental) spatial quality of his artistic reality. In works such as ‘Dirk Zoete Pavilion’ (Kortrijk, 2008) or ‘Sculptuur Paviljoen’ (Vlissingen, 2009) he does not work together with the artists Dirk Zoete or Jan van Munster— instead he articulates an artistic response to the work of these artists. ‘Dirk Zoete Pavilion’ for example is a construction of slats that incorporates letters that together spell out the name of the artist. In this installation Demeulenaere directly refers to a work by Zoete, namely an installation made with tires of tractors that together spell out the word “tractor”.
With this very direct reference, Demeulenaere raises the question how beyond the aspiration for artistic authenticity—the idea of artistic genius has been dead and buried for ages—artists can nurture each other’s work departing from mutual appreciation. For rather than a “copy”, Demeulenaere’s work is a significant shift: it involves a spelling out of the affinity the artist feels for Dirk Zoete, but also an artistic statement by Demeulenaere himself. In the case of Zoete’s ‘TRACTOR’, both the verbal element of the installation and the material used refer to the “signifier”, which materializes especially legible. Demeulenaere’s work is different: the slat structure completely dominates the text. The letters reveal themselves only slowly and only for the attentive public. Letters and words are often dominant elements, the first thing we are looking for as we search for meaning. They even turn up on the front of a book that is actually about images, though like any other signifier they can never entirely grasp reality. Demeulenaere strips the letters and words from their dominance when it comes to the transfer of meaning by letting the architectural structure take over. As a visual artist he lets them be slats first—slats with a visual quality—and only in second instance words that generate meaning. From his own background, Demeulenaere adds another dimension to words, just like Venrooy adds another dimension to Demeulenaere’s “images”. In the end we all use means we have chosen ourselves: the writer uses words, the visual artist uses images, the sound artist uses sound. When these various perspectives are combined, what we get is a richer image. And that fact is borne out by Demeulenaere’s work. And so it should be this publication.

September 2011