Artist Emmanuel Van Der Auwera’s cautionary tales

Through videos, photos and installations, Emmanuel Van Der Auwera (1982) unravels the simulation and framing of messages. Drawing inspiration from political and historical as well as aesthetic motives, his work can be perceived as a critical stance towards new ways of communication, and an analysis of contemporary interaction in these virtual words. With his work on exhibition at BIP Liège until 16th October, we talk to the Brussels-based artist about early influences, inspirations and references.

You’ve been very busy lately. In the last few months your work has been included in shows at the Biennale d’Image Possible, Centre Pompidou, Palais de Tokyo, Extra City, Iselp and most recently the exhibition “Now Belgium Now” in Antwerp. What did you present in Antwerp and how does it link to other work you’ve made?

I showed new video work titled “Central Alberta,” which is part of a diptych, the first part being my previous film “A Certain Amount of Clarity,” which premiered at Bozar for the Young Belgian Art Prize. These both deal with the exploration of the many boundaries and quickly changing statuses of images: the grey, potentially dangerous zone of an image as a means of social interaction. To raise questions I chose extreme examples that have grown in audience and that in the past decade became a form of cultural exchange. As a research source, the work turns to a website dedicated to forbidden, extreme images that we’re not able to see in mainstream media. The founder of the site depicts himself as an Edward Snowden-like figure. I am interested in the political discourses that are being underlined by self-proclaimed whistleblowers and how these interact, produce or filter images. Somehow these works stress cautionary tales for a new discipline and aesthetic position. Perhaps when we refer to the image, or a domain of images, we’re not talking about what we were previously. The vocabulary of the image is expanding and includes contemporary structures that weren’t always present. This notion of contemporary becomes a crucial one in exploring context, which always effects narrative. Today it becomes a question of what is real. What seems real is often carefully crafted, manipulative simulation.

Bring Us To Ourselves Mikel, Still from Video.

Bring Us To Ourselves Mikel, Still from Video.

Central Alberta Performance, Campo, Ghent, 2016

Central Alberta Performance, Campo, Ghent, 2016

The film played, but this is also the title of a theatrical piece and features in one of your Video Sculptures. Is this just the same work being repeated?

“Central Alberta” started out as a play with nine actors, built upon questions that arose while working on “A Certain Amount of Clarity.” The piece has been performed in five radically different venues to date, and it was my intention from the start to create a work that could be translated into different contexts. The film attempts not just to document the play, but to become artwork that stands by itself while translating the content in a different medium. “A Certain Amount of Clarity” was also the starting point for my Video Sculptures, which are formal, reductive, and almost violent works that create a sort of superposition of different mediums. The piece “Central Alberta” is a live piece, which uses video. Since my interest in Video Sculpture ties directly to this piece, I thought it was interesting to pair a theatre piece that blows up the image of formerly anonymous web forum contributors with the video sculpture that places them back in the darkness, in which it seems like they’re speaking up from a hole. These works mimic each other, but are not identical at all. Presenting the play in Antwerp was challenging, because of the sense of presence that dances with strong notions of absence.

Cabinets d’Affets, Installation View, 2016

Cabinets d’Affets, Installation View, 2016

A Certain Amount of Clarity, Bozar, 2015

A Certain Amount of Clarity, Bozar, 2015

You also showed a new series of work titled Memento. This is a series that moves from the screen to the printing press, from digital to analogue and in a some ways from the future of journalism to its past. Can you tell us about the connection between this series and the other works we just discussed?

These works are actual offset plates used in the printing process of newspapers. They’ve been produced in the 24 hours following headlines that capture different catastrophes of recent months. The information presented by the paper is camouflaged into the turquoise hue of the material and what comes to the surface are haunted images of grieving crowds; the faces that remain after the tragedy. It’s again a paradox about revealing through hiding. Even though the newspaper is a traditional means of media, it’s moving closer to the digital. These works border the analogue and the digital, yesterday and tomorrow. The blue sea mirrors the white noise of the video sculptures, reminding us that just because we don’t see something doesn’t mean it’s not there.

Memento, Installation View at BIP Liege, 2016

Memento, Installation View at BIP Liege, 2016

Memento 1, off-set Newspaper aluminum prints

Memento 1, off-set Newspaper aluminum prints

Can you tell us about the people around you? To what extent does an artistic community in Brussels inspire or influence you?

I’ve been fortunate to collaborate with great institutions and very sharp curators around Belgium who have all contributed to my work in different ways. There’s a lot of activity in Belgium and Brussels is very international considering its size, but I’m not thinking about these things too much. I generally think about problems, solutions and works I want to make. But yes, it has always been possible to find partners and a public for the work here in Belgium and that says something about the open mindedness, curiosity and belief in cultural production that people have here. I’m also very happy to have found a gallery whose general approach, attitude and the other artists they collaborate with are all sources of inspiration.

Video Sculpture Installation, HISK, 2015

Video Sculpture Installation, HISK, 2015

Video Sculpture Marek, 2015

Video Sculpture Marek, 2015

Are there any specific Belgian artists who have inspired you?

Johan Grimonprez’s work “Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y” is one of the first artworks I can recall seeing and I was extremely impressed by it. I didn’t know he was Belgian until much later, but I retain a huge admiration for this film. We seem to share some references and common interests about history, image and the role of archives. Like Grimonprez I appreciate the texts of Don Delillo for example. Other artists I really admire include Omar Fast and Haroun Farouki. There are so many things I like. It feels arrogant to answer a question like that. Where do I start? Where do I stop? There’s so much potent art out there. Let’s just say that I try to engage with as much as I possibly can. If I think only about my generation, I really appreciate the work of French Photographer David de Beyter.

Video Sculpture 12, 2016

Video Sculpture 12, 2016

Video Sculpture 11 Central Alberta, 2016

Video Sculpture 11 Central Alberta, 2016

What’s next?

BIP Liege runs until October 16th, and I’m working on a couple of new projects, which again build from those we’ve just discussed. “A Certain Amount of Clarity,” will be in the exhibition “The end of the world”, curated by Fabio Cavallucci at the Luigi Pecci Center for Contemporary art which opens on 17th October and runs until 19th March 2017. In January I’ll have my first solo exhibition at my gallery Harlan Levey Projects.

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