Aleksandra Waliszewska

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I was acquainted with the strangely attractive world of Aleksandra Waliszewska only recently, while watching The Capsule – a film inspired by her work. I discovered that stepping into Aleksandra’s world is like entering a nightmarish, instinctively violent Wonderland for Grown Ups; a grotesque, mystical fairy-tale, daringly obscene; a world that claws and draws you in its narrow Gothic alleyways and dark haunted forests enveloped in a misty, sweet veil of solace.

For the record: Aleksandra Waliszewska was born in 1976 in Warsaw and is considered one of the bright young things of Poland. A graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw and recipient of a number of scholarships awarded by the Ministry of Culture, she has presented over 20 solo exhibitions. She still lives and works in Warsaw and is obviously a cat person, judging by the strong presence of feline paw prints dancing their mystic rituals all across her work.

Whispers of wisdom carry the common truth in our world and beyond: cat people are magnificent witches artists.

De facto!

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The Capsule (I) (2012) by Athina Rachel Tsangari

Waliszewska artwork

Artwork: Aleksandra Waliszewska

The Greek Presidency of the Council of the European Union which began on 1st January 2014, is one of the most modest presidencies in recent years. With a budget set to €50 million, Greece will spend considerably less than other EU member states taking over the function on a 6-month rotating basis. It is, however, still a hefty sum that, in the current financial and social dire situation, the Greek taxpayer can ill afford.

On a slightly more uplifting note, linked to the Greek Presidency, a series of cultural activities ranging from art and photo exhibitions, concerts, film festivals and performances to events on Greek gastronomy, are taking place in Greece and abroad. Some of these events are happening in Brussels in collaboration with Bozar, under the general title ”Focus on Greece”. It was in this context that I had the pleasure of discovering Athina Rachel Tsangari’s mini masterpiece, 35 highly stylized minutes of technical, visual and aesthetic perfection.

THE CAPSULE

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{Appearing here: Ariane Labed//Fashion items: silk plisé headpiece by Sandra Backlund. Gold-plated collar by Marc Jacobs for Louis Vuitton. Soie savage black “Greek Dress” by Athina Rachel Tsangari & Vassilia Rozana}

Commissioned by art collector Dakis Joannou for the DesteFashionCollection 2012, Athina Rachel Tsangari has created a film and a projection installation inspired by the work of  the young Polish artist Aleksandra Waliszewska.

Each year, the DESTE Foundation for Contemporary Art, commissions artists to select five articles of clothing or accessories created that year. Inspired by their selections, the artists/curators create an original work—the goal is to draw parallels between the actual objects and the artist/curator’s interpretations, which will lead the viewer to a deeper understanding of how fashion can be perceived by the experienced eye.

THE CAPSULE, is the 2012 edition by Athina Rachel Tsangaria Greek Gothic mystery. Athina has curated an haute couture “capsule” selecting works by young, avant-garde designers who boldly challenge the boundaries of fashion as wearable sculpture. An art-meets-fashion piece, par excellence.

THE STORY

Seven young women. A mansion perched on a Cycladic rock – Hydra Island.

A series of lessons on discipline, desire, discovery, and disappearance.

A melancholy, inescapable cycle on the brink of womanhood — infinitely.

Anticipation. Fear. Rage. Boredom. Pleasure. Power. Desire. Thievery. Jealousy.

- The last think I will teach you is to lack.

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{Appearing here (from left): Ariane Labed, Clémence Poésy, Evangelia Randou, Sofia Dona, Isolda Dychauk, Deniz Gamze Ergüven, Aurora Marion//Fashion items: hair coat by Sandra Backlund. “Pernilla Look 2” sapele wood shoes by Cat Potter.  Black “Greek Dress” by Athina Rachel Tsangari & Vassilia Rozana}

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{Appearing here (from left): Isolda Dychauk, Aurora Marion, Clémence Poésy, Ariane Labed, Evangelia Randou, Deniz Gamze Ergüven, Sofia Dona//Fashion items: lingerie by Bordelle}

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{Appearing here: Ariane Labed//Fashion items: “Playtime” light-sensitive interactive dress (super organza and electronic devices) by Ying Gao. <spanPernilla Look 2” sapele wood shoes by Cat Potter}

CONFESSIONS

 A matriarch dominatrix. Confessions of lost innocence.

- J’ai eu envie de mettre des bris de verre dans les chaussures d’Isolda.

- Έκλεψα δώδεκα αυγά και τα έφαγα όλα.

Θα ήθελα να φορέσω για λίγο το χρυσό γιακά σου.

Ich will sie alle töten. Ich möchte hier alleine bleiben mit ihnen.

