Born and bred in Brussels, Pauline Hatzigeorgiou works at L’Iselp. On her spare time, she also is the curator of Art on Paper, the fifth edition of which opens to the public this coming weekend. This time however, the fair moves in to Brussels’ Bozar, where it’ll bring together 25 solo shows, with a particular emphasis on drawing, from both international and Belgian artists and galleries, that vary from the well established to the lesser known. We sat down with Pauline, who gave us an insight into the rewarding experience of collaborating with passionate figures in the Belgian art scene, and discussed how drawing has come-of-age as an artistic discipline in it’s own.
Can you talk to us about the starting points of the exhibition? Any pre-conceived intentions >
It is the fifth edition of the fair and the first one in collaboration with Bozar. As I was an assistant for the previous editions, I was called by the organizers to take over the artistic direction and to gather a selection committee for this year. Because I wanted to simplify the show, I had the idea of producing a solo show art fair to highlight the artistic value of the event. I then started to research and identify different works that point to a particular interest in contemporary drawing. Not drawing in the traditional meaning as pencil on paper, but understood as a broadened field.
I then contacted 6 personalities from the art world: the head professor at the Drawing Department of La Cambre Denis De Rudder, two art collectors – Christophe Veys and Olivier Gevart, two gallery owners Francesco Rossi and Harlan Levey, and Maïté Smeyers who works at the exhibition department of Bozar. Together we continued to define the project step by step.
After having had the confirmation in April from Bozar, we began working with each member of the committee to make the selection of artists. Being associated with Bozar is really important for the project: being in a larger cultural institution makes the show more visible to a wider audience. While contemporary art fairs mostly speak to professional and art collectors, we wanted Art on Paper to be interesting for everyone. We wanted to provide an expanded view of what contemporary drawing can mean through various works, some fairly traditional, some more divergent. I also think drawing can be a way for people who aren’t familiar with contemporary art to get acquainted with it – drawing can intimate the artists’ thought, from his or her hand, directly speaking to the viewer. In addition, drawing is about directness, the solo show and the the scenography aim to highlight this.
Can you talk to us about the process of selecting the galleries and artists for the show?
As we started the project a few months ago, we had to work very quickly, and it was complicated to launch a new project carrying its old name. It seemed impossible to launch a call for applications for the galleries. So we proceeded in reverse and pre-selected a group of artists. As I explained, I had written down works that I considered essential to the show. Each member of the committee did the same and compiled a list of artists whose presence at the show seemed important. We wanted to have both well known galleries as well as younger ones, Belgian and international, to be equal.
Some shows couldn’t participate as they were already showing in other fairs, but were really motivated by the ones who did confirm. Meanwhile, the word spread and we received some applications, which we accepted. I was surprised and amazed that the curatorial choice of doing a solo show immediately appealed to the galleries, as there is always a “commercial” risk in doing solo shows. Again, Bozar played a leading role, and I think it would not have been possible without an institution of this magnitude, and for many artists, it’s a great opportunity.
Regarding the name, Art on Paper, how do you think it evokes the content?
The term “Art on Paper” evokes a traditional or classical understanding of drawing, as a trace inscribed on a sheet of paper. But the show is about the different meanings of drawing as an artistic practice. The audience visiting the show is invited to discover not only that drawing can exist outside of paper, but also that typologies and meanings of drawing abound in art. We want visitors to be surprised. This is not a show about art practices on paper, nor about line drawings, but about bringing together contemporary artists that have the medium of drawing in common – drawing treated as an expanded field.
Can you describe some of the works in the show, and how their approach and aesthetics falls in line with the intentions of the show?
The show gathers together 25 artists who share the same medium, that of drawing, but they all use different methods and processes. There are different aesthetics showcased, again through different generations, with different practices. In this sense the show is specific to its subject: plurality.
Take Peter Downsbrough and William Anastasi for instance, they are both major figures of conceptual art. Downsbrough’s work focuses on the contextual essence of perception. He works with lines and words to highlight the spatiality of meanings. Anastasi uses drawing as a procedural mode conducted by chance. Another artist, Michel Boulanger considers drawing as constant enquiring. His work is really meditative, almost like the Japanese art Gutai.
