Wunderkammer Venezia 2013, Camera delle Meraviglie Contemporanea

Palazzo Widmann, Calle Larga Widmann (Rialto/ Ospedale)
55th International Art Exhibition
la Biennale di Venezia 
1 June –29 September 2013

The story of the curiosity cabinet can be traced back to the pharmacists and people of culture living in all four corners of Europe in the midst of the 16th century. These learned people were eager to build up huge collections of rare or curious objects evoking images of uncharted territories.

These collections of objects are akin to the treasures to be found in temples dating back to ancient times or churches built in the middle ages. Booties plundered in far-off lands or the relics of saints offering evidence of other worlds, representing a symbolic and political capital of great importance.
Curiosity cabinets act as a showcase for the animal, vegetable and mineral kingdoms, while incidentally holding a mirror up to human achievements. The pharmacist Ferrante Imperato published a catalogue of his collection in Naples back in 1599. His ‘Dell’historia natural’ featured all manner of items, including salamanders, crocodiles, books and remains, often offering interpretations that are surprisingly accurate and astoundingly wrong in equal measure, such as: “a genuine unicorn horn, a jar of dragon’s blood.” After all, once the scientific and intellectual arguments had been disposed of, whatever justification could there be for creating curiosity cabinets, apart from creating a dream world from authentic objects collected on
markets and conjuring up unfamiliar worlds?
Over the centuries, the curiosity cabinet has set about revealing tenuous links, key relationships, between remote realities and kingdoms symbolised by hybrids. Accordingly, the collector provides the layperson with a true revelation, an environment for showcasing the secrets of reality. Athanase Kircher, a German Jesuit scholar from the 17th century, who spent most of his life in Rome at the Roman College of the Society of Jesus, was hailed as one of the greatest scholars of his age. The following was painted on the ceiling of his museum: “Whosoever recognises the chain linking the underworld to the overworld shall discover the mysteries of nature and create miracles!”
Curiosity cabinets strive to develop a consistent understanding of the world inherited from ancient times, while heralding the contemporary era. They also offer opportunities for the development of ingenious thinking committed to enchantingly outstanding traditions.
The aim is not necessarily to collect and list objects in the manner of the 18th century encyclopaedists, but in fact to reveal the innermost secrets of Nature in all its fantastic glory.
The Wunderkammer exhibition is fittingly focused on the links between nature and creative activity, discoveries and a new espousal of nature. The collection of works on display, as though in a cabinet, is attuned to the noble principles of unity linking together all manner of things. At the centre of our occupations, contemporary artists tap into an inexhaustible reserve of shapes and colours, materials and objects, furthering their development in the light of achievements that are both unique and part of our heritage. Tattooed skulls, animals stuffed and stretched, human bones wound with red threads as a fine emblem of the relationship between artificialia and naturalia. They might not always be aware of the fact, but these artists are part and parcel of the continuing nature of the history of curiosity. These authentic works are collected together wunderkammer-style, and the same is obviously true of the accompanying texts - everything is true, humankind says so!


Pascal Bernier
Born in 1960, Pascal Bernier lives and works in Brussels (Belgium). The artist describes himself as a painter who is interested in the conditions relating to the perception and production of images. His oeuvre revisits the pictorial tradition of still life and vanitas.Through installations, videos, sculptures and photos, Pascal Bernier depicts a disenchanted natural world: bandaged animals, mummified stuffed toys, dying butterflies, the industrialisation of animal breeding, disappearing species, etc. His work is poetic and critical, humourous and totemic. Art and death are intimately bound. Both disturbing and amusing, Pascal Bernier’s work raises questions about human nature. He invites us to discover a universe in which nature is revisited by man and his world. He presents to us our industrialised society, occupied with absorbing nature to make it our own, so that it meets the needs of production and profitability, and how we risk maltreating it.

