by Steve Bisson

In June 2015, the Belgian section of Urbanautica, led by Dieter Debruyne with Nicolette Klerk, organized a portfolio review in collaboration with Zebrastraat in Gent. Together with the contributor editors Peter Waterschoot (Belgium), Klaus Fruchtnis (France) and the curator of Zebrastraat Isolde De Buck (Belgium) we have reviewed the works by a selected group of artist and photographers based in Belgium. I was delighted by the quality of the works presented, and happy to meet and talk with some artists whose research was not new to me. Here are some impressions about the projects that I reviewed.

This is certainly not the space suitable to introduce the work of Lieven Lefere. Dieter Debruyne has done this in the past months (read the interview from here). Here I briefly draw some interesting points of research on the Belgian artist and photographer. The first aspect is that his work translates some fundamental assumptions of postmodernist theorists. The concept of the simulation in Baudrillard’s words is well evident. Lieven Lefere not only reveals the process but reconstructs it to make it physically accessible in a public viewing machine. His installations have made me think about certain scientific and educational experiences in museums where you are shown how you get to a result. Therefore, since we talk about pictures, we can say that he practices the representation of the representation of reality. 

© Lieven Lefere, 'I Never Promised You a Horizon’ installation view, 2014

© Lieven Lefere, ‘I Never Promised You a Horizon’ installation view, 2014

In the works 'I Never Promised You a Horizon’ and 'A More Elevated Scene (Looking West)’ he plays with the given definition of landscape and the horizon by framing only a thin vertical line. Lieven Lefere, as he wrote us before, is «questioning the truth about perception, the ability to remember and the status of an image in relation to what we call reality», in a word our addiction to simulacra. His new work on the Mausoleum of Ho-Chi-Minh in Hanoi  represents a decisive step in this direction. He simulates (reconstruct) an entire inner space of the building through the memory (evidence) of a group of Western tourists.

© Lieven Lefere, ‘La Raison des Ombres’, 2015

Speaking of scenery, the work 'Damme - Hoeke’ by Benedict de Backere is absolutely impeccable. From a philosophical point of view I find it a valuable photographic work. According to Plato taught, there is no landscape, but the idea that each individual has of the landscape. And this comes from our own experience, and therefore the use of the senses. In the series of photographs taken from 2006 to 2008 Benedict de Backere snaps obsessively on the same landscape, on the same stretch of landscape. A repetitive look but necessary to highlight the distinction between idea and reality. A formidable performance.

© Benedict de Backere

Jasper Léonard introduced us well to the path that led him to develop a very personal attitude to photography. His work calls into question the future directions of photography. He does it by physically altering the perspective and the possibilities of use of the medium. The alteration of the lenses allow Jasper Léonard to build his own imagery, which ironically resembles a digital manipulation though led by a reconsideration of the analogical horizon. Therefore it’s the process rather than the aesthetic result which is more relevant in his work. The use of multiple exposure is a reminder of a need to disassociate from the post-production. 

© Jasper Léonard. Expo view of 5 light boxes with original dia positives

Jasper Léonard seems a craftsman rather than a artist. A photographer more interested in finding out the operation of the instrument to expand its possibilities, rather than in the application of a variety of “ready made” finishings available through an electronic computing. Most of all, he is building his tools to create his own language. And that’s a rare thing… (read interview by Dieter Debruyne with Jasper Léonard from here).

© Jasper Léonard. Three times exposed negative shifting the back of the camera. Fuji 100F Cambo + Schneider 90mm

The work 'Contemplative Landscapes’ presented by Isabel Devos worth a praise. The series pushes the viewer on the border between human and nature. Isabelle is able to see and to frame details and traces of the action of the water on the shores that lead the eye to imagine landscapes. An operation of abstraction that is not new. Still the results of Isabel are impressive and of rare beauty. 

© Isabel Devos, ‘Nuit sur mer #2’

© Isabel Devos, ‘Nuit sur mer #5’

Through photography Isabel gives us a pictorial view of the world, with an open and therefore contemplative mind. This is not just meant to re-discover the universe in a microcosm; in this act of recognition of the beauty of nature there is something redeeming. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder people say. And maybe it is, and there is no artifice, bank, wall, or anything that can truly contain it. Her landscapes retain an expressionist attitude, with a reminder of the essential color field research by Mark Rothko. 