It’s interesting to see how drawing is now not only defined in a material way, but in a way of thinking, or in how the artists is relating to his or her practice. Artists from a younger generation have another relationship with the medium. For example Adrien Lucca, leads an interesting reflection on colors through mathematical and scientific protocols, ensuing on poetical compositions. Still, he questions the essence of drawing in relation with the color and the scenes. There is also a narrative aspect to drawing, as Michael Matthys’s work. For Art on Paper he’ll present his last series of drawings, which consist of a free interpretation of the novel The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad.
The artists that you are describing are really diverse, but do you see common thread in their work ?
As we said, contemporary drawing has almost infinite possibilities of being defined. But if we could find a common thread, it would be the relationship between the thought and the process. This can be at times obsessive, or more focused on the matter, or on the story. If you see the work of some artists, it is more obsessive in their way of working hard, and in fulfilling the support, that is, on filling the papers, it can be anything. It can even be space or the language itself. Drawing is now also virtual with new technologies.
On a more personal level, were there any references or people you kept in mind when putting the show together?
Yes, of course, there are a lot of different references, and there are so many publications of contemporary drawing. There is always new research on this subject, and new ways of approaching it. It’s interesting to not only think of drawing as contemporary art, but as a whole, an essential cultural act that transcends the art world through every period with always different issues and different reasons and different echoes. For instance, there is a book called Lines: A Brief History by Tim Ingold, which is an interesting anthropological take on how drawing plays a different role for humans. Then of course there is Walter Benjamin and Sol LeWit – what he did for drawing is huge. I was really not alone. I’m working with a lot of really engaged people from the committee, like Tania Nasielski from Besme105, Florence Cheval, who is a curator here (ISELP), and people from la Cambre. I also worked with Mayte Smeyers, a member of the committee for the call for projects we launched for young artists, Paul Dujardin was also part of this committee. This call for young artist’s projects was to give space in the show to a young talent. Joao Freitas, who had just finished his last year at La Cambre won. He does amazing work, really simple and minimalistic, but highly poetic.
In general, what do you feel is the show’s main statement?
The statement could be that drawing is a medium that is always redefining itself, expanding its field, but yet maintaining a link with its origins. It is located with proximity to thought, as the first means of expression of the artist, with directness and frankness.
This is a show under the sign of eclecticism, witnessing the liveliness of a medium whose field is always expanding. My desire was to showcase artists working with the form of drawing from the 1960s to the present day. Drawing still generates lots of reflections from critics and art historians. It is this dimension I am interested in – also my starting point – which played an instrumental role through the art of the 20th century, from the outgrowth of modernist painting to the bursting of medium specificity in the 1960s. By the beginning of 2000, in reaction to a monumental tendency in contemporary art, drawing got a significant institutional “revival.” Its economy of means and directness were some of the reasons artists became committed to the medium. It still plays an instrumental role for the contemporary art scene.
On a more personal level, how has working on this exhibition enriched your understanding of the contemporary art world?
It was an extremely rich experience in an artistic and in a professional way. Working together with people sharing one passion, but from different worlds, was very interesting. Lots of people around me (colleagues from ISELP, artists, etc.) gave me great advice as well. I met so many passionate gallerists, devoted to the artists, some even in it not to sell. They would say: “It’s not to sell, he just wants to draw on the panel…” Once again, this is possible because it is taking place in Bozar, and it changes the aspect of things. The artists are so glad to be there and have the space to do what they want.
Do you already have ideas for future editions?
I do have ideas for the next edition, but we need to first see how this one goes. For this edition we really focused on the artists. The main objective was really to find twenty-five great artists that together could question the nature of drawing. But we know Bozar is looking to get more involved in drawing, and it is essential for us to stay in such an institution. I also think art fairs are changing, you can see this with the solo show being almost everywhere now – in Art Brussels for example. This questioning of the relationship between the artist and the gallery is one of the main reasons for this change. Also, when you invite only one artist, he or she is like the master of the booth, they can really think about the space in relation to their work. As you said, it can be thought of as an exhibition in itself. So we were really looking at it as twenty five exhibitions in the end.
What do you hope viewers will get from visiting the show?
I hope viewers will get to find a certain intimacy with the work, where they can locate current practices in drawing. I hope people will get to discover unexpected works, and see drawing as a reflection of the artist’s practice – drawing not as a material or a technique, but as a feeling (as Emma Dexter points out). I think they are going to be surprised by some artists. I also hope they see the common thread and ask themselves what the meaning of drawing is.Art on Paper, Bozar, Brussels 11th to 13th of September, 2015 artonpaper.be