- Dün gece Sofia’yi ağaca tirmanip duvarin öbür tarafina geçmeye çalişirken gördüm.

I waited until Clémence fell asleep, and then I touched her knee.

Punishment. Tears of redemption.

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{Appearing here (from left): Evangelia Randou & Ariane Labed//Fashion items: hair coat by Sandra Backlund.  Gold-plated collar by Marc Jacobs for Louis Vuitton. Pernilla Look 2” sapele wood shoes by Cat Potter.  Black “Greek Dress” by Athina Rachel Tsangari Vassilia Rozana}

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{Appearing here (from left): Ariane Labed & Clémence Poésy//Fashion items: hair coat by Sandra Backlund. Black “Greek Dress” by Athina Rachel Tsangari & Vassilia Rozana}

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{Appearing here (from left): Clémence Poésy & Ariane Labed//Fashion items: “Playtime” light-sensitive interactive dress (super organza and electronic devices) by Ying Gao}

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THE ARTWORK

by Aleksandra Waliszewska

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THE POSTERS

The capsule poster 2The capsule posterPoster design: Ania Goszczyńska / Artwork: Aleksandra Waliszewska

The fashion designers

Sandra Backlund, Bordelle, Ying Gao, Cat Potter, Isabelle Vigier,
Marc Jacobs for Louis Vuitton, Athina Rachel Tsangari & Vassilia Rozana

The cast

A distinguished international all-female cast of seven also is participating, including Ariane Labed, winner of the Coppa Volpi for Best Actress at the 2010 Venice Film Festival for Tsangari’s “Attenberg”, Clémence Poésy, known for her roles in the “Harry Potter” series and Danny Boyle’s “127 hours”, and Isolda Dychauk, the lead in Sokurov’s “Faust”.

Images, credits and story from The Capsule website

All photographs © Despina Spyrou

Viewed on 04 March 2014

 

Michaël Borremans//As sweet as it gets @ Bozar, Brussels

It is widely accepted in the artistic circles that the work of Michaël Borremans is an acquired taste, at times referred to as disturbing. But my initial close-up encounter on the night of the Museum Night Fever, was an instant hit. Borremans’ major exhibition ”As Sweet As It Gets” is hosted in Bozar and presents 100 works from private and public collections, created over the last 20 years.

Borremans tends to work on small and medium size paintings but there are a few impressive larger-than-life ones like this barefoot fellow, strategically placed at the entrance, ushering visitors in:

The Avoider

Michaël Borremans – The Avoider (2006) 360 x 180 cm, oil on canvas © Photographer Ron Amstutz

Or the strong lean figure, her face covered in black paint – ”a painting within a painting” in the artist’s words – standing three metres tall in her long pink dress, looking down at the viewer:

The Angel

Michaël Borremans – The Angel (2013) 300 x 200 cm, oil on canvas Courtesy Zeno X Gallery Antwerp © Photographer Dirk Pauwels

Michaël Borremans was born in 1963 in Geraardsbergen, East Flanders, one of the oldest cities in Belgium. Today he lives and works in Ghent. He moved there when he needed a change: he was 33 years old, a trained photographer and graphic designer, frustrated with the job he’d held for ten years teaching drawing at the Secondary Municipal Art Institute of Ghent, and decided it was high time he evolved artistically by taking up painting.

A bold change of direction for a relatively unknown artist who had never painted before. But Borremans is a man of conviction, structured and totally focused; working methodically, meticulously and passionately, he became one of the most sought-after artists of today.

He lives and creates in a large open space surrounded by white walls, lots of natural light coming through windows overlooking a green courtyard, wooden floors; an orderly, structured, minimalist interior in neutral, muted colours, a colour palette mirrored in his paintings.

Borremans works only by daylight because he ”sees” better and is always wearing a suit because working in his Sunday’s best helps him focus (unconsciously trying not to stain his clothes). He creates his subjects himself out of photographs he makes working with live models, producing powerful gripping images – you just have to look at them, even when their back is turned on you:

The Ear

Michaël Borremans – The Ear (2011) 42 x 53 cm, oil on canvas

Borremans’ paintings show as little information as possible. He is systematically extracting things, creating an introvert, minimalistic environment with a detached and slightly morbid quality leaving the meaning of his work wide open to interpretation; so the viewer becomes simultaneously an accomplice and a spectator. His limited colour palette adds to the mood. Borremans knows his limitations: ‘‘I am not a great colourist. Those colours have to do with a lack of expertise. But I also do not like to use outspoken colours, because they divert the attention too much.(. ..). I think that the image has to have the priority. To me, colour has only a supportive function.’’