Ulrike Bolenz
Born in Germany in 1958, Ulrike Bolenz is a photographic artist who now lives in Brussels (Belgium). Her works are held in several private and public collections. She has participated in a number of European art fairs, such as Art Elysées in Paris, the Berliner Liste in Berlin and Zebra in Belgium. Ulrike Bolenz examines transparency by encasing photographed silhouettes in plexiglas. By offering them a second skin tattooed with acrylic, she reinforces the expression of the bodies and faces which burst forth from the medium to confront the viewer. Her choice to hang them, suspended, accentuates the unreal effect of her work. We are faced head-on with these imprisoned ghosts in their immaterial lives. Tangible links to reality are gone; instead, these furtive shadows attempt to establish a dialogue. We sense the temptation to reach an inaccessible goal, towards which all energy is directed. This poetic universe affects us, because during our lives we too pass from shadow to light and from light to shadow.

Charley Case
Born in 1969 in Brussels (Belgium), where he lives and works, Charley Case is an artist who works with multiple media, and it would be pointless to try and associate him with any contemporary art movement or scene. A citizen of the world, free and nomadic, this versatile artist produces installations, performances, lithographs, drawings, watercolours, photographs and videos... to express his attachment to Life, Humankind and the Earth. Since he is so versatile, you can always expect the unexpected with Charley Case’s work. Charcoals, inks and watercolours bring to life a world of images, vacillating from light to darkness, from the origin of man to his end. His works make viewers reflect upon themselves, on the human body and its presence in a natural environment. The use of circles, rings and spirals underlines the importance he attaches to the temporal dimension. His large tondi, which feature crowds of figures engaged in perpetual movement, confront man with his own life cycle and continually remind us that time is passing. Similarly, the human skulls engraved by Charley Case illustrate his vision of an existence that is perpetually beginning anew…

Eric Croes
Born in 1978 in La Louvière (B), Eric Croes is a graduate of the sculpture studio at ENSAV La Cambre. His work encompasses numerous art forms – he is a sculptor, painter, video jockey, wallpaper designer, theatre designer, singer and graphic artist. With plenty of derision, this young multi-talented artist turns kitsch imagery upside down within a universe that is raw and sometimes disturbing. His motifs, which are usually drawn from sentimental, mawkish iconography, create powerful misappropriations. His subtle mastery of ambiguity and paradox transforms these visual shocks into veritable poetic assaults.
Through the prism of his wild imagination, the most inoffensive images can become the foundation for tragic scenarios. Using a simple and effective vocabulary, Eric Croes sounds the death knell for the enchanted happiness of snow globes. Imminent danger now looms over these tiny worlds. Threatened by malevolent creatures, his leisurely campers or boats out at sea, which he presents under domes, are all destined for a cruel fate. The artist has made us complicit in all this, so we are merely gigantic powerless spectators in the face of these miniaturised dramas.

Dany Danino
A graduate of the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels and the winner in 2007 of the Prix Jos Albert, awarded by the Belgian Académie Royale des Sciences, des Lettres et des Beaux-Arts, Dany Danino (born in 1971; lives and works in Brussels) employs a dense, personal figurative style characterised by the use of blue ball-point pen. Highly expressive, he saturates the page with blue ball-point pen, bringing the medium to the fore as it frames the drawing, in which detail is just as important as the surface, which he traces over and over, backwards and forwards, with his pen. His is an iconography that draws its essence from the media swirl, which feeds into a personal and obsessive body of work. Dany Danino composes a free score, deploying a seething unconscious ready to unleash a new being to the world, which is somewhere between Eros and Thanatos, between sublimation and hallucination. Atomic mushroom clouds, fantasy bestiaries, skinned anatomical studies, skulls, vulvas or hearts are led by necessity to express the flux of existence and, at the same time, primal fear. Lithography, silkscreen printing, etching and scratching are also among the numerous techniques he uses to generate an orgy of textures and materials, of wildly contrasting surfaces.

