Who decides what’s valuable?

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We sat down with Lola Daels, researcher, artist and activist. Not per se in that order – she equally floats between them and they all fit her perfectly. We had a talk about art, what it means in the context of ecology and activism and how it’s her way of telling the story that needs to be told. Our conversation took place at CIVA, where Picturesque is showing, an exhibition about Brussels landscape architect Jules Buyssens. Lola showed us the contrast between something so monotonous as the perfect green garden and the desire for perfection and something we’re just starting to realise; to not break the chain of the ecological circles of biodiversity.

What did you think of the exhibition? 

I see a connection between the work I am currently making and the exhibition. Jules Buyssens is a landscape architect and controls nature to a certain degree, whereas I question nature.

It might also potentially have been interesting if CIVA had invited contemporary landscape architects and shown us how we should develop landscapes today. A hundred years ago, it was very common to create esthetical gardens and they thought that exotic was more valuable than the plants or trees we have here, although today we’re starting to realise it’s very problematic.

I can see a connection between the work I’m currently creating and the exhibition

A typical Flemish aspect is this perfectly mowed green garden. There are initiatives like No Mow May, and yet how many people feel relieved at the end of May when they can mow again? I personally think there needs to be more awareness of what happens when you try to control the ecosystem.

There must be more awareness about what happens when you try to control the eco system

My aunt is always mad at her neighbours because they never mow their lawns. 

Exactly, that's what I mean. I feel this exhibition would have been a great chance to show the other side as well. We still have a lot of work to do if we want to be heard and that’s what I’m trying to do with my work. Sometimes I think I should just become an activist, but then again, creating art is just my way of telling the story I want everyone to hear. It’s just another way to tell it.

Speaking of creating art, what keeps you busy these days? 

I just finished the Terre en Force exhibition at Gallery Kusseneers, where I had three different works. One of them was a big sculpture called 135 kg CO2 and refers to the number of emissions produced for its creation of it and for its transportation to the gallery. It’s a 3 meters long sculpture, somewhere between a tree and a pillar, made in rocaille-technique. I just got the news that it will be in the collection of Middelheim Museum in Antwerp next year. Therefore, the title will change as I will add the extra carbon I’m creating to transport it.

My work is often made from objects I found or souvenirs I kept from a certain place or time. I try to reveal the story behind it which is usually about the ecological environment of the object and how it faces socio-political or ecological problems in its daily life. I try to create awareness and raise questions about it.

My work is often made of objects I found or souvenirs I kept from a certain place

For example, Shell is - among 99 other fossil fuels - a huge polluter worldwide, yet they used a shell as a logo, a symbol of fertility, life, beauty and rebirth. That’s why I created 135 kg CO2, to reflect on it.

You float somewhere between the role of artist, researcher and activist. 

That's correct, I started by working with found objects but along the way, I began feeling guilty about taking them away from their original surroundings. It’s funny how we have this idea that we must collect this stuff to keep it as a memory, stalling them in our houses to show to others. I decided to use them at least to create and raise awareness about this behaviour we have as human beings to control, imitate and reproduce.

After the Notre-Dame Cathedral burned down in 2018, the president of France, Emmanuel Macron said they would rebuild the cathedral just the way it was. That’s where I started questioning who decides what’s valuable and how much importance it has. Of course, the cathedral was a very important monument, but to rebuild it the way it was? Especially if you see how many homeless people are sleeping in front of it.

Last question, what inspires you? 

Growing up, I was lucky to be able to travel a lot. Throughout the years, it has made me more aware of these climatological disasters that are happening. Here in Belgium, we don't feel it as much compared to other places that are affected. So I try to tell these stories. My love for material and textures will always be there, as well as the physical part of creating. but I guess the concept behind them is as important – otherwise, it wouldn’t make much sense for me to create them.


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