The Load

Michaël Borremans – The Load (2008) 40 x 49.8 cm, oil on canvas

The Sleeper

Michaël Borremans – Sleeper (2007-2008) 40 x 50 cm, oil on canvas. Private Collection Courtesy Zeno X Gallery Antwerp © Photographer Peter Cox

The Wind

Michaël Borremans, The Wind (2011) 42 x 36 cm, oil on canvas

Borremans’ greatest influence and inspiration is Velasquez who worked with brushes attached to very long handles which gave a spontaneous touch to his paintings. Borremans’ brush strokes are smooth, very delicate, academic, detached. But look closer and you’ll notice some bold, rougher finishing strokes, balancing out the morbid immobility, giving just a touch of movement to the stillness.

I was captivated by this first part of the exhibition – the paintings. But only when I arrived at the drawings section the artist’s true mastery was revealed. Borremans has drawn for much longer than he paints – it just comes to him naturally. Since his student days he’s been drawing only on recycled paper: cardboard, old envelopes, the backside of a book… The more stained the better because stains can be used as a starting point for an unfolding story. He would never work on a white sheet, in fact he finds white quite repellent, ”pure horror” are the words he uses, because ”you can’t have a dialogue with all that white”.

A Mae West Experience

Michaël Borremans – A Mae West Experience (2002) 16,3 x 20,3 cm pencil, watercolor and white ink on paper

The German part two

Michaël Borremans – The German (part two) (2002) 24,8 x 31 cm pencil, watercolor, white and black ink, mica foil and transparent tape on cardboard

Two Circles

Michaël Borremans – Two Circles (2006) 21 x 29,7 cm pencil on paper. Used for the cover of Vantage Point, the fifth album from the Belgian band Deus, released on April 18, 2008.

The Reference

Michaël Borremans, “The Reference” (2007), pencil and watercolor on paper, 12,5 x 9,0 cm, Courtesy: Paul and Katrien Lannoy-Mattelaer

The decisive, meticulously detailed lines, the re-currency of the themes, the surreal perspective and scale of these drawings, the contrast between reality and fantasy, the balance between insinuation and truth are the artist’s way to discuss illusions: about political choices, personal freedom and the individual’s ability to perceive. And he does that brilliantly.

Borremans often likes to re-use a theme, a trend that is not limited to one medium. For instance, ”Wait” the rotating girl with the pleated skirt, is originally a drawing.

Drawing

Michaël Borremans – Drawing (2002) 16 x 10,5 cm pencil, watercolor and white ink on cardboard

The Skirt

Michaël Borremans – The Skirt (2005) 70 x 60 cm, oil on canvas

Weight

Michaël Borremans – Weight (2005) 35.5 x 27.5 x 4 cm Framed 15” lcd screen – colour: VGA DVD (4:3) (duration 9.44 min.) (ed. Of 3 – AP) Courtesy Zeno X Gallery Antwerp, David Zwirner New York/London and Gallery Koyanagi Tokyo

Another example of re-using a theme is ”The House of Opportunity”:

The House of Opportunity In the Louvre

Michaël Borremans – In the Louvre – The House of Opportunity (2003) 26,6 x 27,6 cm pencil, watercolor and white ink on paper

The House of Opportunity Voodoo

Michaël Borremans – The House of Opportunity – Voodoo! (2005) 17,3 x 23,3 cm pencil and watercolour on cardboard

The Journey

Michaël Borremans – The Journey (2002) 17 x 24,7 cm pencil, watercolor, white and black ink, varnish on book cover

Just as his painting is cinematographic, in the same way, his films are shown like paintings on the wall: to be watched as long as the spectator wants. ”The Storm” was projected in a dark space, more like an intersection than a room, where people could view and walk by freely. Borremans works with a steady camera in an archaic way, with clear references to early cinema.

The Storm film

Michaël Borremans – The Storm (2006) – 35mm film transferred to DVD; 1:07 min (loop), colour, silent Edition of 3

”As sweet as it gets” is running until Sunday 03 August, 2014. If your way brings you to Brussels, don’t miss it!

The Swimming Pool

Images from the websites of:

Zeno X, the gallery that Borremans is working with since 2000

David Zwirner

Centre for Fine Arts (Bozar), Brussels

Visited on Saturday, 22 February 2014

 

B-XL CPTL * Metamorphic Ontology

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*Metamorphism: a pronounced change in the constitution of rock effected by pressure, heat, and water that results in a more compact and more highly crystalline condition [from the Greek prefix meta, meaning “after” or “beyond,” and morphos,  morphē  - shape] 

Ontology: the branch of metaphysics dealing with the nature of being [from Greek ōnont- ‘being’ + -logy]

Chocolate has the ability to be ground into small particles (weathered), heated, cooled and compressed just like rocks. Unlike rocks this can all be done safely and at reasonable temperatures, using the chocolate to create sedimentary, metamorphic and igneous chocolate and at the end of it all can make a tasty treat.

