Wound Garden – Berlinde De Bruyckere at the Museum Hof van Busleyden

Issue no5
Oct-Nov 2019
Catalogue Imaginé

Berlinde De Bruyckere's current solo It almost seemed a lily at the Museum Hof van Busleyden is one of the artist's best shows so far, according to Ory Dessau.

It almost seemed a lily, Berlinde De Bruyckere’s current solo exhibition at the Museum Hof van Busleyden, Mechelen, marks a significant moment in the artist’s oeuvre. The exhibition originates from the crowning part of the museum’s permanent collection – the historical Enclosed Gardens (Besloten Hofjes). Scattered throughout the space in-between De Bruyckere’s works, the Enclosed Gardens are a unique sixteenth-century phenomenon of the Benelux countries: a small-scale industry of producing encased, miniaturized iconographic depictions of scenes from Christian mythology whose countless, meticulous details amount to a complete, self-sufficient three-dimensional picture of a paradise-like universe. The original function of these late-medieval case-sized garden dioramas is still partly obscure. Incorporating elements of different media – from flowering silk gardens embroidered with pearls, to polychromed clay statues, refined wooden fixtures, and handwritten scriptures – they now seem both ritualistic and decorative, a juxtaposition of a domestic altar with a boxed Wunderkammer. De Bruyckere encountered them in 2017. Inspired by the impact they left on her, she initiated a new group of works, which, along with seven Enclosed Gardens, comprise the core of this exhibition.

The connection between the Enclosed Gardens and De Bruyckere’s recent work is more than a local gesture. It almost seemed a lily presents De Bruyckere’s most radical and brutal group of works to date: an intersection of large-scale assemblages, reliefs and sculptural panel installations made from strata of aged blankets, centuries-old wallpaper, biomorphic configurations of cast wax, and provisional arrangements of wood and iron. The current group takes De Bruyckere’s recurring motives – the reconstruction of the uprooted tree, the dead animal, the flayed skin, and the dissociated bone as an incarnation of a sacrificial martyr body – and explodes them in space. Each of the works on view emerges as an open wound, both bleeding and congealed; as a rupture within the supposedly seamless screen of reality, and as an infected intervention in space, which turns the space into a physical substance in the course of decay.

Exhibition overview of It almost seemed a lily - Berlinde De Bruyckere at Museum Hof van Buysleden. photo: Sophie Nuytten

Exhibition overview of It almost seemed a lily - Berlinde De Bruyckere at Museum Hof van Buysleden. photo: Sophie Nuytten

In a five-meter-wide horizontal panel titled Pioenen (2017-2018) – Dutch for peonies – a deformed constellation of two scarlet wax bumps grows out of a stratum of wallpapers like a fungus that covers more than half of the work’s surface. The title of the work highlights the two wax bumps in affinity to an image of a withered plant, only to manifest it cannot become one. The work defies verbal and pictorial signification; it is almost an image, almost a peony. Moreover, the work confronts the “almost-image” of a withered plant with the flowery pattern of the wallpaper which the deformed constellation erupts from. It stages a regressive scenario from the flowery wallpaper – a domestic image of cultivated nature – to the two scarlet wax bumps that fail to signify a withered plant, and therefore embody a pre-post-cultural, pre-post-verbal state of things.

Another example demonstrating De Bruyckere’s complicity in the raw, formless, and basic aspects of human experience, is It almost seemed a lily V (2018). Like Pioenen, the work stages a regressive scenario, foregrounding elements which look like the remains of a dead bird out of the background of a petrified fine hair blanket.

Each of the works on view emerges as an open wound, both bleeding and congealed; as a rupture within the supposedly seamless screen of reality, and as an infected intervention in space, which turns the space into a physical substance in the course of decay

Exhibition overview of It almost seemed a lily - Berlinde De Bruyckere at Museum Hof van Buysleden. photo: Sophie Nuytten

Exhibition overview of It almost seemed a lily - Berlinde De Bruyckere at Museum Hof van Buysleden. photo: Sophie Nuytten

However, the work It almost seemed a lily (2017) introduces a different discussion. Unlike the two works mentioned above, it actually creates a figurative image of a gigantic withered flower, in relation to which the title changes its meaning. Instead of distinguishing the work from the domain of pictorial signification, it exposes this domain as a thin and not necessarily clear line between reality and illusion, presence and representation, life and death. The reference to pictorial signification as an intermediate zone between life and death also occurs when reading the title as an allusion to Ovid’s Metamorphoses, in the passages delivering the monologue of Apollo describing Hyacinth’s dead body as a stem-broken lily, followed by the transmutation event of Hyacinth’s blood into real flowers coming out of the ground the blood was pouring onto.

In It almost seemed a lily, De Bruyckere is both the artist and the curator. As curator she is also responsible for the scenography. She designed a new temporary architectural space inside and against the pre-existing given space of the museum. The new temporary space is organized as a sequence of free-standing walls arranging a row of separate L-shaped niches, within them each one of her works is paired with one Enclosed Garden. The breadth of the walls upon which her works are mounted corresponds to the dimensions of each work. The correspondence makes the appearance of each work an effect of a segmented, dislocated wall. The transitory energy of the installation is also suggested by the way the space is illuminated. Rather than an even flood of light, each work is illuminated by a separate spot which keeps the space between the works relatively dark, and as a result, discontinuous.

It almost seemed a lily V with on the right an Enclosed Garden. photo: Sophie Nuytten

Berlinde De Bruyckere, It almost seemed a lily, 2017. photo: Sophie Nuytten

The joint display of De Bruyckere’s recent works and the Enclosed Gardens can also be defined by ways of negation as a constant bi-directional movement between two poles. While the Enclosed Gardens are all about inwardness, self-contained sealed hermeticism and integrity, De Bruyckere’s works are boundless, fragmentary outbursts expanding in space. While the Enclosed Gardens are all about internalizing and overcoming the wounds of Jesus Christ within the confinements of a sanctified iconography, De Bruyckere pursues the blind experience of the bare body, prior to its symbolization.

Berlinde De Bruyckere, Pioenen, 2017-2018. photo: Sophie Nuytten

Berlinde De Bruyckere – It almost seemed a lily, Museum Hof van Busleyden, Mechelen, on show until 12.05.2019

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Metropolis M Magazine for contemporary art No 5 — 2019