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Through a process of appropriation and re-recontextualization, painter/filmmaker Leila Feys approaches reality in a manner that is both highly sensitive and distinctly reflective of its zeitgeist. This results in work that explores the relationship between intimacy and distance through experimentation with multiple mediums in which a central role is ascribed to the ephemerality of the meaning that many symbols and shapes are imbued with. On our tour of the exhibition Friends in a Field: Conversations with Raoul De Keyser at Mu.ZEE, we talked more about her approach and found ourselves eavesdropping on the dialogue between Raoul De Keyser’s oeuvre and 13 other artists. 

What did you think of the exhibition?

I really liked how it was curated and how the works were brought together. There was a lot of sensibility in the way the works were set up vis-à-vis one another. It created a kind of universe: the different levels felt like you could step from one microcosm into another.

<img class="editorial-image-50-left" src="https://uploads-ssl.webflow.com/61eebcc683107b99137f4423/63f7b9edef5a486d0fe81278_Different%20Class%20Leila%20Feys%20(c)%20Valerie%20De%20Backer%20online01.webp"/>

<img class="editorial-image-50-right" src="https://uploads-ssl.webflow.com/61eebcc683107b99137f4423/63f7b9eed15b508281ad61d4_Different%20Class%20Leila%20Feys%20(c)%20Valerie%20De%20Backer%20online.webp"/>

Was there a particular work that stood out to you?

Of course, all of Raoul De Keyser’s work [laughs]. I was also particularly struck by the work of René Daniëls with the two lines and the little ball on the top. I think the title was, ‘two stripes fighting for the ball’, or something like that. I was fascinated because the piece shows only a minimal intervention while still eliciting a great effect.

The different levels felt like you could step from one microcosm into another

<img class="editorial-image-50-left" src="https://uploads-ssl.webflow.com/61eebcc683107b99137f4423/63f7b9edef5a48656ee81277_Different%20Class%20Leila%20Feys%20(c)%20Valerie%20De%20Backer%20online2.webp"/>

<img class="editorial-image-50-right" src="https://uploads-ssl.webflow.com/61eebcc683107b99137f4423/63f7b9ee8fb2251009bd0dc1_Different%20Class%20Leila%20Feys%20(c)%20Valerie%20De%20Backer%20online02.webp"/>

What did you think of the conversation at the heart of the exhibit?

At first, I didn’t really know the exhibit was meant to be a dialogue. But, that works well as it accentuates parts of Raoul De Keyser’s work and parts of the other works. You really start making links between artists by using De Keyser’s work as a red thread.

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What effect did the juxtaposition of the works have?

For me, it reaffirmed the essence of Raoul’s work. His tactility and sensitivity just came out more. It also made me discover this feeling in the work of René Daniëls, which until then I had seen as more graphic, funny and formal. Seeing his work curated in this space drove home this observation.

<img class="editorial-image-50-left" src="https://uploads-ssl.webflow.com/61eebcc683107b99137f4423/63f7b9ed4e69ff62278aca74_Different%20Class%20Leila%20Feys%20(c)%20Valerie%20De%20Backer%20online6.webp"/>

<img class="editorial-image-50-right" src="https://uploads-ssl.webflow.com/61eebcc683107b99137f4423/63f7b9ed92f9f931f2aa6c72_Different%20Class%20Leila%20Feys%20(c)%20Valerie%20De%20Backer%20online7.webp"/>

What about you, what are you inspired by?

The things that inspire me and trigger me are mostly symbols, letters and numbers as well as archetypal or universal shapes. In other words, general forms of communication that are very depictive and instantly recognizable. In that regard, the digital world greatly influences me: it’s almost more an idea than a physical reality that you can touch and smell. The same can be said of language, numbers and forms. We created these forms, but they float between us, never quite being tangible. Painting these forms and giving them a physical body is what really fascinates me. All the while, I can take these forms out of their context and render them illegible.

In that regard, the digital world greatly influences me; it’s almost more an idea than a physical reality that you can touch and smell

<img class="editorial-image" src="https://uploads-ssl.webflow.com/61eebcc683107b99137f4423/63f7b9ed3f9aca0316a43bc5_Different%20Class%20Leila%20Feys%20(c)%20Valerie%20De%20Backer%20online5.webp"/>

How do you then approach your subject matter or begin to understand it?

It mostly starts with photography or by finding things. I always start from something that already exists. Either I take a picture of it, in which case the step between picture and painting is very important, or I find objects on the ground and let chance work its magic. I use these objects and I scan them. I manipulate the image in Photoshop, transforming it into something that I’d like to paint. Only then do I try to translate it into a painting or silkscreen, or sometimes a combination of both. There are also other steps which I can’t predict. For instance, when painting you can never know where it’s going to go or end. In a way my approach is very intuitive; there is a lot of room to go with the flow of the work and see where it brings me.

<img class="editorial-image-50-left" src="https://uploads-ssl.webflow.com/61eebcc683107b99137f4423/63f7b9eec19fdf785ef968bf_Different%20Class%20Leila%20Feys%20(c)%20Valerie%20De%20Backer%20online8.webp"/>

<img class="editorial-image-50-right" src="https://uploads-ssl.webflow.com/61eebcc683107b99137f4423/63f7b9eea7c9a13806121cb4_Different%20Class%20Leila%20Feys%20(c)%20Valerie%20De%20Backer%20online9.webp"/>

Has this pushed you towards new mediums? 

Yes, it has. In the design phase of most of my work, I collect videos and photos and never do anything with them. I thought it would be interesting to use these archive videos and turn them into something autonomous. I used to take a lot of videos of TV screens because I liked the screen-to-screen texture and I felt like it gave the video a bit of tactility and materiality in a new way. This turned into a film, almost like a found footage video, with the big difference being, I filmed it off the TV. In fact, a lot of subject matter from my paintings finds its way into the films. The films are part of that world and represent a continuation of my paintings. Broadly, I realised that I’m a painter making films.

The films are part of that world and represent a continuation of my paintings. I realised that I’m a painter making films

<img class="editorial-image" src="https://uploads-ssl.webflow.com/61eebcc683107b99137f4423/63f7b9efc57901ca723ce469_Different%20ClassLeila%20Feys%20(c)%20Valerie%20De%20Backer%20online3.webp"/>

And then finally, do you see any similarities between yourself and Raoul De Keyser?

Well actually, I really related to the text that was written about the exhibit. ‘The zone between every day and the unfreeable world of the abstract’. The things that I paint or depict in my films are very tangible yet also very ordinary. At the same time, I feel like we both have a very sensitive and minimal approach to the medium: an approach that safeguards the ephemeral.

(In a rare twist of fate: Raoul de Keyser passed on the 6th of October, which also happens to be Leila’s birthday)

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