Wim Delvoye
Wim Delvoye, who was born in Wervik (West Flanders) in 1965, lives and works in Ghent (Belgium). The enfant terrible of Belgian contemporary art, provocative and amusing, Wim Delvoye likes to open the doors to all manner of artistic reflections by bringing different worlds together. For example, the science laboratory becomes the Cloaca machine. Ancestral tattoos are applied to unwitting pigs. Wim Delvoye treats contemporary art like a man of his time: everything around him is fair game for his artistic journey. A businessman and CEO of a company, he is also a poet whose only frontier is his imagination... which is boundless.

Human intestines, rude gestures, kisses, fellatio, pregnant virgins on ironing boards and copulating pigs are X-rayed and attain the status of pagan stained-glass windows. These X-rayed pieces of flesh reveal their atheist message when seen through the light of stained-glass windows, which in the past were used to transfigure holy messages. Where once, in churches, stained-glass windows assured worshippers of the transition from Earth to Heaven, Delvoye’s take the viewer inside the body. This combination of stainless steel and glass forces us to think about the body and the soul, purity and impurity, religion and abjection.
Grimacing and cynical, the skulls, bones and their by-products are afforded the luxury of being interpreted as modern vanitas images. These are all sacrilegious acts represented in the medium associated with the Christian religion; these are illustrations of the sins of the flesh in a format normally reserved for the expression of purity and abstinence.

Laurence Dervaux
Laurence Dervaux, born in Tournai in 1962, lives and works in Kain (Belgium). Before revealing themselves, the artist’s sculptures and objects present an aesthetic vision which immerses the visitor in a journey which leads them from the enjoyment of looking to discomfort. The seductive appearance of her sculptural constructions quickly makes way for an identification of the materials she has used. Uncertainty therefore works its way into the hollows of this mysterious ambiguity. The artist explores the fragile line between reality, the appearance of reality and its representation, to put in place illusory devices. So if the top of a human skull can be interpreted, at first glance, as a closed shell, the initial form reveals itself to be a piece of a cranium covered in gold leaf, and only when its reflection is seen in a mirror. Our initial fascination is replaced by a feeling of revulsion that is inherent in the material of this vanitas. The artist is seeking to represent the grandeur and fragility of the human body. The seductive devices used in Les Ossements humains bobinés de fil rouge (Human bones wound with red thread) create a subtle interplay between the evocation of a form, its power of attraction and the reality of what is being shown. The symbol of the human condition, updated and reactivated, causes a progressive and transgressive wavering. This work, which is both appealing and oppressive, and the thread that underpins it, weaves a different vision of being.

Olivia & Yves Dethier Droeshaut
Olivia Droeshaut, born in 1972, and Yves Dethier, born in 1967, live and work together in Brussels (Belgium).
Immersed in the world of fashion photography, they go beyond narrative subjects to offer a highly personal vision of their work. ELLE, Gentleman magazine and even the magazine Ladies regularly publish their photographs, but in 2004 they won 1st prize in the Belgian Fuji Awards 2004, for a series of portraits of Belgian athletes participating in the Olympic Games in Athens. In their constantly evolving artistic output, Olivia Droeshaut and Yves Dethier both seek to represent humanity, in all its intimacy and weakness.
Their approach consists in creating a phantasmagoric narrative through elaborate compositions. Take, for example, the series of portraits of Belgian celebrities from Wallonia, including Benoît Poelvoorde, Albert Frère, Jean Galler and Julos Beaucarne, which they presented in 2007 at Paris CWB Beaubourg.
For Olivia Droeshaut, photography is an integral element of life’s journey. Her work is cathartic, revealing her inner self, pushing her to her limits, and compelling her to go beyond them. Through the multitude of images she scrutinises, with cruelty and innocence, it is her own demons she finds looking back at her.
Yves Dethier approaches his art as an existential quest, always on the lookout for rare, shared moments in an otherworldly space and time. The artistic exchange develops from their coming together, and the form emerges from the models they have met. Creating a fiction, these ephemeral vibrations tousle the invisible thread which links all of us together. Olivia Droeshaut and Yves Dethier’s work is highly personal, and reveals a world that is both sombre and light-hearted. Their work is introspective: they like to unleash the demons to better understand what drives human beings in general.