© Mark Rothko, Untitled 1969

Together, however, there is a strong roughness and porosity, and the colors are dull and somewhat dramatic. All this brings me back to the late landscapes painting by William Congdom.

© William Congdom, Winter n.1, 1950

© Isabel Devos, ‘Les Dunes’

In the series of images presented by Nele Van Canneyt I found some images really well made. They look like frames cut from a movie that drive you intentionally in a specific atmosphere. Her way of photographing, to measure out the lights, to work with the colors easily guides to a cinematographic imagery. 

© Nele van Canneyt from the series ‘Darkness Lightness’

Nele Van Canneyt is very skilled at portraying people in a suggestive way, as if they were actors ready to tell a story. The reference to American painting of Edward Hopper is almost immediate from this point of view.

© Edward Hopper, Nighthawks, 1942, Art Institute of Chicago

© Nele van Canneyt from the series ‘World Inside, Outside’

© Edward Hopper, Night shadows, 1921. Gravure, 17,5 x 21 cm. Philadelphia Museum of Art : Purchased with the Thomas Skelton Harrison Fund, 1962.

© Nele van Canneyt, from the series ‘U.S.A: 2008-2011′, New Mexico

With a thoughtful operation Luc Rabaey builds through three images an archetype of peri-urban American skyline. The 'Liquors, Tattoos, Reptiles and Big Blue Sky’ reveals a symbolic use of the photographic medium to summarize the complexity of a cultural landscape. A sough and meditated composition that gives to each element a precise place. An immediate and quite effective reading.

© Luc Rabaey

This way of structuring the photographic vision, and therefore to break up the vision to foster a more continuous view (or ensemble) takes me back to the theoretical basis of the research of David Hockney and to the work of Paul Graham.

© Paul Graham installation view

Appreciable in this sense is the premise of Fred Van Hoof to work on the definition of a moment. He essentially practice an expansion of time through a repetition of family scenes which favors a cinematic vision that increases the feeling of being present in the moment. 

© Fred Van Hoof

Here again Paul Graham’s work is a good reference on how to break up a moment in visual stages.

© Paul Graham installation view

The work of Stijn Van Der Linden is a critical navigation, aware and curious about urban space. The series 'The future lies with the city’ depicts a search on the alphabet of the city: angles, lines, plans, constructs. An aesthetic and topographical vision. Stijn Van Der Linden plays with shapes, geometries and color tones while creating a series of pictorial palettes, sometimes minimal and abstract and in other cases more choreographic and vernacular.

© Stijn Van Der Linden, from the series ‘Concave City Corners’

© Stijn Van Der Linden, from the series ‘Lines and Planes’

The other two works are more conceptual and address a reflection on the possibility of street photography. Inspired by the functional blurring of people in google street view, in ‘人’ (the japanese symbol that describes the word ‘people’), the author voluntarily alter his images to distort the perception of the viewer. This is to cause a reflection on the duality (private-public) through which is usually observed the individual privacy on the streets and on the internet.

In the series ‘Not there’ he again translates into images the discomfort in portraying people in the streets. «… rather than focusing on the image of the real person, I try to capture only the imprint that they leave on the cityscape, even if only for a moment, by playing with shadows, light, reflections, … the people are still there, but they are at the same time absent, not fully there or even there at all.»

© Stijn van der Linden, from the series ‘Private-public duality’

The work presented by Aleksei Kazantsev, photographer of Belarusian origin based in Antwerp, is the record of a performance action or as defined by the author «amorphous self-portraits in twilight landscapes of urban forests». The photographer becomes the subject of his own image. He stages a dialogue with nature. His presence, however, is not descriptive, and seems to draw a mood, rather dark. White or black spots catch the eye, almost hovering clouds that appear alien to the contest. Some of these images are really very successful in translating the author’s intention. There seems to be something elusive in nature, and perhaps in our very nature.

© Aleksei Kazantsev from the series ‘Light Forms Grey Forms Dark Forms’

Instinctive, intuitive, emotional and confused as adolescence. The photograph of Sari Cansu defies labels. A diary of hazy memories, captured moments, and unspecified feelings. The viewer is lost in a puzzle of situations difficult to be reconciled. Like a journey without an apparent destination. The journey itself is the goal. 