J Pop idol Heavy Metal = Kawaii Metal Frilly Cuteness: Give me Chocolate!

Photography by Konstantinos Implikian

 

 

 

The Dieweg Cemetery @ Brussels

From the gorgeous Art Nouveau style of the Cauchie House our trail brings us to the otherworldly, Gothic beauty of the Diegem Cemetery. Created in 1866 as the last resting place for the many victims of a terrible outbreak of cholera. DSC00865Disused since 1958, it is said that most of its tombs are no longer tended as relatives of the dead are long gone themselves. But I think they are all very well tended – by nature…DSC00902… that climbs and lovingly embraces the stone with lush, green ivy…
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DSC00866… oxidizing the iron crosses and emblems, covering them in that warm rusty red patina of time…
DSC00885Jewish and Catholic graves and mausoleums, venerable imposing art harmoniously side-by-side; the irony of being united in death by the very religions that divide in life…
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DSC00942Tombstones slowly sinking into the ground; it felt soft under the feet…
DSC00900 Nostalgic mementos of lives I shall never know…
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DSC00924A discreet sign directs to the place where Hergé is laid to rest; a special permission was obtained to bury him here since the cemetery is not open to new inhabitants for the past 60 odd years.
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DSC00938The Dieweg cemetery is situated in Uccle, one of Brussels’ most affluent suburbs with beautiful detached houses and plush gardens. It is open to public daily and, apart from the odd guided tour, offers quite, solitary, slightly melancholy walks to the incurably romantic.

Dieweg 95 
1180 Brussels 

Walked on Sunday 09 March, 2014.

Photography by Konstantinos Implikian

The Cauchie House @ Brussels

DSC00836iThe story that follows unfolds slowly over hundreds of years to unveil one of Brussels’ hidden treasures, a secret that had been living on for a long time, under layers and layers of art, craft, paint and decorative wallpaper. So put the kettle on, feed the cat, make yourself comfortable and come with me for a walk through time and space. We begin in Japan…

During Kitagawa Utamaro’s lifetime (1753-1806), Japan was undergoing a long period of self-imposed almost total isolation – two centuries long – known as sakoku or ”closed country”. But in the mid-nineteenth century, forced open by the dynamics of global economy, Japan, its politics, traditions, arts, crafts and culture were discovered by the rest of the world. The two international exhibitions, in London in 1862 and Paris in 1867, brought the beauty and elegance of Japanese decorative arts in the international limelight. Its increasing popularity influenced countless European artists and genres and gave its name to a new trend: Japonism.

Rich in symbolism, Japonism found its way into the leading philosophical, artistic and architectural movement that was gaining popularity in Europe reaching its pick during 1890-1910: Art Nouveau.

Round about that time, Europe was rediscovering a decorative technique, originating in the 16th century, the sgraffito. From the Italian word graffiare (“to scratch”), originally from Greek γράφω (gráphο) “to write”, sgraffito was initially developed during the Italian Renaissance as an affordable way to decorate entire walls.  A layer of dark coloured plaster was applied and let to dry, followed by another layer of a lighter coloured plaster, the surface of which was then scratched while still damp to reveal lines of the dark parts from underneath, forming the design. Paint was applied to the outlines, bringing to life elaborate wall decorations the designs of which reflected the properties owners’ personal tastes.

portrait-cauchiePaul Cauchie (1875 – 1952) was one of the artists living at the crossroads of all that creativity. He studied architecture in Antwerp but his artistic inclination soon brought him to the Brussels Royal Academy of Fine Arts where he moved on to study painting and the technique of sgraffito. While still studying, Paul Cauchie also had to work for a living and Brussels offered ample fertile ground to put his talents to good use. He applied his designing skills on a variety of artistic disciplines but he soon specialised in designing sgraffiti.

portrait-voetWhile still studying at the Academy of Fine Arts, Paul met Caroline -Lina- Voet (1875 – 1969), also a student, who excelled in decorative art and painting. Lina was awarded a first prize on the women’s painting course and another in art history, a reward which enabled her to teach painting and drawing privately.

Even though contact between young men and women was not encouraged at the Academy, it is here that Paul and Lina met and fell in love with each other.

