You do not need to know a language to make a drawing for a storm
Within the dark red walls of Z33’s building is a spiritual oasis, peacefully disconnected from the surrounding city of Hasselt. Entering this museum is one of the rituals that artist Dries Segers values. We entered In The Eye of the Storm to discuss spirituality, borders, and symbols that defy language barriers.
What were your first impressions of the show?
I always just like being here in the building, so for me, coming here is always a good start. To enter the building you really have to go inside of it, which is a religious experience. It’s a sort of cleaning. I think the whole exhibition is respecting the space. You don't get disturbed or feel that the artwork has been forced inside of it. And I think it's not an easy space to work with. There is this powerful building, but you still have to have exhibitions, you cannot only show your building, right.
You seem to know a lot about this building.
I read a lot about the architect of the building, Francesca Torzo, and I even cited her in my last book. She is an Italian architect of course, and I think you can really feel the history in the building. It feels like a church. The building has the same colour as the cow blood they used to paint buildings with, in Brussels as well. It is this really dark, heavy colour, but then you have this softness of the stone. The room sizes go from big and open, to small and low again so you have this constant movement as you move around in these spaces. You can look back, and even look out into the garden, but the whole time you stay in the building, and you never see Hasselt again until you leave. This monastery feeling in this space enables a concentration on the art. In other museums, you might look out onto the city, or the skyline, or a panoramic view, but here, it stays modest.
I think I'm becoming more articulate about my topics
Tell me about your work.
Everything starts with photography, relating to a realistic world. These are things that are happening, either visible for me or invisible, which I try to make visible. I am actually at a sort of tipping point in my work because I have done a lot of experimental stuff in the past with chemicals or invisibles. Before, I was using the camera in a sort of slower way and letting the medium interact with other materials like light or the sun or the wind, natural elements. And now I try to use these natural elements in a more research-based way, to tell different stories instead of leaving everything open. I think I'm becoming more articulate about my topics. My most recent topic is a specific kind of tree, a border tree, or a mark tree.
What is this tree?
It’s actually a German word, Grenzbaum. My latest project is about this particular kind of tree which was planted on location in the landscape to represent the border. Sometimes these borders are still there, so you can see it from afar and know that behind that tree, the Netherlands start, or if you cross this tree, you go into Flanders. There are 52 of these trees in Flanders, and I have visited particular ones on the more visible borders, like language borders such as French and Flemish, or country borders. This project consisted of two shows, one in Switzerland and one in Antwerp, as well as a book. Now I am revisiting other trees that are becoming the landscape. These are ones that were once a solitary tree, and now are a forest. They aren’t visible from afar anymore, they are a group rather than an individual.
The border trees also become these ritual spaces when I visit them
I noticed you spent a lot of time with these sculptures, can you tell me about them?
Yes, in the show there are these ‘gods’ which are almost representative of a new ritual or a new power. I feel that we are kind of losing our rituals, and our religion, so making these kinds of images again is super powerful. In a museum, these seem like some rare find, but you still feel that it can be activated. A museum is also a place that brings people together, to tell these stories, to connect them with other kinds of stories, and to let the many voices be combined. That is also really important and becomes spiritual in itself.
For me, inspiration is working, reading, feeling, connecting dots
The border trees also become these ritual spaces when I visit them. Sometimes there are even stones put next to them. A birch tree is really easy to cut into, so I often find messages in the trees. I also think that these ‘gods’ in the exhibition are some kind of revival of that spirituality. This is super important because we are losing so much of our spiritual worlds that we need to find different ways to become spiritual. I see that this is happening a lot in the arts.
Would you say you find inspiration in nature?
I have a weird relationship with the concept of inspiration, because for me, inspiration is working, reading, feeling, connecting dots, and it's not only about going into nature or talking to people or looking at other artworks. I find that this is a kind of romantic idea for artistic practices. I feel that artistic practice is being developed if you work, and work can also mean meditating, or doing nothing. It can be from reading a big theoretical book or also just watching Netflix and learning from these seeds of ideas.
Did anything stick out to you throughout the show?
I was really struck by this simple spiral-shaped drawing that kept coming back in different works. These are not artists from one particular country, just the region. So this idea of a typhoon or storm is represented in the symbol. I think our ancestors would have made the same drawing. It’s so embedded in history that you do not even need to know a language to make a drawing for a storm. When we were upstairs, I noticed that the symbol was coming back in the video on the clothing and also on the ceramics. But what’s interesting is that I don't know this symbol, because I also don't know storms. When I saw the poster before coming to the show I thought the symbol was a satellite, not a storm.