Jacques Dujardin
Born in 1956, Jacques Dujardin lives and works in Tervuren (Belgium). In moulds that are clearly defined by the artist, his strange, ambiguous representations come to life like clones. His human figures are identical silhouettes, shadows with a human appearance. Is it a man or a woman? Are we looking at the front or the back? Jacques Dujardin uses caul fat from pigs and grass seed, the sprouting and growth of which are an integral part of the creative process and its conceptualisation. The caul fat, which he cuts up meticulously, following its contours, is something Dujardin has been familiar with since childhood: the son of a butcher, as a boy, every Wednesday he would go with his father to the abattoirs. The vital function of caul fat is to feed the body with digested nutrients and prevent the propagation of viruses and bacteria in the blood. Dujardin confronts us with the precarious nature of human existence, and with our primary functions: eating, digesting, living and dying. The contrast between these cloned figures and the materials he uses clearly evokes the issue of the use of appearances and man’s fantasy of attaining immortality. A dream of inaccessible perfection...Jacques Dujardin’s plant-based portraits perfectly converge with his works made from animal
fat. The grass seed, also scattered within a limited framework, germinates, sprouts and grows within its boundaries, working its way towards the light to finally wither and dry out.

Jan Fabre
Jan Fabre was born in 1958 in Antwerp (Belgium), where he still lives and works. A graphic artist, sculptor, choreographer and theatre director, the polymorphous nature of his work makes him a truly unclassifiable artist. Known for his sculptures of beetles – insects that were revered in ancient Egypt – his work has evolved towards installations which express his fantastical universe. The human body is confronted with metamorphoses, in an exploration of the major themes of life and death. The artist brings to life creatures from an unknown bestiary, following the pictorial tradition of the Flemish Primitives. Animality exists within each of us and can come out in the most astonishing guises. Science, art and madness unite to produce an exhilarating creation, which cultivates and celebrates the macabre side of life.

Alessandro Filippini
Born in Rome in 1946, Alessadro Filippini lives and works in Beersel (Belgium). Tracing is the subject that Alessandro Filippini has been interested in ever since he was a student – first at the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome, and later at La Cambre in Brussels. The artist appropriates the free space that surrounds him. The verb ‘to trace’ has accompanied him throughout his career. The power of the verb gives the word a different scope, an intrinsic, meaningful power, which opens the door to all manner of interpretations and to the interplay of feelings. The power of passing time, memory and its traces, inscribed in the depths of the soul, play tricks on the viewer’s gaze. How can we relive all of the lives we have held in our hands, if not by imprisoning them in a glass urn? Here, remainders of life, those miniscule traces we leave behind as we pass through it, are shut away to evoke a sense of transition, a transition which also presents us with an image within an image of the everyday. 30 years of stories, touched, washed, bitten guarantees of life passing.
In all of his work, narration becomes contemplation. He has a deep need to change the role of the viewer from reader to inventor of stories. In other words, Alessandro Filippini’s work is not an end in itself but an activation of dreams.

Manuel Geerinck
Born in Brussels (Belgium) in 1961, Manuel Geerinck has lived and worked in New York since 2003. His work is situated somewhere between abstraction and figuration, with references to biology and the natural world, of a rather mysterious, indescribable origin. Sight is an equivocal sense. Our brains rush to correct our perceptions and update our reference points. And if Geerinck’s work re-immerses us into some of our feelings, it’s probably because he weakens the thin wall that keeps back our taboos and represses our life and death impulses. To the point where the wall becomes visible. His photos, which have not been digitally retouched in any way, generate intense curiosity on the part of the viewer. The mobiles and the cut up drawings are placed in a setting. In this situation, as in his paintings, Manuel Geerinck takes us to the boundaries of figuration, in a space of mysterious reserve comprised of palpable materials.
There is a certain fluidity at play in these chromogenic prints; here, the dark side of painting is exacerbated in such a way that it always appears in fetish form. After leaving the more traditional medium behind to some degree, his decisive return to the visual arts necessitates a reaction from the world of photography.
Geerinck has taken the initiative himself by organizing the choreography of his own pictorial productions to give them a new status; the dancing body of the painted image becomes a photograph that defies classification.