They married in 1905 and decided to build a house on the six metre wide plot of land which Paul had bought on the upper part of rue des Francs, close to Cinquantenaire Park and visible from all the neighbouring roads. The building was going to double as their home and workplace. Paul designed the facade which had to be at once striking to draw passers-by attention and functional, advertising and selling their work. Together with Lina they designed the interior and their ateliers. It became known as the Cauchie House.

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Par Nous Pour Nous

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His & Hers

plcolProminent evidence of Japonism at the centre of the facade: two letters, M and A, on the balcony of the top window. The two letters are engraved into the flat iron sheet as the graphical representation of the ideogram ”ma”, the Japanese concept of ”space and time”. In architecture, ”ma” is translated by the rhythmic alternating between solid and vacuum, full and empty, in the way in which items and furniture are placed in relation to one another.

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Besides Japonism, Symbolism, Pre-Raphaelitism, Art Nouveau and Sgraffiti, techniques and influences that blend effortlessly to create the unique facade and interior of the Cauchie House, there is still more. Cauchie is the only architect-decorator in Belgium to have been influenced by the Glasgow School of Art and Charles Rennie Mackintosh: the predominant strict, geometrical lines where the basic shapes of the square and circle are counterbalancing the curved lines and structures inspired by natural forms and vegetation of the Art Nouveau movement. 

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Mackintosh inspired furniture designed by Cauchie

Following Paul Cauchie’s death in 1952, Lina and her daughter Suzanne decided to carry out some restoration. In their quest for ”modernisation” they removed several decorative elements and covered large parts of the sgraffiti designs with wall paper. When Lina also passed away in 1969, Suzanne considered a redevelopment project which would have resulted in demolition. Although the worst was avoided thanks to the intervention of Maurice Culot (Director of the Modern Architecture Archives), who succeeded in having the house listed as a monument in 1975, the building became neglected and fell into disrepair over the years.

Until one day, Guy and Léona Dessicy, both keen Art Nouveau enthusiasts, saw the house during one of their walks, found its dilapidated condition unacceptable and decided to buy and restore it. The purchase was done in 1980 and the restoration works lasted fifteen years. The wallpaper covered sgraffiti was only brought back to light seven years after commencement of the restoration, when all other more urgent repairs were completed!

The new owners initially intended the Cauchie House to become a Tintin museum, project which had been approved by Hergé but was later abandoned in favour of what has now become the ”Belgian Comic Strip Centre”, housed in the former Waucquez warehouse designed by Victor Horta.

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Portrait of Hergé by Jean Laudy, Cauchie House Gallery

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Dedicated by Hergé to his friends Guy and Léona Dessicy, Cauchie House Gallery

In the end it was decided that the main rooms and cellars, transformed into a gallery, would be open to the general public. But, wishing to protect the intimate character  of what is essentially someone’s home, its opening hours are extremely restricted: just two days, the first weekend of every month. With such restrictive visiting hours it took many months and a lot of conspiracy from the whole universe to make a visit happen – but for that we were all the more excited to finally make it there on the first weekend of March. 

The elevated ground floor comprises three successive rooms: a dining room, a sitting room with a sgraffiti decorated fire-place and a smaller, informal dining room at the back. The rooms are brightly lit by natural light from two very large windows, their glass symbolically tinted yellow for sunrise (front) and purple for sunset (rear).

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In the front dining room, sgraffiti on all four walls portrays feminine, willowy figures of Pre-Raphaelite beauty, symbols of the five senses:

Taste, Smell, Hearing, Touch, Sight

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Japonism is evident in traditional hair ornaments and this Japanese Nô mask:

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The omnipresent Rose links Paul Cauchie’s association with the Glasgow School and doubles as his signature. He rarely signed his sgraffiti, preferring to let the rose, this symbol of beauty, love and art to mark his work. 

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middle room

Image via flickr

The middle room with its sgraffiti decorated fireplace is the shape of a perfect cube, symbol of stability and wisdom. The concept of ”ma” seen on the facade, is repeated on the portal giving access to the back, smaller dining room with its simple furniture painted white. A staircase gives access to two more floors where modern apartments are rented out to those lucky enough to find themselves the right time at the right place. Just imagine coming back home every day to the most exquisitely decorated facade in all of Brussels!

If you made it to this point, for which you deserve congratulations and a big thank you for reading through, you’ll know that to the rest of the world, the Cauchie House is open the first weekend of every month. A guide will escort you, in French or English, to a journey where symbols, painting, interior design, architecture and family life blend into time, space and history.

Photography by Konstantinos Implikian and the Cauchie House website

Visited on Sunday 2 March 1014