I just want to take everything outside, placing monuments on the street

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Belgian artist, Sergio De Beukelaer’s work is abstract, yet immersive. On view right now in Cultuurcentrum Mechelen is -… , an exhibition organised by Museum Hof van Busleyden & De Garage. In three acts, each with a different colour at its core, we step into a new and seemingly virtual reality. We visited the expo with Ghent-based artist Sybren Janssens. In his own words a young bricoleur, Sybren has an interest in creating immersive spaces and works that transgress the boundary between organic and mechanical. In the cold January air, we sat down just outside of the expo to talk about the seductive quality of colour, the integration of contradictions into artworks, and the sake of art itself.

What do you think of the exhibition?

Sergio De Beukelaer works very spatially, that is comparable to the way in which I work. I make installations, sculptures and within those works, moving installations with a nod to kinetic art. I try to bring these into juxtaposition with drawings, stationary sculptures into a larger spatial structure, creating sort of a new universe, a Gesamtkunstwerk. 

You speak about uniting seeming contradictions, such as moving and still objects.

I like the dialogue happening between a familiar object that I encounter somewhere — something I find and would like to do something with it — and the constructed bricolage that I make myself. I am kind of dependent on that dialogue.

The union of seeming contradictions is something that is also mentioned in the foreword to the exhibition we just attended. Do you recognize your own vision? 

I recognize more than I would have thought. The work is very stylised. Everything emits this seemingly calm, zen feeling, considering each aspect on its own. When you actually enter the space, this becomes a creepy atmosphere, despite the colourfulness of the rooms. His use of colour and form, those thick marshmallow figures on the wall… It is like Candyland that you end up in, but it feels almost claustrophobic.

Are you working on specific projects right now?

I am working on all kinds of things. On the one hand, I am still working on installations and looking for new ways to bring life into my artworks. On the other hand, I am getting a bit tired of being shackled to the atelier, where I’m spending a lot of time. I’ve been working productively and ended up with a pile of work, but I cannot really do something with it at the moment. I am looking for ways to exhibit my work, away from museums, schools and other institutions. I just want to take everything outside, placing monuments on the street. This way, I'm almost forcing people to look at my work. Or at the very least, I would give them a chance to see something and give myself a chance to exhibit.

I spend more time working on things in the atelier now, instead of ‘sponging’ around

Here comes the obligatory corona question…

The lockdown does not really influence me or my work. I am still keeping busy. Sometimes I feel limited, but that rather means I have to switch to a different way of working. I spend more time working on things in the atelier now, instead of ‘sponging’ around. Being tied to the atelier, I gained new insights to make my work sharper. There might be an indirect influence, but it does not exactly bother me. I just let it happen.

Recently, I started making 3D computer drawings and renderings and in spite of all the time, I do not have enough of that time to realise everything. This way, my work takes on a new dimension in regard to reality, now becoming more virtual. There's a new possible dialogue between the drawings and the existing installations.

But it is not signalling a transition to fully virtual exhibitions for you.

The reason why I make art is to build, to discover. It’s about the game taking place between me and my work and the movement within, and about how I can transform a space into something new. To me, that experience is less appealing online.

You and DB both try to bring together the real and the artificial.

That is why I often work with human components: hands or fingers, etc. A kind of dehumanisation takes place, but this is brought back to life by giving in it a moving quality. I bring life into my work, but since I work with found material it also often gets destroyed or nearly destroyed in the process —fragility also plays an important role here. I want to show this contrast between the lively and the self-destructive element.  


Is that a political statement?

You can interpret that how you like. Maybe it stems from my idea of how things are evolving nowadays. Everyone has to take care of themselves now, but we often focus on other things. There is a kind of entertainment you look for when you are alone. The machines that I create are happiness or pleasure machines. When you look at them, you get hypnotised because of the repeated movements. While looking at these entertainment machines and getting sucked in by them, you think about the absurdity of the entertainment industry and how easy it is to get seduced by these empty things while still feeling a kind of satisfaction.

Is DB’s work a confrontation?

The spaces are confrontational. It is a serenity that becomes very oppressive. We walked into our own computer screen, which is very relevant right now. 

The reason why I make art is to build, to discover.

Is your own work meant as a confrontation?

It can be, it could be. I want to give people a sort of pleasure, but one to question. It is important that playfulness remains visible: everything that happens is not set in stone. This can come across as confrontational. If it does, that is a nice bonus. Confronting, entertaining, enervating  — your reaction to my work depends on how you see it and how you feel at the moment. 

Colour is a prevalent theme in your work. Just like DB you like to use bright, artificial colours in your work.

I mostly use colour as a contrast to something else. We constantly get seduced by, and even long for, new impulses. DB and I are playing with this idea. There is this feeling of constantly being curious about the next thing. An overwhelming feeling, again and again. When using the white colour, he creates a serene distance between what is happening and where we are. I try to do this by exposing the whole machinery behind the work. DB  hides these mechanics instead. I like to think of it as an ode to mechanics, seeing how and why everything works rather than just seeing one part of the story - the façade.

To me, it seems as if DB thinks a lot about what art has to be, and what kind of aura a work needs to have to be labelled ‘art’. I read this in the specificity of each work. I am in a developing process, a more playful one perhaps. I hope to not lose this. My focus is definitely not only on how other people will perceive my art: it is more of a glimpse into my visual diary. It is not just art for the sake of art. 

Not art for the sake of art, but art for the sake of…

You, as well. It is a passion to constantly be curious to see what happens when doing different things. I do not want to tell the same story over and over again. I feel I am obligated to come up with new systems and new structures to work in. The process might even be the most important. Exhibiting my work becomes part of that process. The interaction with my work is a puzzle. I am excited to see what evolves from that. 

The material I use plays a very important part in what I do. My idea of coincidence in combination with using what I can find around me makes it maybe bricolage. Everything can happen, if I encounter it, at least. Something unexpected can lead to something even more unexpected. That is the life of the bricoleur. I want to make art that is bricolage, but in some way does not really look like bricolage. And even if it does, maybe I’m proud of that.


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