Jean-Luc Moerman
Born in 1967, Jean-Luc Moerman lives and works in Brussels (Belgium). His universe is characterised by strange, abstract forms in colours that are sometimes very bright, or even fluorescent, which come to life across multiple media: canvases, posters, photos, stickers, objects, etc. His work is informed by a multitude of influences, including street life, graffiti, comic strips, manga, science fiction, fashion and advertising. Not only does Jean-Luc Moerman draw tattoos on photos of celebrities, politicians and old paintings, but he also likes to produce gigantic wall paintings. ‘I construct a universe, I invent a polymorphous, open reality made out of mutant, hybrid objects which no referent can explain or justify. My pieces are only justified by the environments that accommodate and continue them, the places which bring them alive, the people that move them and make them active. I see my work as a multiple proliferation of adjustable, multidirectional forms, stripped of all authority, which cannot be indexed and have no assigned provenance, and short-circuit dualities – good and evil, positive and negative, the infinitely big and the infinitely small, the world and the subject, outside and inside. My forms evolve, they move, they create new possibilities, but they do not supersede anything, they are not fighting anything – they are simply seeking to incessantly change direction.
Hybrids, mutant objects, are produced by accident, and their only chance of survival is to evolve, to make their abnormality a place of reinvention: although they should have disappeared, the mutant beings change direction, turning their abnormality into positive creation. For me, the hybrid is a new form of thinking, of seeing the world, of constructing and deconstructing it.’ (Jean-Luc Moerman)

Michel Mouffe
Born in 1957, Michel Mouffe lives and works in Brussels (Belgium). With Michel Mouffe, we are simultaneously in the presence of a monochrome painting detached from the wall and a unicolour sculpture which has been polished almost industrially. Aesthetic discourse becomes the single purpose of an extremely formal body of work that eludes the canons of traditional beauty. Because the beauty of a form lies, for the most part, in its formal description – a bubble, a tear or a droplet.
So how do we talk about indescribable work which is non-formal and non-conventional? Michel Mouffe’s artistic investigations have led him to break the frame of the canvas and distort his structures, seeking all the while to redefine the indescribable substance of colour. Reflections, nuances, variations in tones, fibres and rhythms, everything in Mouffe’s work goes back to the substance. At present, his medium is inevitably becoming a three-dimensional sculpture, as beautiful as a form created by nature, an object that appears to have evolved without human intervention. This may be the path that the artist is offering us.

Vincent Solheid, an artist who works across numerous media, was born in Malmédy in 1968 and now lives and works in Brussels (Belgium). In 2011 he wrote his first feature film, Le Grand’ tour, but this is just one aspect of the vast output of this artist, who likes to open all the doors of creativity. The film was selected for the Rotterdam International Film Festival, the Cannes Festival... the list goes on… Music, concerts, performance art, and the ‘Revues Freaksviliennes’, in collaboration with Jacques Duval and Juan d’Oultremont, are just a few examples which show that, where Vincent Solheid is concerned, in the creative process you can smash boundaries and pursue your artistic passions to the full. The consistent yet unclassifiable theme running through his work is his love of carnival: those hotly awaited days when you can step through the looking glass. Inside this paranthetical world, everything can be or seem to be completely different, nothing is truly certain, but yet it is still very much there. The artist knows how much of what he shows is possible, but then again, not always... Plaster figures of saints, Virgin Marys and Christs become plastic toys, caricatures or masks to wear. And what if man could really become a saint one day?

