Close to the action
Friday, October 21, Jente Waerzeggers will spoil us with a double performance of his new collaboration with Mathieu Serruys for STUK at Studio Manhattan. But this is not the only project the Leuven-based audiovisual artist is working on: from photography to music and from music to publishing, Waerzeggers’ pursuits span a wide variety of media. Join in as we talk about music, photography, the printed medium and the new generation of underground creatives from Leuven and beyond.
Can you tell us some more about yourself? How did you get into music and photography?
Since I was young, I’ve always been involved in different things, never being limited to one interest. I spent a long time in the conservatory in Leuven after school, learning guitar and skating after class. I was also into making skate videos - there have always been all kinds of things going on with me. In high school, I started skating seriously, and a lot of what I was interested in came together there: making videos, taking photos, and combining music with everything. It was pretty much the first aesthetic I got to know and most of what I do now actually grew out of that. Those experiences had a super big influence on me back then - even in my photos, you notice that I come from there, and I like to get very close to the action, to the people. A lot of my music knowledge also came from checking out skate videos.
You have been described as a multidisciplinary artist, working with photo, video, sound and text. Do any of your artistic pursuits take precedence over the other ones?
I think most people know me as a photographer; you could say, outwardly, that it's my main thing. I’m not a fan of the word ‘multidisciplinary’ - I see myself more as an audiovisual artist. For me, that term describes much more clearly what it's all about: the audiovisual, separated from each other, or in combination with each other. When I take pictures, for example, it's mainly inside the music scene, which in itself presupposes the audiovisual. It's very broad, but it's mainly about the audiovisual, and that can be in the most diverse ways. Besides, I'm also not really in the business of labelling myself for what I'm doing. That would only hold me back, I think.
I'm not really in the business of labelling myself for what I'm doing
I know it’s a cheesy question, but considering your diverse interests, what are your biggest sources of inspiration regarding music and photography?
Obviously, the people and artists surrounding me give me the greatest inspiration. But I notice that I get obsessively interested in work that feels relatable to who I am. Often, these are sources that are on the verge of underground and popular culture, terms that are almost blurred out either way. My first influence must have been MGMT - I have been a big fan since I was 9 years old and heard Kids in FIFA 09. Their first album was the first I ever bought and I have collected all of their albums ever since. I remain obsessed with their balance between complex and simple, psychedelic and realistic, being both pop stars and underdogs. Furthermore, I have been influenced by the perfectly chaotic soundtracks of the Bronze 56k skate videos, by looking into the work of Nan Goldin, Harmony Korine, Juergen Teller and Mark Leckey and by collecting records or books from artists, labels and publishers. I'm not into art history at the moment - I'm more interested in what's new.
Looking at young artists coming from Leuven and around, do you think there’s something like an overarching ‘scene’ from Leuven?
Just as it can be difficult as an artist to talk about your own work, it is also difficult to talk about the Leuven scene from within. It is a fact, though, that there are simply a lot of young people coming from Leuven who have found their way into the Belgian cultural landscape, and in that sense, there is a scene – many of those people know each other too. It is striking, though, how many people from Leuven have made their mark in recent years, such as AliA, Otis, Kuba’97, TCBE, Jef Roels and collectives like Affair, Slagwerk, Veduta and Horst. In Leuven itself, more is happening than before. Finally, after more than a decade, people are coming to Leuven to check things out [laughs].
Yes, I always have the feeling it is hard for Leuven to become ‘cool’ in the eyes of people from Brussels, Ghent or Antwerp.
Indeed, Leuven is also uncool in the eyes of many people from Leuven itself! [laughs] But it's good to see that changing now. When I was in secondary school, I already felt that there was a kind of new generation in Leuven. We were often going out in town and in places like ’T Gewelf, where Perron Zes also organised parties and things did happen. Slagwerk also came into being then and started organising events: there was already a Leuvense crew mixed with some people from around Brussels (period of 2013-2018), and it actually still exists today. I'm very curious to see how that will evolve.
When I was in secondary school, I already felt that there was a kind of new generation in Leuven
A sizable part of your work shows the appreciation and need for the printed medium: you are one of the founders of Not So Difficult magazine and you also publish your own photography via (y) publishing, most recently a catalogue titled 360°. Do you think there’s a future for niche magazines in an increasingly digital world?
As a photographer, the printed medium still remains ‘the furthest' you can take your work. Looking at my own interests and evolution, the printed medium has always played a big role; I was always browsing magazines, from skate booklets to music magazines. Therefore, it has become something I have always wanted to do myself. I think the medium of a book or magazine is just super nice to work with. (y) publishing is actually a publishing house that I am starting up with Emile De Geyndt. We are certainly not writing off digital, but the work we make simply demands a physical medium. We want to bring our work into the world as a physical object. That's something that remains important, I think. Archiving also plays a big role, which is actually what we are doing with Not So Difficult: wanting to be timeless and create an archive of the artists of our time. Publishing things on a physical medium is actually kind of the ultimate form of archiving, that way everything gets its place… That’s something I value a lot.
Archiving also plays a big role, which is actually what we are doing with Not So Difficult
Nice of you to bring this up. I'm into the printed medium myself and archiving always plays a big role. In doing so, things that are ephemeral and ephemeral can really be pulled out of digital to become something tangible.
Indeed, digital things also just get lost quickly and that's just how the internet works. For some art forms that is perfect, but for many things I do, I feel like the physical medium remains important. For example, writing a book and then not publishing it physically will always be strange. It may fit within the concept of the book, but still, for me, the book will continue to need that physical medium. Actually, it was a school assignment about three years ago that gave me a click on that front. We had to create something that could be published, and in that process, everything kind of fell together. That’s when I realised that publishing and editions were a suitable medium for my work. Eventually, my final project resulted in (y) publishing's first publication entitled 360°, a series of close-up portraits and an ode to the community.
Back to music: Friday October 21 you will be having a try-out with Mathieu Serruys for STUK at Studio Manhattan (where the legendary soap opera Thuis is recorded). What can we expect?
Well, about six months ago, Mathieu I and started making music together. We noticed that there was a kind of similarity in our music, something that overlapped. I was actually a fan of Mathieu's music before we worked together – our tryout on 21 October will be the first time we perform together. You could describe it as experimental and droney electronica - very intimate, actually. We started making loops from my guitar pieces and other recordings, and now we are going to translate that to a live set, of which the loops and their varieties will be the centrepiece.
On which future plans are you working on right now? I can imagine you’re a busy bee, being a part of Kontakt Group, De Nooit Moede (†) and also organising the adventurous hip hop festival Kermis in de hel on the 8th of October at Studio Manhattan.
I'm working on several separate projects at the moment, but I would say (y) publishing constitutes my major focus for the future. In the longer term, (y) publishing should mainly become a platform for various printed media rather than for myself – I am looking for opportunities to make the platform serviceable to other artists. There are so many young people who make good, interesting things, but simply cannot find a platform for it and I want to do something about that. Getting into a publishing house or music label these days is very difficult, so I would love to publish the work of artists whose work I believe in.