Eva Wittocx (M-Museum Leuven), commissioned by Sven Gatz, Flemish Minister for Culture, Media, Youth & Brussels
Dirk Braeckman in the Belgian pavilion
When you enter the pavilion of Belgium, your eyes will immediately be drawn to the intriguing pictures in grey tones. The photographs will be printed in large format on baryta paper. These frames will be in contrast with the white walls and the empty space of the pavilion. Many new works will be on display, probably together with a couple of older works. The term ‘new’ should be taken literally as Dirk Braeckman is still shooting new pictures at the time of publication of this article. The final selection will eventually be made during the set up in the pavilion. He will also show a few series, where he presents different pictures made from the same negative.
The crucial element in the art of Dirk Braeckman is his dark room. He works primarily with analogue images, developed from his huge archive of negatives which he collected over the years. In his dark room, he manipulates each image by working with light, exposure and chemicals. The only thing he doesn’t do is reframing the picture. This is decided at the moment of capturing the image and is never altered.
His pictures represent open stories and narratives and cannot be tied to a specific time or place. His subjects are therefore often unrecognizable. You will also find a lot of empty rooms in which time appears to stand still, with walls, curtains or windows as the main element. This anonymity is also the reason why you won’t find detailed titles below the works in the pavilion. The codes can only be deciphered by Dirk Braeckman himself and is only a way to archive his work. The date of each work is the moment when he makes the print in his darkroom (not when the negative was taken).
The exhibition could be seen as a response to the multitude and speed of images today. The Belgian pavilion might therefore look more sober than some of the other exhibitions with colourful installations, video or performances. It will however be a place where you should take your time to absorb the sense of stillness set by Dirk Braeckman and Eva Wittocx. I certainly recommend to visit it. The Belgian pavilion was one of the 9 national participations which immediately caught my attention, as you can read in ‘What to expect from the Art Biennale 2017’.
After the Art Biennale 2017, the exhibition will travel back to Belgium, where it will be on display at Bozar Brussels and M-Museum Leuven.
Dirk Braeckman was born in 1958 in Belgium. He has spent the past 25 years developing a gradual and impressive portfolio. Working with the medium of photography, he occupies a highly particular place and position within the visual arts. He has taken part in numerous exhibitions internationally such as recent solo shows at LE BAL (Paris), Fotohof (Salzburg), De Appel (Amsterdam) and S.M.A.K. (Ghent). Braeckman’s works are part of important private collections worldwide as well as European public collections, including FRAC Nord-Pas de Calais (Dunkirk), De Pont (Tilburg), Fondation nationale d’art contemporain (Paris), Central Museum (Utrecht), and Musée d’art contemporain et moderne (Strasbourg). There are also several publications on his artistic practice and oeuvre. Dirk Braeckman’s work has been represented by Zeno X gallery from 1999 onwards.
If you are interested in the relationship between Dirk Braeckman and curator Eva Wittocx, you can read about it in my post ‘The balancing act of the curators of the Art Biennale 2017’.
“The Belgian pavilion is the best space I could possibly imagine. I love the architecture of the building, the atmosphere as well as the Giardini and Venice itself. Participating in the Biennale feels like a victory for Belgian photography, which has never had a broad international platform within the visual arts.”
The Belgian pavilion was the first foreign pavilion in Giardini. It was built in 1907 for the 6th Art Biennale by the Brussels art nouveau architect Léon Sneyers. He designed it as a temple for art and decorated it with frescoes. Since then, the pavilion has been altered several times to make it more contemporary. Examples are the removal of the frescoes, the addition of the side rooms and the replacement of narrow doorways by large openings in the walls. On the outside, different elements were added to clearly identify the Belgian pavilion, such as the coat of arms with the heraldic device ‘L’union fait la force’ and the flagpoles. These changes were made by Belgian architect De Bosschère in 1930, then by the Italian Virgilio Vallot in 1948, and finally by Belgian architect Georges Baines in 1997.
The pavilion was in a bad state in the last couple of years, with water leaking through the roof. A complete restoration, with a new roof as well as improved lighting, is currently ongoing and will be finished before the Art Biennale 2017.
Viva Arte Viva
In line with the ‘Unpacking my library’ project of La Biennale di Venezia, the book which inspired Dirk Braeckman the most is ‘Evidence’ of Luc Sante. When he bought this book in the 1990s, the black and white pictures of crime scenes changed his view on photography. It became the basis for his typical pictures in grey tones.
Dirk Braeckman will participate in the ‘Tavola Aperta’ (Open Table) project where artists and visitors will have a casual lunch together to discuss the artist’s work. You can attend this lunch on October 11 next to the central pavilion in Giardini. Reservations are required. He has also created a video for the ‘Artists Practices Project’.
Belgium will also be represented at the ‘Viva Arte Viva exhibition’ of Christine Macel by Edith Dekyndt. She explores the limits of the relationship between art, science and reality. Using images, texts, videos, and simple technical solutions Edith Dekyndt raises questions relating to both the individual and global positions of people in society. You can watch some of her work in the video which she made for the Artist’s Practice project.
Jan Fabre takes part in the collateral events of the Art Biennale and will present ‘Sculptures Glass and Bone 1977-2017’ at Abbazia di San Gregorio. This exhibition is also one of my favourites and is therefore one of the 8 pavilions you cannot miss at the Art Biennale 2017.
Besides the official Art Biennale events, Belgium will also be represented in Venice by Axel Vervoordt, who will be exhibiting for the last time in Palazzo Fortuny. More details on this exhibition can be found in my post ‘Follow your Intuition to Palazzo Fortuny’.
Koen Vanmechelen designed the major installation ‘Protected Paradise’ for the magnificent garden of Palazzo Franchetti, next to the Accademia bridge and Canal Grande.
Review by The Venice Insider
The Belgian pavilion is always the second pavilion I visit at Giardini. This year, Dirk Braeckman put the bar very high for all the other pavilions which I still had to discover afterwards. His black and white, or black and grey in this case, prints of analogue pictures contrast beautifully against the white walls of the restored pavilion. Despite the dark colours, the images are very figurative and reveal much more than merely different shades of black. Thanks to the manipulation in his dark room, Dirk Braeckman creates lots of subtleties in his work. The intriguing works of art seem to have different layers, almost like paintings. While admiring the works, I almost forgot that I was looking at pictures. It’s certainly worth to visit the pavilion more than once. This will allow you to look at the photographs over and over again, in an attempt to grasp the stories behind the images. The Belgian pavilion is located near the entrance, so you could start and end your visit to Giardini with this astonishing exhibition. The Belgian pavilion is one of my favourites and is therefore one of the 8 pavilions you cannot miss at the Art Biennale 2017.
Katia – The Venice Insider
If you want to know more about the Art Biennale 2017 and the other national participations, this overview page is a good starting point. If you want to be informed about new pavilions being added to the site, you can subscribe to The Venice Insider biweekly newsletter.
(Picture in banner: © Dirk Braeckman, courtesy of Zeno X Gallery, Antwerp)
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