© Sari Cansu

The young photographer Sanne Delcroix, who recently graduated at the KASK in Ghent, showed us a series of portraits of young people shot between Belgium and Scandinavia. Her intentions are well summarized in the statement that she wrote on this series 'Sessions’ «That’s why I like to photograph people, especially people I don’t really know. In the beginning there is a tension; but mostly, after photographing for a while, the disquiet shifts into concentration. This is the moment I want to capture. It’s brief and silent, but often very intimate.»

© Sanne Delcroix from the series ‘Sessions’

People are all portrayed in their homes, to make them feel more at ease and to obtain an intimate and relaxed atmosphere.  They are all clearly posed, and this creates silence. Everything lies in a quiet background. The figures portrayed are delicate, touched by a gentle light. Even males have feminine traits. The attitude of Sanne Delcroix recalls the freshness and delicacy of the Venetian Renaissance that has influenced the history of painting and in particular the study of portrait. The echo of the romanticism, the delicate faces of Francisco Goya or Francesco Hayes as many others, the debt to these great masters is inevitable. To photography goes the merit of reminding us of this.

© Jacopo Negretti, called Palma il Vecchio, Young Woman in a Blue Dress, with Fan, (1512 - 1514)

‘On a Horse with No Name’ the recent work by Matthieu Litt shows a documentary work still in the process of being edited. A rich archive of images alternating broad visions that guide us in the wildest side of Central Asia territories with portraits, signs, anecdotes that return the spirit of the journey and of its memory. A work made with appropriate means and with the time required to be not only a spectator. People appear to belong to the landscape (not vice versa), to mountains, wild lands, and horses. Many horses. In the midst of this there is still room for human gestures that appear like a mirage. And it is in this mirage that the message of the author is forged.

© Matthieu Litt, ‘On a Horse with no Name’

Undoubtedly these are images that intrigue and evoke. This is due to the ambiguous and contradictory aspects of this region in transition and to its exotic nature. Matthieu Litt portrays places that for their beauty and vastness easily move the imagination. However, what is remarkable about this young photographer is his willing to draw up and affirm his own poetic narrative. A sensible work on the remote region of the Faristan that with a careful editing could become a nice book to read.

© Matthieu Litt, from the series ‘On a Horse with no Name’

Finally I would like to point out some works of photojournalism. The series 'Onbestemdheid’ by Wim De Block of which I have mostly admired the photographs of empty rooms. I found them more radical, poetic and cold than the other distressing views taken along the way near Moscow and other places in Russia. 

© Wim De Block from the series ‘Onbestemdheid’

The work of Wim De Block highlights the different speed of development in this country, and the inevitable social and environmental rips that depend on it. The urban landscape portrait by Wim De Block has something decadent. Gray, bleak, lonely. There is a sense of abandonment, of deprivation. The emptiness and loneliness, well expressed in the empty rooms, is before a vacuum or rather a cultural renunciation. I hear the stern admonition of Leo Tolstoy in the views of the neglected countryside, the broken landscape and forgotten roots.

© Wim De Block from the series ‘Onbestemdheid’

The work of Geert van der Eede was a pleasant discovery. Or perhaps a rediscovery. His way of photographing faithfully evokes the tradition of photojournalism and retrieves a necessary humanity of the look. With great skill and consciousness he is able to capture precious moments of ordinary life, finding poetry in little things, suggest aspects of social and cultural anthropology. Most of all he is good to recognize those moments photographically significant and return them in his own way, through clever compositional skills. 

© Geert Van den Eede, Malang, Java, from the series ‘Semangat’, 2011

© Geert Van den Eede, Construction of “Floating Mosque”, Losari Beach, Makassar, from the series ‘Semangat’, 2011

© Geert Van den Eede, Kembali festival in Malang, Java, from the series ‘Semangat’, 2011

Finally I was happy to meet Sylvie De Weze that showed us her recent travel reportage on the island of St. Helena where Napoleon died in exile.

© Sylvie De Weze publication of the reportage on St. Helena island

© Sylvie De Weze