Bénédicte van Caloen
Born in Bruges in 1960, Bénédicte van Caloen lives and works in Waterloo (Belgium). The sculpted world of Bénédicte van Caloen builds a sparse dialogue of the figure and of space in a relationship which strives towards absolute truth and the uniqueness of the subject. The artist creates an exchange, a relationship of connivance between his totemic effigies. These countless characters rise up in their immediacy, and their discourse underpins the most human expression of all: looking. Bénédicte van Caloen’s totems are also sacred fetishes, bearing a history that the group only reveals when absolutely necessary. The symbol that inhabits the object is decoded and perceived differently by each individual spectator in a unique moment of interaction with its world. Because the population created by the artist is above all our own. The artist aspires to produce an entirely theoretical union between formal power and technical fragility. And this is precisely where we find one of the keys to understanding her work. Because in reality, Bénédicte van Caloen is first and foremost an engraver: her studio is full of papers, rags and inks... assortments of humidity and earth, of recycled paper and glue. A shadowy world of umber. Her engravings, on lino and wood, are studies of rhythm and ink. Her papier-mâchés, sculpted onto three-dimensional structures, become sculptures.
She takes us into a world of sculptures, shadows and light. A world of the full and the empty. A world that brings us close to a kind of meditation.

Patrick van Roy
Born in Brussels in 1972, Patrick van Roy lives and works in Brussels (Belgium). He makes large-scale portraits of teenagers printed on Plexiglas and backlit, a bit like the advertisements you find at bus shelters.
The facial features belong to one girl and three boys. It is a strange composition with the three boys’ features filling the space occupied by the girl’s. However, the ensemble presents an image of a very pretty teenage girl. The essence of this work is to offer us a vision of a portrait like one you would find in a book.
However, the story is something else altogether, it is the portrait that needs to be read. Reading into the work leads us to the dangers and lacerations within these fragile beings and each of these portraits bears the pain and scars of a life barely lived. Paradoxically, photography, which is supposed to show us what’s true, here proves its ambiguous nature in these completely false and recomposed portraits.
Their beauty lies in the proportion of their parts. This is the ‘Great Theory’ beloved by the Renaissance painters, which reached its apogee in 1520. Here too, we find some of the disquiet, surprising and agonizing beauty of Mannerism. The ‘Arcimboldo-esque’ recomposition of the photograph poses questions about the notion of beauty, and all the more so because the artist presents us with full-face, conventional, gracious portraits, but in which the provocative gaze of the subjects follows and derides us.

Sofi Van Saltbommel
Sofi van Saltbommel was born in 1973, and lives and works in Brussels (Belgium). A multidisciplinary artist, her work, which is mostly in porcelain, celebrates contemporary ceramics.
Leaving behind taboos and modesty, Sofi Van Saltbommel’s sculptures candidly reveal her sensual and ironic vision of femininity. Women, femininity and fertility are at the heart of her forms, while never giving themselves fully. Objets trouvés, assemblage, sewing, or the association of anodyne or intimate objects related to femininity – sanitary towels, teats, sponges, rubber gloves, etc – convey the emotion of the body in transformation, ephemeral female beauty.
Clay evokes essential, original, sensory values. Its malleability leads the artist to explore emptiness, hollow space, moulds and casts. Based on the act of marking, in her sculptures she brings together undefined fragments to build creeping or sagging sexual organs, mineral masses or fossilised flowers. Her use of fragments of feminine adornments (nylon stockings, fake fur, etc) confounds any overly immediate inferences about ceramic materials.
Sofi van Saltbommel’s oeuvre constantly refers to proximity with the body. And although her ceramics have both an attractive and repulsive effect, they are also gaps into which the imagination intuitively dives.

Organisation: Galerie Antonio Nardone & vzw rond point des arts, curator Antonio NARDONE